Dare we risk opening up, sharing,
Intent on being mutually caring
Sisters and brothers – not fairweather
Christians, but friends growing together?
Inquiring, going deeper, seeking God’s will,
Praying, listening, then going deeper still
Learning what it means to be salt and leaven
Engaging with Jesus twentyfour-seven.
This acrostic was written for our church magazine during our ‘year of discipleship’.
It seems obvious that a church should encourage discipleship. But when we actually try to do it, it is less straightforward. Embracing the practice of being a disciple is neither self-evident nor cost-free.
Firstly, we may become aware that not all church members see themselves as disciples. Reading about disciples in the New Testament and seeing oneself in this role are two different things. It may be frightening or confusing.
Secondly, in the recent past, the term ‘discipling’ or ‘shepherding’ has gained some negative connotations. It was particularly associated with a movement that emphasised obedience to one’s own shepherd in the church, which in some cases led to controlling and abusive behaviour. Some church members may therefore be understandably suspicious.
Thirdly, whilst the idea of being a disciple may sound good in principle, it can be difficult to translate into practical actions and ingrained habits. A sermon on the topic might sound convincing, until you ask the question, “okay, so what do I do next?”
There are two imperatives at the core of discipleship: learning from Jesus and staying close to him. Being a disciple also involves loving one another and being transformed.
The meaning of a disciple at the time of Jesus was a dedicated follower who actively imitated both the life and teaching of the master. Jesus emphasised that following him would be costly. Perhaps, in our case, it implies we should have a good knowledge of what Jesus said, and be prepared to change our lifestyles to live up to his teaching. It does not explicitly entail missional work, which was the role of apostles, though in practical terms it might involve sharing and discussing the word of God with an open mind and willingness to learn.
This is no mean commitment and is one best done with the help of a support group. Some while ago our church re-titled our house groups as ‘Life Groups’ – something which I felt was a bit gimmicky at the time but which made complete sense when I saw it in the context of discipleship. We go through a lot of life events together, which deepens our mutual understanding and concern.
As you might expect, our church didn’t suddenly change overnight. Change has been gradual and is hopefully still continuing. Perhaps people didn’t react much at first when the idea of being disciples was mentioned – it was a familiar and comfortable term. However, the more we look into it, the more we realise it means additional investment in exploring the scriptures and being members of small groups. It means additional vulnerability in terms of opening up and questioning lifestyles. It means full-time engagement rather than occasional attendance. It reminds us how often Jesus told people to ‘do’ things rather than just watch or listen.
Discipleship is a challenging but rewarding and enriching process. It is brave of a minister to ask a congregation to embark on this path. It may be discouraging not to see overnight results. But, even if few immediate changes were seen in our congregation, I can still see us as a work in progress, gradually growing in our imitation of Christ.
So I wrote this acrostic as an exploration of what being a disciple in a typical church community might mean.
(Disciple appears on my New Testament: Gospels page).