Developing discipleship – our own and others’

In last month’s article I alluded to the fact that most Anglicans would not quickly or easily identify themselves as “disciples of Jesus Christ.” When pressed about our “spiritual identity”, our initial response might be to report what church (i.e. parish) we belong to. This might be followed up by a statement about “being Anglican” – and if the questioner pressed us further we might add “and of course that makes me a Christian.” Somehow the label “disciple of Jesus Christ” comes across as being a narrower, more zealous category of the Christian faith. We Anglicans might refer to “disciples of Jesus Christ” in the same way as people who generally try to eat properly and take the occasional recreational walk might describe those who analyze their diet carefully and work out at least three times a week at the local gym!

EVERY baptized Christian is a disciple of Jesus Christ.

The only problem is that Jesus, after his resurrection, told his original band of followers to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …” EVERY baptized Christian is a disciple of Jesus Christ.

being a disciple of Jesus Christ is a life-long process of growth

It’s also clear that being a disciple of Jesus Christ is a life-long process of growth. The Epistles (especially the Pauline ones) continually make reference to growth, development and maturity in the Christian life. In the previous articles I defined Christian discipleship in this way: It is people growing in their sense of being loved by, and loving God as encountered in the Person of Jesus Christ; and responding by offering themselves to God and God’s world. They do this through coming to know Jesus more deeply, and ordering their lives around this relationship, in community with all of Jesus’ disciples.

Therefore, it is imperative that our churches should be communities that are focussed on helping each other grow and develop in this way. We need to be communities where people increasingly sense themselves being loved by God and invited to love God more fully. We need to be communities that provide both education about God and God’s world and also opportunities to offer ourselves in loving service. And most importantly, we need to be communities where people both come to know about and to know Jesus more deeply and completely. We continually need to be about developing disciples.

In what ways are members of your congregation developing their experience and expression of discipleship – and helping others to do the same?

As mentioned in last month’s article, last fall I met with the clergy of all six of our deaneries and asked them to reflect upon their communities and respond to this question: In what ways are members of your congregation developing their experience and expression of discipleship – and helping others to do the same? As with last month’s testimonies – there is much happening in our church communities – though some of it needs to be more clearly labelled as “intentionally” developing discipleship.

What are some examples of discipleship development in Rupert’s Land? Some parishes have intentional discipleship groups each with a different focus according to interest and gift. Some are formed around learning and asking questions about worship. Some groups gather to pray and to learn how to pray (including Christian meditation) more effectively. Several parishes run Vacation Bible Schools where children engage in developing discipleship along with adult volunteers. This is seen not merely as “accomplishing tasks” but rather as ministry development. One parish has formed groups around the Five Marks of Mission – aimed at developing the daily life ministries of their disciples. Some parishes offer Christian Marriage preparation courses – helping to equip people to live together faithfully as disciples of Christ. One parish has a “Blessing of the Tools” service – helping people to connect what they do in school and at work with their spiritual lives as disciples.

Move beyond the sense that developing as disciples is something that we may also do in addition to all of the regular stuff that we do at church. It is one of the primary reasons we gather as “church”.

The challenge for all of us is to move beyond the sense that “developing as disciples” is something that “we may also do” in addition to all of the “regular stuff” that we do at church. Instead, we need to fully embrace the understanding that it is one of the primary reasons we gather as “church”. Any sports team knows that meeting for practice is an integral part of their lives as a team – equipping them to accomplish well the very reason they have formed as a team. So it is with the Christian Church – where our ongoing “practice” is the developing of each other’s discipleship in order to fulfill God’s loving purpose for our lives.

Do you or your parish have an initiative that intentionally helps people (both inside and outside the Church) grow and mature as disciples of Jesus Christ? Would you care to share it?
Drop me an email. I’m always eager to learn how God is moving and motivating us as disciples of Jesus Christ!

This is the third in a series of four articles.
Read more from this Rupert’s Land series: Discipleship
by Rt Rev Donald Phillips, Bishop of Rupert’s Land