Discovering discipleship – our own and others’

“Disciple” is not a word that rolls easily off the tongues of most Canadian Anglicans. It seems that many denominations (or denominational families) have their own terminology to refer to those who consider themselves to be members of the Body of Christ. 

Roman Catholics most commonly simply refer to themselves as “being Catholic.” Evangelical Churches might refer to their members as “believers” (and in some cases “born again” or “Spirit-filled” believers). Probably, members of Anglican churches simply call themselves “Anglican” or perhaps a “member” of St Such-and-Such Anglican Church. In the last 20 or so years we’ve started to become more familiar with the term “baptized Christian” as we attempt to strengthen our identity with Christ and each other through the sacrament of baptism.

Recognizing our primary identity as being that of “a disciple of Jesus Christ” is becoming increasingly important.

Therefore, I am suggesting that in this 21st century, post-Christendom, postmodern, multi-faith world – recognizing our primary identity as being that of “a disciple of Jesus Christ” is becoming increasingly important.

We have been “marked” (with the sign of the cross) as belonging to him – forever. This means that we have been called to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

There are lots of folks who would claim to “believe in God”, or who are “spiritual but not religious” and many of those are upright and devout persons. But the claim which describes us in a unique and meaningful way, is the reality that we have been baptized (immersed/saturated) in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and we have been “marked” (with the sign of the cross) as belonging to him – forever. This means that we have been called to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

So just what is a disciple of Jesus Christ? In the first article in this series, Christian discipleship was defined 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.

Every time the Church or its members helps people grow in their sense of being loved by, and loving God, as encountered in Jesus Christ; every time we invite people to express that love in serving God’s world; every time we make ourselves a community in which this happens for people and encourages them to actively live into their identity as disciples; we are fulfilling our calling to the discovery of discipleship in Jesus Christ.

Every time the Church or its members helps people grow in their sense of being loved by, and loving God, as encountered in Jesus Christ; every time we invite people to express that love in serving God’s world; every time we make ourselves a community in which this happens for people and encourages them to actively live into their identity as disciples; we are fulfilling our calling to the discovery of discipleship in Jesus Christ.

In our parishes

Have our Anglican parishes been doing anything to help people lay hold of their identity as disciples of Jesus Christ and to help other Christians to do the same?

The answer is an unequivocal “yes.” In the last few months of 2013, I visited the deanery clergy gatherings of all six of the deaneries in Rupert’s Land and invited the clergy to respond to these two questions:

  • In what ways are members of your congregation discovering, or discovering more deeply, the call of discipleship in their lives?
  • In what ways are members of your congregation (individually and collectively) helping others to discover and respond to Jesus’ call of discipleship in their lives?

The responses were many and varied and included helping make the Scriptures more accessible to people by making sermon notes available, holding Bible Study groups focussed on the Sunday readings and engaging in ecumenical Bible Studies to learn from the wisdom of disciples from other churches.

The Portage-Pembina Deanery has started a seasonal Deanery Newsletter that highlights what is happening in the parishes in terms of discipleship.

Several Winnipeg parishes have made new and innovative approaches to ministry to, and with, young people and children in programs like “Little Lights”, “Messy Church” and “Mary’s Place.”

Another parish is offering a “Community Lunch” program where people from the wider community are invited to lunch to participate in a directed conversation on critical life issues. A program like this might help those not currently active in the Church to discover that they are, in fact, already practising Christian discipleship in some parts of their lives.

How is God moving and motivating us?
Share your story!

Do you or your parish have an initiative that helps people (both inside and outside the Church) recognize and lay hold of their discipleship of Jesus Christ you care to share? Drop me an email (bishop@rupertsland.ca) I’m always eager to learn how God is moving and motivating us as disciples of Jesus Christ!

This is the second 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