Deploying discipleship – “where the rubber meets the road!”

This is the fourth of four articles on discipleship.

In the final article of this series on Discipleship, I want to lay before you the following challenging claim: I believe that it is in this aspect of discipleship that many of our members are actually engaging in powerful and beautiful ways – except that most of them don’t realize it and, even more so, that we as fellow Anglican disciples and parish communities do very little to illuminate, support and celebrate their work!

The definition of discipleship that we’ve been working with is this: 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.

The highlighted section refers most specifically to being deployed as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Deployment of discipleship means putting into concrete action the emerging values, principles, attitudes and behaviours that are being cultivated as we grow as Christian disciples.

In what ways are members of our congregation (individually and collectively) intentionally participating in God’s mission in the world as disciples of Jesus Christ?

In order to “measure” deployment, we might ask the question: In what ways are members of our congregation (individually and collectively) intentionally participating in God’s mission in the world as disciples of Jesus Christ? When I asked that question of the clergy of our six deaneries I received lots of constructive examples of how we are deployed as disciples. It also became evident that certain people discern their primary call to discipleship to be focussed in the gathered church community, helping others to discover and develop their discipleship. (for example – our clergy might see themselves in this way) But most discipleship is deployed in the world. This was no different in biblical times. While it’s clear in the Acts of the Apostles, that the early Christian disciples still gathered in synagogues for worship in the Jewish community, and also together with each other to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, most of their recorded activity is out in the communities – in the world.

In Rupert’s Land there are members actively involved in their communities – volunteering in various social ministries such as Food Banks. Other members are directly involved in missions – both local and international. Our Church congregations are becoming more aware of their buildings having the potential to offer hospitality to their local community. Our buildings are being used intentionally by all sorts of groups, and such a liberal approach to those outside of the faith goes a long way to helping people feel a sense of ‘belonging’ – and helping them to discover their identity as disciples of Jesus Christ. Some of our parishes have purposely cultivated a relationship with an elementary or secondary school nearby which has resulted in members of the parish offering lunch and breakfast programmes, as appropriate. One excellent example tells of children organizing and running their own fund-raiser for the Uganda Orphan Fund. Another parish has discerned that it is called to offer adult theological education for others – deploying their discipleship to help others discover and develop their own sense of being disciples of Jesus Christ.

everything we do, we do as disciples of Jesus Christ

While all of these are worthy examples of discipleship deployment, most of them carry a sense of being something that is done as an “extra” – by people who have some extra time and expertise to share. What about the majority of disciples who are in school or at a place of employment for several days a week? Are they deployed as disciples of Jesus Christ? I want to suggest that everything we do, we do as disciples of Jesus Christ. We carry the Spirit we received in baptism into every aspect of our lives, and God is present in every one of those situations we encounter. So as we work in schools, office buildings, and farmers’ fields; as we fix utility lines, nurse patients back to health, and drive school buses, we carry out those livelihoods as disciples of Jesus Christ – just as we do when we support and nurture our family life and spend time listening to and supporting a friend.

The major “break”, however, in the vitality of our discipleship happens when we as discipleship communities spend so little time learning about, guiding, supporting and celebrating the vast majority of our members’ discipleship deployment week in and week out. And because we as a church devote so little intentional time and focus to what our members are doing in discipleship for the majority of their waking hours, their consciousness of this huge part (or at least potential) remains largely dormant.

Imagine if our weekly intercessions were filled with the issues and concerns we confront every day (appropriately presented to avoid invading privacy, etc.) What if we helped to form small groups for conversation and support around obvious clusters of employment or schooling?

It is not too much of an exaggeration to describe our Church as analogous to a sporting endeavour where time and money is spent to attract, develop and train highly skilled athletes only to release them to be on their own most of the time, playing in games that we hear or care very little about. Imagine if we heard and read lots of detail about how well the Winnipeg Jets or Blue Bombers performed in their practice sessions, or learned about who they most recently recruited to their team; but learned next to nothing about whether they won any games; how many goals were scored, or touchdown passes were completed!

We have to work much harder at helping people make connections between their spiritual lives and development as disciples of Jesus Christ, and the many life involvements that occupy the majority of their lives.

In order to be a Christian community that matures in its sense of deployed discipleship, we have to work much harder at helping people make connections between their spiritual lives and development as disciples of Jesus Christ, and the many life involvements that occupy the majority of their lives.

Do you or your parish have a strategy that intentionally helps people (both inside and outside the Church) grow and mature as disciples 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!