What Is Discipleship?
Too often, when we talk of discipleship, we turn to the root word “discipline,” or we talk about the suffering servant, or the things we must give up in order to devote our lives to Jesus. These things are important, but they are not the only image of discipleship that our Church needs to carry. The life of a disciple of Jesus is one of love, charity and hope. Not a perpetual Lent!
Rob Bell has an interesting video series that gained popularity in the early 2000s called “Nooma.” One of his videos, “Dust,” discusses discipleship in terms that many of us might not normally consider. It’s just over 15 minutes long and worth a watch, if only so that we can share a common language for this conversation. Rob Bell is not everyone’s cup of tea, but this idea of carrying Jesus’ dust is fascinating, and I think important, for how we think about discipleship in the 21st century.
Living like Jesus
Can this child of God do what I do? Jesus continually asks this question of us. And, importantly, Jesus answers it as well – Yes, you can be like me. You can be the hands of God on this earth. Jesus tells us that our faith can move mountains, it can enable us to walk across the stormy seas of our life. Let’s not dismiss this as fodder for Hallmark cards. Let’s agree that when Jesus tells us something about our abilities, he means it.
It is these encounters with Jesus that we need to focus on. It is impossible to become a disciple of Jesus if you have never had an encounter with him. In essence, discipleship is responding to an encounter with Jesus by modeling your life after Jesus. Like all things in life, the details make all the difference. What does an encounter with Jesus look like, feel like, sound like? you may ask. It’s difficult to nail down. There are as many descriptions of an encounter with Jesus as there are people who have encountered Jesus. What is the best way to model my life after him? Well…if I had an answer that would satisfy everyone’s theology, lifestyle, culture and background, I would be living a very different life.
Proximity to Jesus does matter though. The charge is, “May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi, Jesus.” That the dust that falls off your teacher would wind up on your feet, your clothes, in your hair and that you might breathe it in. We not only have to have some sort of encounter moment, where we acknowledge Jesus in our life, we then have to find a way keep up with the movement that follows the moment! Too often, we think of a life devoted to Jesus where he is some sort of frozen leader that lived and died, and we know everything there is to know about him. This is a heresy. Jesus is risen. The Holy Spirit is with us as our guide. Being a disciple means movement. It means keeping up.
And good luck keeping up. It’s my experience that Jesus moves fast. The Holy Spirit pushes and pulls at the same time. God is still in the creation business and is doing a new thing and wants you to get the work done!
Stop, pray and listen
This is a good time to address the dual (dueling?) nature of a life in Christ. I do believe that Jesus moves fast. I do believe that being aware of the movement of God is vital. I am also painfully aware that the best way to stay attuned to the movement of Christ is to find a way to stop, get quiet and listen. Silence, meditation, centering prayer, whatever you call it, the end result is the same – God is yanking at you hard, God has faith in you and wants you to get to work, God’s directions come in the still small voice. I once worked for a Japanese chef who seemed impossible to understand. Things happen so fast in a kitchen. It’s hot, fast, hectic and I loved it. This guy was adamant that if I couldn’t understand him, it was my fault. He was right. I found that when I allowed the insanity to wash over me and put my focus on Chef Chen, I could hear him, understand him and deliver.
My own experience isn’t nearly as interesting as Martin Luther’s or Bishop Desmond Tutu’s. Luther has been credited with saying, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” In our own time, Bishop Tutu has changed the world through action, activism and prayer. He moved quickly with Jesus and yet spent hours each day in prayer. Look to the spiritual mentors in your life. Chances are that they believe in prayer and take their prayer life seriously. Our friends at RenewalWorks have data on this actually. They know that people are far more likely to deepen their life with Christ the more they pray and read the Bible.
Just do it
So, I have some sage wisdom for you. Go and be a disciple. Go and talk to the people you think are already disciples, and ask them where they found Jesus. Chances are you are an Episcopalian, so I’m not asking you to go to the store and ask people there if they have met Jesus. I am asking you to go to your faith community and ask your faith leaders about living a life devoted to being more like Jesus. I am suggesting that a life in Jesus is exciting, wild, stable and peaceful.
God has already declared a great faith in you. Jesus has called you. The Holy Spirit is pushing and pulling you. I hope you get covered in the dust of the Trinity, I hope you get filthy in it. I really hope that our walks with Christ intersect and that we get to greet each other on the road. I’ll stop and pray with you – I believe it helps!
Bill Campbell is the Executive Director of Forma | The Network for Christian Formation. He is now a program director at ECF through a collaboration between ECF and Forma that combines the best discipleship practices and networks of Forma with the amazing leadership resources and networks of ECF.
- What is Episcopal Evangelism? by Alan Bentrup, ECF Vital Practices blog, August 10, 2018
- There’s Still Time by Linda Buskirk, ECF Vital Practices blog, March 23, 2018
- Transform Your Congregation: Read the Bible by Scott Gunn, Vestry Papers, November 2012
- Discipleship in the Episcopal Church Today by Jay Sidebotham, Vestry Papers, May 2017
- The Cost and Benefits of Discipleship by Greg Syler, ECF Vital Practices blog, September 23, 2015