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Whole Discipleship

Lately I am doing a lot of thinking about what we, in the western church call, discipleship. What often passes for discipleship is a course of some kind. In this course we share what a new believer should know in order to live this new life. I wonder if our new Christian friends don’t feel like we have pulled a ‘bait and switch’ on them. They become attracted to the Faith through language of love and relationship only to be thrust into an intellectual exercise of learning doctrines and disciplines.

As someone intimately involved in education I don’t want to dismiss intellectual pursuits but I do propose that the western church relies too heavily on this one facet of knowing God to its own detriment. There are other factors some which may actual be more important that intellectual knowledge.

  1. Belonging or an appreciation of the corporate nature of relationship with Jesus. We belong to Jesus. We belong to and with one another. In Christ, God has banished the aloneness (separation) which besets fallen humankind. This is not simply an intellectual proposition but must be demonstrated, experienced and felt. Communication of an unconditional belonging must be a priority in true discipleship.
  2. Experiencing, or having a real encounter with God. We have been so leery of sensationalism we have yielded the senses solely to the enemy who makes full use of them. God longs to be experienced in intimacy. Discipleship ought to include opportunities for people to experience God!
  3. Ministry, or using ones gifts and talents is important. Many years ago Amy Grant had a song “Fat Baby” describing Christians who only suckled and never served. We want people to grow into maturity. This means taking seriously the Priesthood of all Believers. I do not advocate making the error of thinking that ministry is what blesses the church instead ministry is what blesses the world. At Up Town (the church to which I belong) we emphasize a ministry of kindness which we all can practise. Following Jesus requires service!
  4. Disciplinary, or learning the habits of the Kingdom is vital. We need to learn to pray (not just about prayer). We need to learn to be nourished by the Word and we need to learn the habit of living lives of mercy. These are a few of the habits of the Kingdom we ought to model, encourage and teach.
  5. Morality or the values of the Kingdom. These are not so much taught, though they ought to be taught, as they are caught. We ought to live ‘peculiar’ lives, distinct from the world. We ought to know why we live these counter-cultural lives. We must model Kingdom values, treasure them and pass them on not as rules but as the very expression of membership in the Kingdom of God.
  6. Cognitive or intellectual knowledge. We are better at this than the others and it is equally valuable in the process of discipleship.

Please do not get the idea that we work our way down this list as some sort of chronological guide to discipleship. Real discipleship is much messier than that! What I want to encourage is a reflective means of discipleship that seeks to cover all facets of discipleship so as to form whole disciples who can impact the whole world.

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