I have become disenchanted with the word discipleship. Now don’t get me wrong I understand it is a key Biblical word and Jesus commands us to make disciples. It is not the task of disciple making which causes me problems, it is what the word has come to mean in ‘Western’ evangelical circles that bothers me. To disciple someone has come to mean, for the most part, engaging peoples’ minds. We woo people with the idea of Jesus’ love and talk ‘heart language’ until they make a decision and then we put them in a class where they can learn what it is that they have decided. It seems to me a classic example of what scam artists call “the bait and switch”. People are enticed to fall in love with the Lord, to give Him their heart. It has an aroma of romance to it but rather than honey mooning with Him the church gives out a manual explaining all about Him and sets up an academic approach to knowing Jesus.
Here in the West the church shares the same values as the culture. The divorce rate is the same. Each year church leaders have great moral falls. To an objective eye we in the church might know more about Jesus and we might believe more about Jesus but the great indictment is we don’t act more like Jesus! Our method of discipleship must come under critical scrutiny! I have come to use the ‘d’ word less and less and talk about formation more and more. This word captures for me the whole goal of discipleship, we are to be formed or transformed. This transformation is best summed up in the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase and I must decrease.” This transformation is “Christ in you, the hope of glory!” we fall in love with Jesus. We give Him our heart. I remember a children’s talk when I talked about asking Jesus into our hearts. One of the children looked up at an image of Jesus in a huge stain glass window and said in a voice of wonder “Won’t He stick out all over?” My thought was “Yes!” this little one had hit on the secret of discipleship. Jesus is to stick out all over.
This is not a matter of behaviour. If it was the “What would Jesus do?” movement would have radically transformed our culture. The bracelets were everywhere, a bonanza for Christian bookstores! The secret is not for me to try and do what Jesus would do solely as an act of my will. The secret is to allow the power of Jesus to enable me to do what I otherwise could not do and wouldn’t choose to do on my own. While I appreciate classics such as “Imitation of Christ” I believe that transformation does not come through mimicry but through a conscious death to self.
Recently I have come to see that such death is not at all an intellectual process but is a by product of a vital relationship with Jesus and His Church. By Church I do not mean the institution but the community of Christ followers with whom we are relating. It is in such community that we die to self and that we are encouraged to allow Jesus to ‘stick out’, some would say shine, through us. This is not a solo intellectual process but a community enterprise by which we help each other to live Jesus out and simultaneously die to ourselves.
After we fall in love with Jesus, we live Him out in community. This is the place of discipleship where we are formed on the potter’s wheel. I think Hilary is right it does take a village!