If anyone has ever said to you that Christian discipleship was going to be easy, allow me to apologize. They were misinformed. It is not.
But, if anyone has ever neglected to say to you that Christian discipleship is the most joyous, grace-filled, wonderful thing a person could ever do, allow me to apologize. It is!
And finally, if anyone has ever told you that the job of a disciple is just to make more disciples, allow me to apologize. It is much, much more than that.
I think the biggest problem with myopic insistence on “make disciples” as a mission statement for disciples is quite simple. We really don’t want to limit ourselves to that alone. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but a lot of people simply believe there’s more to it than that. Wait, now! Before anyone freaks out, let me explain.
I guess what I mean is, if the mission statement was “love people” or “help people” or “serve people” or something like that, now we’re talking! Because a lot of people believe that loving people has inherent value, and that we do not need to tack on the additional agenda of making them into disciples in order for our action to be worth something.
See, when many of us hear “make disciples,” we hear “I don’t want to take the risk that I myself might be transformed or anything, so I’ll undertake it as my mission to change other people so that they are more like me.” Yes, it is an unfair characterization. I’m just saying, that’s how it comes across sometimes.
The problem is, discipleship requires risk. Discipleship means sacrificial, unconditional love for strangers. Discipleship asks us to love like Jesus loves, which means being willing to die for someone who doesn’t “deserve” it. And no, we do not get to decide who “deserves” it or not.
Discipleship is a response to the gift of salvation, and salvation is a gift from God that humans uncategorically do not deserve. I do what I do as a Christian disciple not because I am better than anyone, but because I am a sinner saved by grace, and I am so unbelievably grateful for that, I choose to be a disciple of Jesus. And my discipleship is lived out as a part of the church.
Your congregation is a community of disciples in which you have chosen do your discipleship stuff. You have made this choice because the congregation is where you feel like you will be able to flourish most effectively in your discipleship calling. The congregation you become a part of is your “spiritual home” because your unique gifts and graces, your personal strengths, your very identity, make the most sense there. Some people say that “it just feels right,” which is a beautiful way to express this idea. And how important it is to remember two things: 1) Just because a congregation doesn’t “feel right” to you doesn’t mean it won’t “feel right” to other people and the corollary: 2) Just because a congregation does “feel right” to you doesn’t mean it will to others.
The church, as a community of disciples, both supports disciples and holds them accountable. That means a congregation has got to offer disciples opportunity to practice discipleship. At Campbell, we identify those practices as worship, faith formation, fellowship, mission and service, generosity, and hospitality. (That’s Bishop Schnase’s book plus one.) What we try to do is make sure that the people who call Campbell home have opportunity to engage in all six of these areas of discipleship. What we do not do very well yet is hold people accountable to doing so, but we are working on that.
The mission of a congregation, as I see it, is to make sure that the disciples who are a part of that particular community have ample opportunity to engage in discipleship, and then to hold one another accountable to doing so. Yes, a part of that is inviting people to become disciples themselves, but only a part. To reduce discipleship to merely making more disciples is an oversimplification that we do well to avoid.
When a disciple of Jesus is fully engaged in a balanced life of discipleship, including worship (identity), growth (inner focus), and service (outward focus), a life pattern begins to be imprinted upon them. This pattern liberates the disciple; there is a life of joy and peace. When the pattern is out of balance, meaning the person is spending a disproportionate amount of time in any one of the three aspects of discipleship, there is often discontentment, an unsettled feeling that something isn’t right.
Although attaining that balance is hard, once you get it, it seems to become easier and easier. As the discipleship pattern becomes more and more deeply imprinted in your life, it releases you from the pressures of this world and sets you free to truly live as the person God desires.