It’s nearing the end of summer and there is a pretty good chance, if you are a Methodist or attending a church in the Wesleyan tradition that either your church newsletter or weekly bulletin is currently showcasing upcoming Bible studies or spiritual formation classes under a banner headline, “Fall Discipleship Opportunities.”It might be that there is an advertised afternoon volunteer for a project in the community. If so, you are in pretty good company as it means your congregation’s leadership has been proactive about recruiting persons to head up this essential component that fosters health in congregations. If your newsletter or bulletin isn’t advertising for upcoming classes – hold fast! It might be that the next one you receive will be doing just that!
As you peruse the menu of offerings it is not uncommon to ask, “I wonder if I am prepared to sign up for this course?”or “Should I do this class….or maybe I should try this study?”or even, “Do they really want me to volunteer?”It’s always helpful to ask someone in leadership or a friend you know who has taken a study because it can be easy to feel intimidated or overwhelmed by the possibilities that lie before us.
Unfortunately, some of us will decide to opt out because either we don’t think we have the background and we will be in over our heads or we remember that we did a study similar to that a few years back and it doesn’t seem worth our while this time round. Truth be told, we are susceptible to falling into patterns ingrained in us during our formal education in high school or college as teenagers and young adults. Just as then, we are apt to decide from the course catalogue that a particular study is “too hard”or another is “too easy”and not worth our while. Often, we pigeon hole discipleship as something necessary for new Christians who do not know the Bible or feel comfortable praying out loud, yet. Alternately, it is possible to think that discipleship is reserved for the “super”Christian – the seasoned believer who seems to have a handle on their faith. And there are some of us who volunteer for a service project because we want to see tangible results – if we are willing to make that commitment at all!
The truth is this: every Christian – regardless of our stage in faith – is in need of discipleship! And here is another important thing: I am not just referring to an 8-week class or a long term study. Discipleship, attending to your relationship with God, is more than a class – it is a way of life! Discipleship is to literally respond to the call of Jesus, “Follow me!”As disciples of Jesus, our discipleship is to discover what it means to become like Jesus. John Wesley often referred to discipleship as “having the mind that was in Christ so to walk in the way that he walked.”Another way Wesley discussed the idea of discipleship was with the phrase “holiness of heart and life.”In short, our discipleship entails being like Jesus, so we can do like Jesus.
Discovering what it means to be like Jesus in a constantly changing world means each and every Christian can benefit from another opportunity to intentionally engage learning what it means to be Jesus’disciple. Discipleship is a lifelong endeavor! For most of us, our discipleship benefits from joining a Bible study or becoming a part of a group exploring various prayer practices – or even learning how to pray! But our discipleship is not measured by our small group experience. We experience the mind that was in Christ and walk in the way of Christ when we engage our everyday life – answering the phone, responding to emails, or shuttling the kids to and from their various activities.
When we take advantage of a Bible study of spiritual formation class at church or in the home of a neighbor, we are intentionally cultivating our discipleship by opening our hearts and minds to learn what it means to be like Jesus. When we enlist to serve lunch at the soup kitchen or assist in the construction of a local building project, we are intentionally cultivating our discipleship by earnestly offering our particular gifts and talents – our strengths – and doing as Jesus did. It is important to carve out intentional times and places where we learn and rediscover what it means to love the Lord with all our heart, our mind, our soul and our strength.
It is equally important to have those “in between times”to reflect on our discipleship and discern how our heart, mind, soul, and strength are integrated, demonstrating our love for God and for our neighbor – times that are not devoted to learning or service, but are carved out of everyday life as well. During those times we can ask if we are really loving God with our whole heart. Are we becoming more like Jesus? Are we more holy in our inward being and outward doing? Sometimes it serendipitously happens when we linger in the parking lot chatting with one another after a study or comes up in a conversation with a trusted friend over coffee or a meal. But it is especially helpful if there is a small group in your church or neighborhood that intentionally seeks to discern the integration of heart, soul, mind, and strength. Wesley called these “class”and “band”meetings. Today, we might call them “Reunion Groups”or “Accountability Groups.”The important thing is that in addition to learning what it means to be like Jesus and act like Jesus, we reflect that these classes and service projects are really affecting a change in our hearts and lives.
So, as you wonder while you examine the opportunities your local congregation is officially sponsoring, the answer is, “Yes!”There IS some sort of discipleship endeavor for you this upcoming year. If you don’t spy something that seems suited for you at your stage of the Christian journey, ask. Better yet, search your heart in prayer and see what doors God opens up! Maybe it is time for you to launch a group or begin by asking a few spiritual friends to reflect together on your discipleship; on how your heart, mind, soul, and strengths is connected with one another to express your love for God and for your neighbor!
Discipleship isn’t just education – it is a lifelong endeavor!