The new Discipleship Course for those who are new or returning to Christianity starts in October.
What does discipleship look like? This question provides an interesting starting point for looking at how discipleship happens. Eugene Peterson in his book ‘A Long Obedience in the Same Direction’ introduces discipleship by looking at a verse in Jeremiah, chapter 12 verse 5.
If you’re worn out in this footrace with men, what makes you think you can race against horses? (Message translation)
When looking at this verse, the question Peterson considers is: how can our perspective be shaped by God if we expend our energies looking at and struggling with each other? In answering this, emphasis is placed upon forming positive, affirming relationships with those we meet and also with God.
Also noted in the title of the book is the time that this will take. A long obedience. Taking the long view seems less common these days, when much of culture is based on the speed at which things can happen. Moreover, things change over time. This is an obvious statement but if our life situations change, is our faith able to ‘keep up’ with these changes? Circumstances may arise which lead to a desire for a discipleship quick fix or solution but any short cut identified could well become rapidly eroded as things change, showing up these short cuts to be ineffective at developing lasting relationships.
All of which brings us round to community. Being part of community at church or small group (or similar) brings us into a vast range of different interactions and relationships.
Part of discipleship is disciplines such as bible reading and prayer to develop our relationship with God. Another part is asking ourselves how we can build a culture of encouragement where we all develop the potential that we see in others. In Genesis chapter 2 verse15 we read:
The Lord God took man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
Sometimes the opportunity is missed to help each other in this way and one cause is the onus placed by us on Church leaders to provide the mechanisms for discipleship and I would argue that there should be a combination of individual and corporate responsibilities across the community to provide a positive environment for continuing on our journey of faith.
If we look at the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught about our individual habits and attitudes often in terms of how we interact with other people; and if we take an individual responsibility to take on these teachings and transform our behaviours, we can hope to form more effective relationships and therefore be able to facilitate the same change in others. In letters written by Paul (Titus for example) and also more widely in scripture, we see that God is interested in our character not our inherited abilities or learned skills.
So, now we come back to the question: what does discipleship look like? It looks like people spending time with God, learning about His ways and building relationships which encourage one another along our ‘long obedience’.