In the latter half of last year our congregation began a conversation on becoming a ‘simple church.’ The idea of simplifying ministry in congregations is something I’d been thinking about for a few years. Then, about a year or more ago, I came across a book called Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger. The authors argue that, based on their research, effective churches focus all their ministries on a simple and clear discipling process. They argue that Jesus’ Great Commission to ‘make disciples of all nations’ (Matthew 28:19) means that churches need to simplify what we are doing and keep Jesus’ directive to make disciples our one and highest priority.
As we began to think about becoming a ‘simple church’ by formulating our own discipling process – the way in which we will grow as disciples ourselves, as well as help others to become and grow as followers of Jesus – we asked what does ‘discipleship’ actually look like? There are dozens of books written on discipleship, all with their own approach and emphasis on what it means to be Jesus’ followers. In the tradition of the Reformation, it will be important for us to go back to the source of our faith and listen to what Jesus and the New Testament writers teach us about discipleship. With this in mind, at last November’s Annual Business Meeting our congregation adopted the theme of Exploring Discipleship to help us formulate our discipling process.
The discipleship journey in Matthew’s gospel begins here as Jesus calls his first disciples (4:18-22). What I find amazing about this story is that when Jesus calls Andrew, Peter, James and John to follow him, they leave their work, their boats and nets, even their family in obedience to their call. Over the years, I have had a number of people tell me that this story has nothing to say to us because we can’t leave our jobs, homes and family to go off and follow Jesus. I agree – if that was what Jesus was doing, then we would end up with a situation like the Middle Ages where people thought they had to join a monastery or convent to dedicate their lives to Jesus.
Thankfully, the Reformation taught us that we don’t have to become monks or nuns to follow Jesus, but that we do it in our homes, families, work and all our relationships. So if this story is about leaving something behind and following Jesus’ call to be his disciples, what are we being called to walk away from?
We will all come to this conversation about discipleship with our own particular view on what it means to be Christian, or a member of a church community, or how to reach out to others. I am wondering at this time, as we begin our discussions on our discipling process, if Jesus is calling us to leave behind what we are currently doing to follow him into a new way of being his disciples and discipling others. Just as Andrew, Peter, James and John left what they were doing to follow Jesus into an unknown future, maybe Jesus is asking us to do the same.
That will mean listening to Jesus’s words and the teachings of the New Testament with fresh ears. We need to be listening to Jesus as though we were hearing it for the first time so we can really hear what he is saying, rather than trying to make Jesus’ words fit in with what we already think. That will be risky and a little bit dangerous, because it will challenge ideas and beliefs we may have held for a long time, maybe even most of our lives. However, if we are going to follow Jesus faithfully, instead of going our own way and expecting him to come along with us, we will need to do our best to really hear what Jesus is saying and ask the Holy Spirit to show us how we can grow and help others to grow as Jesus’ disciples.
To help us think through how Jesus discipled others, each week I’m going to try to distil the reading for the day into one simple idea about what God’s word is saying about discipleship. Today, as we hear the story of Jesus calling the four fishermen to follow him, I’m thinking that…
… leaving what you’re doing & following Jesus into a new way.
I wonder if Andrew, Peter, James and John would still have followed Jesus had they known what was ahead of them. It is always safer and more comfortable to stay where we are and keep doing what we are doing. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter went back to what was safe and comfortable for him when he went fishing. But Jesus called him again to follow him into an unknown future (John 21:1-19). I wonder if, at this stage of our congregation’s life, Jesus is asking us to do the same.
Are we willing to leave behind what we are currently doing, and listen to Jesus with fresh ears? Are we willing to learn from him how to live as his followers, and how to help others become and then grow as his disciples? As we journey through this year, we will also be journeying with Jesus, listening to his voice, asking the Holy Spirit to give us fresh insights into what it means to be Jesus’ disciples, so together we can grow as his followers who fish for others.
More to think about:
- How have you usually understood Jesus’ call to follow him? Have you thought about his call being purely for fulltime church workers or for all Christians?
- Do you think it would be easy or difficult to listen to Jesus’ teachings with fresh ears? What might get in the way of listening to him clearly? What might help you listen to him clearly?
- If you were to be faithful to Jesus’ call to follow him, what might you need to leave behind?
- Does the idea of following Jesus into an unknown future scare you or excite you? What might worry you about it? What might be something you could look forward to?
- How might following Jesus faithfully look for you this week?