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Whole-life discipleship  



Discipleship is described and interpreted in many ways, but Ken Benjamin suggests the term carries a multi-faceted meaning that applies to ALL aspects of our lives as Jesus followers    



Whole-life discipleship


Which one of the following words is the odd one out and why? 
 

a) Leadership 

b) Friendship 

c) Discipleship   

 
Odd-one-out questions are often impossible to answer with confidence, aren’t they?  We could sensibly make a case for each of these being the right answer.   

However, for today, the correct answer is…, and well done if you got it at home,  

c) Discipleship 


Because, it is the only one of the three words you won’t find in the Bible!  

Admittedly, not every available English translation of the Bible has been checked in compiling this single question quiz, but the answer is true for all the main translations being used in our churches.  

Perhaps the biblical absence of the actual word discipleship helps to explain why people often mean slightly different things when they use the word.   

The term discipleship is either illusive or inclusive.  

It is illusive, when we think we have pinned down a specific meaning and others seem to be using the word quite differently. 

When some speak of discipleship it is clear that they are emphasising regular patterns and ‘disciplines’ needed for being a follower of Jesus.  

Others refer to discipleship, almost as a follow-on stage after conversion. 

Still others, when they say discipleship, are referring to a specific course or they are thinking specifically of going out to make new disciples. 

Surely, we are best to think of discipleship, inclusively, as something of a 'catch-all' phrase for our journey of faith as Christians for the whole of our lives?  

If leadership includes all the things involved in being a leader and learning to lead well; if friendship includes all the things involved in having and being friends;  
then discipleship can be thought of as including all the elements involved in being and helping to make disciples of Jesus.  


Discipleship is therefore a whole-life thing. 


So, the absence of the word discipleship does not at all indicate the absence of the theme in our bibles. The principles of discipleship are very much present throughout because the words disciple or disciples are so common in scripture. 

There is, arguably no better place to go to explore this subject than The Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20 in which Jesus specifically calls us to ‘go and make disciples of all nations.’ If we think of discipleship inclusively, applying it to all of our lives, it is not just this phrase in the middle of the Great Commission that is relevant to discipleship, it is the whole of this great passage.  

In our denomination our Declaration of Principle is rooted in Jesus’ Great Commission and emphasises a number of key and unifying elements for us all. It contains three key statements: 

 
  1. That our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, is the sole and absolute authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and that each Church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and administer His laws. 

  2. That Christian Baptism is the immersion in water into the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, of those who have professed repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ who 'died for our sins according to the Scriptures; was buried, and rose again the third day'. 

  3. That it is the duty of every disciple to bear personal witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to take part in the evangelisation of the world. 


If we remove any of these elements we would have something weaker as a definition of our unity. 


Similarly, taking our starting point lessons on discipleship from the Great Commission, we’ll find that: 

If we don't start firstly with accepting Jesus as the one with authority we will have missed out a key element in discipleship because Jesus himself begins the Great Commission in this way. 

If we ever take the call to evangelism and mission out of our definition of discipleship, perhaps thinking of discipleship as somehow more inward disciplines in contrast to evangelism’s more outward actions and words then we have created a different definition to Jesus himself who calls his disciples to go and make more disciples. 

If we remove the practises and regular patterns for learning and following Jesus' teaching out of our definition of discipleship then we haven't been faithful to Jesus’ call to teach disciples to obey everything he taught them. 

If we ever take out personal prayer and devotion, as well as individual belief in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit from our definition – then we have done something less than Jesus taught and so we have no longer have fully captured discipleship. 

And, if we ever make discipleship just an individual activity and take the mutual 'family' aspect out then we will have missed the fact that in Matthew 28, Jesus calls us to this journey together. 

 

Discipleship is truly, best understood as an inclusive catch-all phrase and if we miss out key elements, we will have watered down the definition to something less than its most powerful and helpful meaning.  

For sure, it is useful to teach about different elements of discipleship one at a time, so long as we remember that discipleship in practice should include all of the aspects together, as we seek to commit to and become more like Jesus as whole-life disciples. 

When we learn to drive it is often useful to learn and consider the different elements of driving one by one: theory, observation, gear changing, acceleration, brakes, steering and more. But to truly drive safely we need to combine all of them and not miss one out!  

 
So it follows that some of the pieces that follow in this issue of Baptists Together Magazine, helpfully cover a range of quite diverse subjects.  

The contributors that follow have found innovative and creative ways to form discipling communities that meaningfully fit their culture and mission. Many are, rightly, looking at the contemporary issues involved in reaching out specifically to today’s young adults, young people and children. Additionally, some helpfully remind us of our primary calling to be disciples who seek to introduce people to Jesus and help them to find him as their friend and saviour.  

Tucked away at the end of the Great Commission, after all the key teaching that we hold dear and value so much in our churches, there is an inclusive Whole-life Discipleship Message for every day for all of us which could be missed.  

When Jesus says that he is with us 'always, to the very end of the age’, how do we understand the word ‘always’?  

We perhaps most naturally think of the idea that Jesus promises to be with us both now and then to be with us ultimately, when he returns or in eternity. There is great comfort and truth in this. 

There is an additional meaning though. The Greek texts have three words for our one word 'always'. Specifically, Jesus promises to be with us ‘all' 'the' 'days'.  This is the fourth all in Greek that these brief commissioning words of Jesus contain. He refers to his status, ‘all authority’, his mission to ‘all nations’, he calls us to follow his teaching, ‘all I have commanded’ and now offers his presence ‘all the days’. 

Surely, ‘all the days’, is inclusive of all of our lives? It means Jesus is with us as we try to follow him every day, as we bring all of the elements of discipleship together, wherever we find ourselves, at work, leisure, and with family and friends, on good days, bad days and a large number of average days. 

Discipleship then is the multi-faceted adventure of following the master - all - the - days. 

 

Image | IR Stone | Shutterstock  


 
Ken Benjamin is minister of Chichester Baptist Church, and the current Baptists Together vice president. Find him on Twitter: @kenlenben 


 

 

TogetherMagazineAutumn2018This article appears in the Autumn 2018 edition of Baptists Together magazine

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Baptist Times, 01/10/2018
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