In the United Church of Canada, we don’t talk about discipleship a lot–which is kind of interesting since one of the largest components of our Union was the Methodist Church, for whom discipleship was central. We do have 52 hymns under the topic “Discipleship” in Voices United–out of over 700 hymns. I read through all the classifieds for new ministers in the January Observer and there was not one mention of discipleship. Oh there were things like “spiritual guidance” “promoting and sharing faith”, but the word disciple was not to be found.
Most of us are pretty good at living out discipleship, caring for others, working for justice and reconciliation, reaching out to others, but we seem to have lost the language and deeper concepts of discipleship. Although, some people have noticed this omission. Regions 7, 8 and 9 (in the new structure) will each have a Commission of Discipleship and Mission.
What is discipleship? John Wesley and other Methodists characterised it as a “holy yearning”. A yearning is an intense feeling of longing, a somewhat old-fashioned but evocative word. Maybe in the United Church we moved away from this language because it seems to us to be highly individual, focussed on inner faith rather than outer expression.
Nothing could be further from our Methodist forebears’ understanding. John Wesley said, “There is no holiness but social holiness.” The purpose of the individual’s discipleship journey is to better live out God’s love with each other in the world.
And without deep yearning, without strong foundational discipleship, the living out can become onerous, difficult, and detached from the powerful presence of the Spirit.
Here, in a nutshell, are Welsey’s General Rules for Discipleship:
- do no harm by avoiding evil
- do good to all people
- take part in the life of the community of faith
Discipleship has no end date, no graduation ceremony. It is a life-long process, involving the ongoing formation of our lives into being more and more like Jesus. As our life changes, as our world changes, so the paths of our discipleship change, find new direction, new depths.
So this year we will take an intentional walk in Discipleship. It is a personal call, but always expressed and grown in community. We’ll think and learn about Spiritual Formation, Pilgrimage, Living and Seeing Spiritually, Integration of the Inner Spirit and the Outer Life.
You are invited to read, to react, to comment, to ask questions, to add your own experiences and thoughts as we go along. We are all in this together, this journey with Jesus.