Why Discipleship?

At Convention, Bishop Loya shared four priorities for ECMN’s life together in this moment. You can see the vision laid out here – he has invited our people and faith communities to attend to faithful innovation, justice, and vitality by leaning into discipleship. Discipleship, as in daily practices that help us follow Jesus as a whole way of life, as the core business of our faith communities. 

That word, ‘discipleship,’ might come with baggage for some of us, especially those who fled to the Episcopal Church as a safe haven from other forms of Christian faith that we experienced as spiritually abusive. And yet, as people following the way of Jesus, we have every reason to claim and re-claim that word. Discipleship, from the Latin ‘discipulus,’ simply means ‘learner’ or ‘apprentice.’ When we look at the Greek word that we translate as ‘disciple,’ we see a sense of progressive, deepening wisdom: being formed not just in cognitive knowledge but in a way of life. And whether we consent to it or not, we are formed, discipled, every day and every moment, in a way of life that is shaping us: the news and advertising media we consume, the dominant cultural narrative we absorb in school, the passive assumptions of ‘how the world works,’ and – perhaps most deeply – the relationships we encounter in our families of origin and in our closest friends and loved ones. These kinds of discipleship relationships can be just as powerful and abusive as the religious communities some of us fled. We are being formed by those forces, for good and for ill, all the time.

For that reason, calling ourselves disciples of Jesus means that we want to open ourselves to being formed by the God who is Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit in ways that are deeply countercultural to the powers and principalities of this world. It may not seem ‘radical’ in a country that has claimed a Christian identity – but the very act of calling ourselves disciples of Jesus means that we are actively seeking to undermine our captivity to the other forces that are seeking to form us as consumers, as neighbors, as citizens, as parents and partners and friends. It’s the same kind of radical turning we’re called to in baptism – turning away from the forces that destroy life and being claimed as children of God.

Discipleship means being formed on purpose rather than by default, actively seeking to become more like Jesus and less like whatever picture of success or security the world is offering to us.

How we turn away from captivity to those narratives and toward God’s vision of shalom is simple, on one level. It means taking time to direct our attention toward God rather than the other forces that seek to hypnotize. That time might look like practices of contemplative prayer, or reading scripture. It might look like worship. It might look like a daily examen. It might look like a kind of prayer that doesn’t look traditionally Christian. Whatever your practice, the wisdom we’ve inherited says that a rule of life – a commitment to a certain set of practices done at regular intervals in the day and week and year – is a kind of trellis that may help us stretch toward God’s light rather than inward toward fear and scarcity. Discipleship starts in those daily practices.

And discipleship finds its support in relationships – relationships that mediate God’s love to us in community, relationships where we get to practice offering belovedness to others and receiving it ourselves.

As ECMN stretches toward all four of those strategic priorities, we believe that discipleship is the root and trunk of the tree from which the other three sprout. Or, as your bishop put it the other day, Justice and Vitality and Innovation are three different keys in which we can sing the song of discipleship – three different ways relationship with God brings forth change and action in our lives.

A few resources to dig into discipleship are here:

Starting from scratch?

  • Check out the seven practices of the Way of Love.
  • Take a free, online, self-paced course on Daily Spiritual Practices. Log in here (or create a login/password) and check out the course “Everyday Spiritual Practices” with Keith Anderson.

Want to learn more about ways to pray?

  • Check out the Online Prayer series from the Episcopal House of Prayer
  • Christian Spirituality is a seven-week course that begins in February, to be taught in 2020 by Christine Luna Munger of the Episcopal House of Prayer. Bookmark that page and come back later in November to register!
  • Grab a copy of Richard Rohr’s The Wisdom Pattern and read it before we discuss together at the Bishop’s Book Club in December.

Discipleship isn’t a one-time thing — it’s about shaping your life in ways that form you more into the way of Jesus than into the ways of destruction. There are endless ways you can shape your rule of life to create that kind of contact with God. Most importantly is being part of a faith community of others seeking to be formed by God together. In this time when we’re dispersed from gathering with our bodies in church, staying connected to each other is a way of defying fear and scarcity. Spiritual direction is another way to deepen your walk in community with a listener and guide.