What needs to be part of the life of a person in order to grow as a disciple? There are probably as many ways to answer this question as there are disciples, for we are all unique persons who relate and learn and minister in unique ways. Recognizing that uniqueness, we can still provide a framework that honors it yet provides a basic sense of direction for all disciples. In order for a person to grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ regular experiences of deepening, equipping, and ministering are essential.
Deepening is about relationships—with God, self, and others. The foundational relationship of the disciple is with God in Jesus Christ. It is that relationship that has touched and transformed the person, that relationship that has led the person to stake a life claim on being a disciple. Discipleship is a continuing process of growth in relationship with God as Creator, Christ, and Spirit—experiencing in ever-deepening ways the fullness of God. The relationship with one’s self is also a growing relationship for the disciple. The inward journey is important because it enables us to know ourselves well enough to understand how God is at work in us and what God seeks from us. The personal growth this inward journey brings is essential because it is in this growth that we set aside the old self and become more able to serve others in Christ’s name.
The third dimension of deepening is growth in relationship with others in community. The disciple depends upon the community of faith. Ideally that community will be the local congregation, but this doesn’t always happen. At times the disciple will need to seek his or her community of faith in other places, among those who share the commitments of being a disciple and with whom the person is able to develop relationships of depth, integrity, and truth. Without this kind of community, the disciple cannot live.
Equipping is about preparation. It has two dimensions: gifts/call and skills/knowledge. The call of a disciple is, among other things, based in the gifts God has given us. Part of our uniqueness rests in these gifts, which have been part of us since we were born. They are what shape our personality and abilities. Recognizing these gifts is important to the disciple because they are the means through which we participate in God’s mission in the world. That is, they are what we bring to the mix. So knowing and nurturing gifts, which leads to a sense of call, is the first dimension of equipping. The second dimension is skills and knowledge. Disciples need to know certain things and be able to do certain things. Some of these are for all disciples. All of us, for example, need to know about the Bible and how to use it in our lives and faith. Other skills and knowledge are specific. They are determined by call. The skills and knowledge we need will differ, for example, if our call is to work with at-risk youth, provide leadership in a business, be a teacher, or serve as clergy.
Ministering is about involvement. It is our participation in God’s mission of redeeming all creation. The gifts we have, the call we receive, the skills and knowledge we acquire are put to the test in ministering. This can happen both within and outside the church. Leaders and teachers are needed within the community of faith. That may be the call of some. For most disciples, however, ministering will occur outside the church, through their various involvements in the world.
Discipleship Assessment Tool for Individuals
Reflect back on the last several weeks and answer each of these questions. After you have completed them, note the areas of significant involvement as well as those in which you have done little recently. Then, make plans to enhance the weaker areas of your own growth as a disciple.
How has deepening been a part of my life these past weeks?
- In what ways have I grown in my relationship with Christ?
- In what ways have I become more aware of myself as a person—my strengths, my weaknesses, my struggles, my fears, my hopes, the temptations I face, the risks I avoid, the challenges I undertake?
- In what ways have I developed a stronger community in which to share my own faith journey and encourage the journeys of others?
- What can I do to enhance my own deepening?
How has equipping been a part of my life these past weeks?
- Have I discovered new gifts or used old ones in new ways?
- How is my call being lived out? Is it still vital? Am I sensing a new call?
- What have I learned that is important to my living as a disciple?
- What skills have I acquired or improved that increase my ability to live as a disciple?
- What can I do to enhance my own equipping?
How has ministering been a part of my life these past weeks?
- In what ways is the leadership role I play my ministry?
- In what other ways am I living out my discipleship—at home, in the church, at work, and in the community?
- How has my involvement in ministering strengthened my life as a disciple?
- What can I do to enhance my own ministering?
A Praying Congregation: The Art of Teaching Spiritual Practice by Jane E. Vennard
Pastors and others who want to develop their skills as teachers of prayer and spiritual practices will find in this book not only wisdom for themselves but easily accessible lesson plans, so that they can share Vennard’s insights with others while infusing the activities with their own spirit and creative ideas.
In A New and Right Spirit, Barger argues passionately for congregations to reexamine what it means to be an “authentic church” in a culture where authenticity is hard to come by. He exhorts leaders to return to the story of the church, which is grounded in Christ and the resurrection.