Rector's Reflections - 11 April

Rector’s Reflections  

Thursday 11th April 2024

21st Century Church:  Mission, Evangelism, Discipleship

In our earlier reflections, we have considered what we might mean when we use the words “mission” and “evangelism” within a Church context. Today I wish to share some thoughts on the word “discipleship”.

On the mention of the word “discipleship”, you may be calling to mind the words of the Risen Lord Jesus at the end of Chapter 28 of Matthew’s Gospel. These words are sometimes referred to as “the Great Commission” and they have inspired generations of Christian missionaries down the centuries.  The passage reads as follows:” Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and the of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”.

So the Risen Lord Jesus commanded the eleven disciples to “go… and make disciples of all nations”. Although the original command seems to have been limited to the eleven, it is typically interpreted as applying to every generation of Christians. 

But what does it mean to “make disciples”?  A “disciple” is simply someone who follows a teacher, so in this context a disciple means someone who follows the teaching of Jesus.  But what does this mean? How does one summarise the teaching of Jesus in all its richness and variety? How does one apply the teaching of Jesus to the particular circumstances of one’s own life?

This prompts a further question. If being a disciple means following the teaching of Jesus, does this in turn mean that being a “disciple” and “being a Christian”  are synonymous?  If this is the case, does the word “discipleship” mean anything at all?

Be that as it may, the word “discipleship” has become increasingly popular in the Church of  England over recent years, and its widespread use would suggest that the word serves a useful purpose. I think it is being used as a short-hand way of saying something like this:  being a Christian is n’t just about ticking a box on a Census form and going to Church on at least an occasional basis. It’s about trying to put Jesus’s teaching into practice in our own lives. Our lives as Christian should have something  distinctive about them – people should be able to recognise that we are Christians from the choices we make and the way we treat others, and the world around us.  In other words, “discipleship” is a way of saying that being a nominal Christian is n’t enough.  We need to take our faith seriously,  and put it into action.

We have now finished a brief introduction to the three words which are at the heart of the current understanding of what it means to be the Church. Most people in Church leadership in the Church of England will tell us that we need to be focussed on mission, evangelism and discipleship. But what do these words mean in practice and how do the words inter-relate?  What are the pros and the cons to this approach?  Does “mission , evangelism and discipleship” tell us all we need to know about being Church in today’s world?  We will explore some of these questions in the days ahead.


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