I was asked recently, by the mission shaped ministry folk, for my top five tips on encouraging discipleship (for course revision in the msm course). Maybe they have wider usefulness, not least in relation to preparing adults for baptism and/or confirmation? I have couched them in advice to new Christians looking for a good discipleship process:
1. Discipleship is caught more than taught. In this regard, the recent emphasis on discipleship ‘courses’ is unhelpful. It has made it seem like a thing you can learn to do, rather than a person you can begin to become. Don’t just read the books; watch the people. Try to understand why they do what they do. Then find your own way of following Christ, with them as examples and inspiration.
2. Discipleship is an attitude of heart, more than a state of mind. There are many useful things to learn, patterns of spirituality that can help, and so on. But essentially, progress in discipleship is about a honing of the heart, like a deepening of a relationship. You don’t build up; you dig down. For that reason, it’s messy and uncomfortable.
3. Discipleship (learning more about following Christ) is the way a whole Christian community is. It’s not that established Christians have arrived and you can go through an entry experience to become like them. All Christians are learning, and we will be all our lives, so you might as well get used to it because being part of a Christian community is by its very definition an ongoing learning experience. Don’t make the opposite assumption from looking at some inherited patterns of church life; that is a historical blip. Christians are people who are always keen to learn how to follow God more faithfully, and so are always learning – from God and from each other. If you meet ones that aren’t, don’t trust them.
4. Discipleship is a shared task between established disciples and new disciples. Like missionaries, established disciples know a fair bit about how God relates to people like themselves, but we are on a steep learning curve about how He is going to relate to particular groups within unchurched 21st century British culture. Developing discipleship is a shared task that those of us who are established Christians are going to find as challenging as those who are new.
5. In discipleship, the more you learn the more you realize you don’t know. That’s why those of us who have been at this longest may well come over as the least certain about things, because we know enough to know how much there is that we don’t know. Or rather, we become more and more sure of less and less – our perceptions of key truths deepens and we come to the point where we would die for them; but many other issues take on lesser importance.