Discipleship is a buzzword these days. In church circles, digital and physical, there are regular (and worthwhile) conversations about discipleship. There are fancy names such as “discipleship pathway” or “growth tracks” or any number of others. All of them are one of many ways to think about and to name the daily work of becoming more like Jesus.
Sunday School was quite the thing at many points in church history. John Wesley, the “grandfather” of the Church of the Nazarene denomination, was a great proponent of it. Some would claim that John Wesley’s desire to serve and educate the poor led to the opportunity (with failures and success) of public schools to educate all the children, not just the rich and powerful ones.
As the cultural seasons have changed, however, the weakness of the knowledge imparted has become apparent. In following the Enlightenment’s path, knowledge of facts began to override relationship with Jesus. This led to intellectual assent of the Savior with hearts that were cold.
The Holiness tradition has long held that the true path of the Christian life is to become more like Christ. Yes, that is a high standard. One doesn’t do much if one aims low. The focus on discipleship would seem to fix the missing pieces. Except…
Discipline comes from the same root as disciple. This is not coincidental. To be a disciple requires discipline. We often think Jesus’ 12 Disciples weren’t that disciplined (impetuous Peter and corrupt Judas Iscariot often come to mind). They walk with Jesus for as long as 3 years. That simple action is one of discipline.
Often, we “soften” discipline by saying “spiritual disciplines”, being prayer, reading scripture, worship, fasting, fellowship, giving, and other depending on whose list you read. The spiritual disciplines are good and helpful to build up your Christian walk. They should not be ignored or dismissed. However, there is one aspect of being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ that we, especially we individualistic Americans, don’t like…the other discipline.
This is a hard topic in many churches. Pastors don’t really want to talk about it. Most people don’t want to hear about it. Individualistic tendencies have created a monster that the people of the church will have to fight. Of course, they/we are the monster we have to fight.
Church discipline, that of correcting a member, is not something ever done lightly or without love and discernment. We have all heard horror stories of church discipline gone wrong, emotionally harming and spiritually devastating people. None of us want that.
The true depth of discipline is among fellow believers who hold one another accountable, not to shame or guilt them, but to be the tools by which a person is transformed into the likeness of Christ.
1) What disciplines are you following to become more like Jesus?
2) Who is involved in your sharpening and discipline? Whose walk are you involved in to sharpen and be a tool of discipline?
3) Why do you think discipline and disciplines (i.e., “spiritual”) have been separated from being a disciple?
Jesus, let your Holy Spirit guide us and shape to be followers and do-ers of your will. Amen.