Graham Cray on discipleship

Wednesday, 14 December, 2011

Graham Cray discusses discipleship - the heart of discipleship, captive discipleship, active living, contextual discipleship, travelling together, appropriate models, investing in disciples, messy discipleship, apprenticeship and a good place to start.

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Graham Cray: The heart of discipleship isn't learnt particularly through courses, although they help, it's not so much about what you know, although there's lots of books about what young Christians ought to know, it's actually about a relationships with Jesus which is about intentionally following him. I love the quote from Dallas Willard that at the heart of discipleship is the conviction that Jesus knows how to live your life better than you do.

If you're captivated by Jesus the king and his kingdom, it outshines and outclasses just about everything else. Our culture is seductive, it seems to offer so much, but as Jesus himself said the kingdom is like a pearl worth so much it's worth selling all the others to have them. People will never be motivated day by day to make their daily choices in the way of Jesus unless they're captivated by him and all that life in the light of him means.

Clearly also, to be a follower of Jesus means following him in action, not just reading the handbook about the theory. I've come to the conclusion that if you're not in some way involved in the mission of God and following Jesus in active service for others - it might be serving the community, it might be faith sharing, it might be challenging injustice, it might be caring for your local environment, but in some way consciously doing that as a Christian, you learn and grow. Jesus called his disciples to be with him and to be sent out, and even being with him was with him on the move, not with him in some safe centre. So there's an action learning part to being a follower of Jesus - being involved in the things he calls you to and growing to be like him as you do them.

I'm convinced that in a fresh expression, or in any church but a fresh expression especially, discipleship has to be locally relevant. In the jargon word it has to be contextual. Now obviously there is clear teaching in the Bible about the things that Christians do because they're Christians and don't do because they're Christians and they apply in one sense anywhere. But anyone wanting to make disciples in a fresh expression needs to have been listening hard to the local issues, talking with those who are beginning to come to faith, identifying the areas where it's hardest for them to live distinctively as a Christian and then finding ways to support them in addressing those areas. It's got to engage locally specifically but it's also got to reflect the Christian tradition as recognised all across the world.

Another misunderstanding I think that Western Christians make about discipleship is they regard it as primarily individual. And in the New Testament and many other cultures around the world, it's primarily about a community. Paul uses the term one another, I think it's 34 times in his letters, let alone what's in Hebrews and the gospels and the letters of John. We need to be a community that supports one another and above all supports one another in the sort of habits that form Christian character. If you're going to grow as a disciple it's because for long enough you have obeyed Jesus in practical ways in your life and in patterns of devotion and prayer and generosity, so that gradually those things become instinctive and in the end they're what you are rather than your remembering what it is that you have to do. But whereas I was brought up in the sort of Christianity that assumed everybody went to public school and was very, very self-disciplined and all the emphasis was on personal self-discipline about devotions and things like that, I'm absolutely convinced today we need that New Testament emphasis, that there is a community actively encourage you on the specifics of discipleship, a small group with whom you're being real and they're being real with you and you're helping one another actually walk this walk.

If disciple-making is going to be at the heart of a fresh expression, and I don't honestly see the point of planting one if that's not the intention, then it's got to be modelled from the beginning. The very way the founding group or the founding leader deliberately creates church for others and not for their own comfort, is willing to sacrifice that this might come into being as a community in which others who don't yet know Jesus may flourish, actually sows the seeds of the costly call for sacrifice right at the very beginning - it puts it in the foundation or the DNA.

Another thing that's essential if we're going to take the gospel seriously is that Jesus grew disciples and disciple-makers by intentionally investing in the lives of a group of people he'd identified through a night of prayer. And I think all who would make disciples need to pray, need to identify key people in whom they invest. It isn't favouritism, it's actually done for the sake of the whole church. Otherwise what you do is you throw Bible verses generally into a crowd and hope that some of them land somewhere where they'd be fruitful. It needs to come out of prayer and discernment, but needs to be much more intentional.

One of the striking things in our new expressions: making a a difference DVD is the number of times disciple-making is described as untidy. It's about relationships, it's about being alongside people, it's about succeeding and then failing. The biggest word to relate to discipleship is grace - always, always, always a new beginning and a new start, back to the cross, get yourself on your feet, start again. And because it's untidy, people in whom we're investing to help them be disciples are going to let us down sometimes. And we need to be as willing to forgive as God is willing to forgive and then get them back on their feet again.

I think it's important to see that in New Testament terms, making disciples has a lot more to do with say the apprentice's workshop than it does the lecture hall. Courses are important, thank God for those who come to Christ through Alpha or Start or Emmaus or an excellent home grown one, but in the end it's one-to-one, it's walking alongside, it's partnering people together and it's learning to follow Jesus in life, not just from a book or a speaker.

I may be wrong about this but my instinct is that it ought to be easier to do serious contemporary disciple-making when you're planting a fresh expression than in inherited church. Inherited church already has lots of patterns in place, people... so many you want to disciple just think of themselves as coming to church, their attitude to it can be quite consumerist. Or if... or they relate disciple-making directly to a course or something they've attended and maybe attend one every year and get a badge for it. Whereas in a fresh expression, if from the beginning the leaders are seeking to model a way marked by the sacrifice of Christ for others, they are at the price of their own comfort establishing something for others that others might flourish in Christ. And they... it's come out of a listening process where they've been attending to the context - they know what the local issues are. If you like, they know what shape repentance might take here and what the gospel would bless and affirm. So real life-changing discipleship is a real possibility if you got about planting the fresh expression the right way.


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