The Disruptive Process of Discipleship: the breaking and re-making of all things.

MANNA-DEC-IMAGES-ONLY-4 copyThe themes of “disruption” and “discipleship” don’t – at first – appear to sit well together. Like sugar and salt, their essences are of a completely different kind. But I want to propose that Jesus’ disciples have a vested interest in bringing these two apparently disjunctive essences together. The 21st-century, post-Christian age is surely a “disrupted” era. As Christ’s disciples, we had best learn to “understand the times” (1 Chronicles 12:32) in which we live. I want to explore the themes of disruption and discipleship under four key headings:

First, discipleship is itself a form of disruption. When Jesus called his disciples to “Come, follow me,” he broke into the daily rhythms of their everyday existence, and confronted them with his gospel. Both at the levels of their day-to-day activities and indeed in their deepest life-orientation, Jesus placed demands on his disciples that were life-changing in the extreme. Jesus didn’t want half-disciples, he wanted people in the totality of their beings to become his followers. The request was to give themselves to him utterly and completely. Such an invitation represents a disruption to the lives of disciples in every age and generation (us included). The call to discipleship is a disruption of human life of the most deep and fundamental kind. Or as Raimon Panikkar has claimed, “After consecration … there is no more ‘life as usual.’”[1]

Second, discipleship has always occurred in “disrupted” times. The reality is that there have been very few times in our 2000-year-long Christian history when things have not been chaotic, disordered and uncomfortable. For example, St Augustine wrote his influential book The City of God in the 4th century against the backdrop of the Goths and Visigoths sacking Rome. The Reformation of the 16th century occurred within the context of (and, of course, contributed to) enormous social, political and religious upheaval. Perhaps the one exception to the claim could be the 20th century, which some have labelled the “Christian century”. But even that was convulsed by a series of wars that threatened to destroy our culture, annihilate the youth of our population, and bankrupt our economy.

Third, discipleship requires an “interruption” of our existing church programs. In 2017 I undertook a research project looking at the state of discipleship in our South Australian churches. Although the research is not yet completed, early indications are that many congregations have not made discipleship a top priority. This means that – apart from some outstanding exceptions – disciple-making in our South Australian churches is more accidental than intentional. One of the things that pastors shared with me during our conversations was that if we are to do discipleship well, we will need to intentionally introduce discipleship practices into our existing church programs. This will inevitably represent an uncomfortable but necessary “interruption” of our existing church plans.

And fourth, disruption is what causes most people to become disciples. People come to faith in a myriad of ways, and God graciously provides space for each of us to take journeys to faith which reflect our particular needs. Some have grown up within Christian families and belonged to professing faith-communities since childhood. Others have come to faith via a radical conversion experience as adults. Many of us have turned to faith in Christ as a result of a personal crisis that threatens to derail our lives. One definition of conversion is that it is a much-needed solution to a fundamental problem in our lives. The turn to God in Christ is what allows us to continue to live, and to live meaningfully. But it can only happen because it “cuts across” and disrupts our normal mode of existence.

Many Christians are anxious about the disruptive times in which we live. Perhaps we need to hear once again Jesus’ words of reassurance and encouragement: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. … Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27). We need not be anxious, as we look forward to the day when Jesus will return in power and majesty, the ultimate day of disruption and restoration, to make all things new.

 

 

By Dr Stuart Devenish, Director of the Postgraduate Department

[1] Raimon Panikkar. Blessed simplicity: the monk as universal archetype (New York: Seabury, 1982), 91

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