Last Fall Bishop Ken Carter, The Florida Conference, wrote a series of blogs on “Fresh Expressions of the Church.” Taken as a whole they are outstanding and well worth reading. As a part of my own recent writing about deeper discipleship centered on allegiance to Christ, I reprint, with his permission, the 9th of those blogs entitled “Discipleship as Spiritual Formation and Mentoring: The Heart of Fresh Expressions of Church.” – Bishop Mike Lowry The Bishop's Blog (Ninth in a series of reflections on Fresh Expressions of church, the Florida Conference and United Methodism, and our relation to the “Nones,” “Dones” and the “Spiritual but Not Religious.”) If we are listening to God’s call in the present moment, in increasingly non-churched and de-churched environments, we may discover that we are being led back to a fundamental experience—an encounter with the living Jesus. We encounter him in the gospels, even as he is anticipated in the Old Testament and as his message is embodied and proclaimed in the later writings of the New Testament. The encounter is always one that calls us into deeper relationship, which we call discipleship. Discipleship as Spiritual Formation So how do we become a disciple of Jesus? Becoming a disciple or apprentice of Jesus is a cumulative process. It involves small steps and giant leaps of faith. It is like swimming against the stream and riding the rapids. It is unconscious and intentional. It is planned and spontaneous. It is work and at the same time a gift. 1. As a cumulative process, discipleship is a daily spiritual practice: reading scripture, sending a tweet about a passage of scripture or a God-sighting, memorizing a verse, offering an intercession, acting with kindness, writing in a journal. 2. Discipleship is also a weekly activity: an hour of worshipping God, a meal with a mentor or with friends, reflecting deeply on the neighborhood as a context for mission, encouraging a small group of Facebook friends, contributing money to God’s mission. Note: While the Christian life may begin as an individual search, it can only be sustained and supported through participation in a small group, where we are loved, blessed and held accountable. The contribution of the Fresh Expressions movement is that these groups are not confined within our local churches, although they may happen there—this is the “mixed ecology.” And, as we have noted, this is deeply embedded in the practices of the early Wesleyan Christian movement (class meetings and band meetings). 3. Discipleship as a sustained habit might include monthly experiences: a day of silence and prayer and deeper scripture reading, meeting with a spiritual director, reading a book/spiritual classic, a deeper act of service in the community, serving in a leadership role. 4. And discipleship as a more reflective and long term way of life might include annual practices: an extended pilgrimage or retreat, a mission trip, an evaluation of financial giving to God’s mission. 5. Discipleship is a lifelong process; in Eugene Peterson’s language, it is a “long obedience in the same direction.” It will help to document your spiritual formation; for some, there are life-changing events, and for others, the process is more gradual and even generational. In the Wesleyan tradition we have called this sanctification. The Bible itself can be read in this way:
- it is the journey of God’s people from slavery to freedom;
- the passage of Jesus from baptism and wilderness to suffering, death and into resurrection;
- the experience of the disciples who follow Jesus, listen to his teaching, witness his death and resurrection, receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and are sent into all the world.