Disciples are Learners

Disciples are, or should be, by definition learners. Beyond the denominational tag, Disciples should be disciples. When Jesus gave what we call the Great Commission, his marching orders to the church was to “make disciples” (Matt 28:19-20) Trying to find the right English word to translate the word mathētēs is not easy. Some attempts include student, pupil, trainee, or the like. Each of these fall short because these words tend to stress book-learning over character formation. They are good translations, but like many translations, none of them can catch the full nuance of the original word. A word I think comes closer is apprentice.

Once a common practice for a young person wanting to learn a trade or craft, an apprenticeship was very serious internship. As an apprentice, a young person would attach herself to a master artisan to become, in terms of that skill, just like the master. At one time, ministers were trained much in this way. A young person would attach himself to an accomplished minister to learn from that minister. In both of these previous examples, the young person would often live with the master and his family. In a similar way Jesus trained his first followers who lived, ate, slept and traveled with him. At the heart of being a disciple, then, is being close enough to the master teacher to become like that person.

Learning however was never limited to information. Rather learning was about transformation. The goal of being a disciples of Jesus is not just to learn what he can teach us about God and good living but to become more like him. Jesus once said to his followers, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”(John 13:35). Loving one another goes way beyond mere information. The pivotal question for disciples of Jesus is not “What do we know?” but “What kind of people are we?

One can hear this concern in the apostle Paul as he was working Christians in Galatia: “My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you”(Gal 4:19). Or again, in his letter to the Colossians: “It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ”(Col 1:28). Or perhaps, what Paul tells the Christians in Rome:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect(Romans 12:1–2).

Many other texts could be cited but these show how discipleship is about the kind of people we are becoming because of God’s work on our lives. Genuine discipleship is about spiritual formation. Robert Mulholland in Invitation to the Journey (1993) defines Christian spiritual formation this way: the process of being conformed to the image of Christ by the gracious working of God’s spirit, for the transformation of the world.” And Dallas Willard adds,“spiritual formation in Christ is the process leading to that ideal end, and its result is love of God with all of the heart, soul, mind, and strength, and of the neighbor as oneself. The human self is then fully integrated under God.

Disciples then are transforming learners, that is, attentive apprentices learning the way of Jesus. I’m grateful to be part of a church family committed to learning the way of Jesus.

Copied from my article at http://www.fcchammond.org/APROUTLOOK2013.aspx.

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Do You Have a Passionate Spirituality?

This is not a question you get asked everyday. Nonetheless it is still a very good question to ponder.

To define our terms a bit, spirituality can refer to anything from how I feel about myself to what God is doing in and through me. However, while the word spirituality does not occur in the Bible, related words such as spirit and spiritual do. The words translated spirit, in both the OT and NT, can also mean wind, breath, or spirit. Thus, this word group can be used to describe both internal and external “unseen” processes.

There is much that could be said here, but in sum, when the Bible and Christian tradition speaks of spirituality, the notion deals with some connection we have with God’s Spirit. Christian spirituality is when God’s Holy Spirit touches our human spirits. It is a way to speak of our journey towards God. This journey is the primary work and mission God has placed on the church.

When I ask if you have a passionate spirituality, what I mean is your spirituality alive, vital, and practiced? Again, the Bible and Christian tradition has passed on to those who seek to follow Jesus certain practices that will condition them for the journey. These practices include, but are not limited to, the following: prayer, meditation, reading scripture, giving, fasting, worship, spiritual conversations, reading works of spirituality, and service. Those who have a vital, passionate spirituality are those willing to commit to these practices.

While these spiritual practices can’t make God respond to our (self-)perceived needs—would we really want that anyway?—they can posture us so that we are more useful to God’s purposes.

Pray right now, if you can, that God will give you and your church a deeper, more passionate spirituality.