Refining Discipleship

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

— Jesus giving his followers a mission and a purpose (Matthew 28:18-20)

The 21st century is an incredibly exciting time to be a Christian. This is not to say that there are not huge challenges. Even before the current pandemic changed the way we do everything, we were dealing with institutional decline and the rapid change in how we live. But from those challenges come amazing opportunities.

Perhaps the most exciting part of being a Christian today is that we have gotten a lot of clarity about what is and is not essential to living our faith. For instance, I believe we have gained perspective over 2000 years of Christian practice about both the dangers of clericalism and dogmatism, as well as the dangers that come from having no structure and no beliefs. We also have a tremendous amount of scholarship available alongside new insights about Christian history and scripture. Because we are far more ecumenical, we have the freedom to draw from a wide variety of scriptural prayer practices.

Making Disciples

But most importantly, we are relearning the importance of making disciples. It is clear that Jesus really only gave the early church one task: to make disciples. What is a disciple? The word really just means a student. But this is not like the student in a classroom we think of today. To be a student in Jesus’ time wasn’t about getting information about the world. It was about forming one’s whole life around a teacher. You became a student because you thought that the teacher obviously knew something about life and how to live well. Being a student meant learning how to live like the teacher.

Here is something to consider: why did Jesus send his followers to make disciples rather than to build churches? The answer to this question is the key to what being a Christian in the 21st century will be about.

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