7 steps in discipleship

By Greg Jones

In the Diocese of North Carolina, our diocesan motto is “Making Disciples and Making a Difference.” We are encouraged by Bishop Michael Curry to follow an intentional program of “Gospel Based Discipleship,” at every level of our ministry here. Thanks to Bishop Curry’s spiritual leadership, our parish has also adopted a new parish motto – in lieu of a highly detailed mission statement. We believe we are called to be ‘Following Christ in Discipleship and Mission.’

So what is discipleship all about? For me, I believe there are many steps on that walk with the Lord, but I have found seven to be very important ones.

Step 1 – Deciding to Follow Christ

Discipleship begins with surrendering one’s life to Christ. Dying to self, taking up one’s cross, and following Jesus – this is the place where all disciples of Jesus Christ begin. The old hymn that comes to my mind here is: “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back. The world behind me, the cross before me.” The choice to follow Jesus is not the strange fixation of fundamentalists, but is the key to being a Christian disciple at all.

Step 2 – Trusting Christ

Submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ is a whopper! Especially to those of us individualistic Americans living in a consumer society where the customer is always right. “Who are we gonna follow for very long?” It is just so hard for us to submit to anyone at all, willingly, let alone to a mystical Christ. Or maybe it’s not hard – maybe it’s just that we won’t do it. Maybe we won’t do it because we’re afraid it’s gonna hurt. How can we trust that following Jesus is a good idea – a sane idea – a true idea? How can we be assured? Can we believe we’ve been given a living relationship with God? Can we really believe that what ails us is in fact that we live sinfully in a broken world – but that there is help and hope and life in Christ? Can we really trust and hope in something that good?

Yes we can. But we’ll only begin to trust, by giving it a try, by taking a leap of faith, and actively seeking a relationship with Christ – humbly, obediently, expectantly. We will begin to trust, after we’ve leapt forward in faith — and after we’ve tasted some spiritual fruit– had some kind of experience that following Christ is good. And we will.

Step 3 – Listening to Christ

Indeed, as we walk with Christ as disciples, we must continue to seek his mind, and we must believe there is a way to do this. We must believe we can listen to Christ, and that Christ has something to say. Listening to Christ is possible and fruitful, and it’s a major step in the path of discipleship. Moreover, while many of us have mystical moments in prayer or amazing coincidences where we believe God is talking to us – disciples first believe that in coming together at the holy table, and in prayer, and in listening to God’s Word in the Bible – we will hear from Christ.

Simple as that. No one’s left out – all may hear the same voice in sacrament, prayer and scripture. Nobody’s got secret access. Trusting that God speaks through the sacrament, scripture and fellow Christians – this is essential for Christians. Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh – which means he is all about talking, and speaking, and inspiring, and connecting with us.

Step 4 – Talking with Christ

Disciples pray. Christ listens. Those who follow Christ speak to Christ. Just as Christ prayed and prayed, he invites us to do the same.

Step 5 – Joining with Christ

Christians cannot live alone – for long. We are one kingdom, one people – not an archipelago of islands.

We are called by Jesus himself into being, and he has called us his Body – and that Body of Christ – that Assembly of People Following Jesus – that Gathering of Jesus People is called the Church. We cannot be a Christian outside the Body of Christ. It’s not possible. And as the Body of Christ, we belong therefore to Christ, and to each other. This is essential folks.

Disciples are called to give themselves, their souls and bodies unto God and each other “In Christ.”

Step 6 – Imitating Christ

Followers of Jesus are called to live according to his commandments to love God, neighbor, self and enemy. Are we doing that? Are we seeking to imitate Christ – whose teachings are so clear today in the sermon on the plain? Or, are we yielding to temptation, abiding more in our own will than God’s? Walking with Jesus – seeking his mind – requires an honest assessment of one’s own failings and shortcomings. And an honest assessment of how we might follow Jesus better.

Step 7 – Serving Christ

But our lives are not just about resisting temptation. No, temptation and sin are the distractions from our purpose. But each of us has a calling to serve Christ – what might you be called to do with your life if it weren’t for all the sinful distractions? What might you be called to do as a follower of Jesus? Isn’t your life supposed to be different in some way?

Friends – there is much work to do in this world – but we cannot make a difference in it – we cannot do a thing for it – on our own. We can only make a difference in this world – if we follow the Master – the Lord and Giver of Life.

Episcopal Church — let’s follow Christ in discipleship and mission.

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones (“Greg”) is rector of St. Michael’s Raleigh, and author of Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury Books, 2004). He blogs at fatherjones.com.

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