In the Christian tradition, “discipleship” can mean different things. Greg Ogden helps provide a sense of what discipleship should be by describing a disciple. He wrote: “Being a Christian is a statement about what Christ has done for me; being a disciple is a statement about what I’m doing for Christ.” For the purposes of this vision for adults at the Highland Church of Christ, discipleship is the process of maturing as adult disciples of Jesus Christ. A clear understanding of discipleship provides clarity for ministry and for personal spiritual growth.
The purpose and commitments reflected in this vision for adults is the result of the prayerful work of the Discipleship Vision Committee. The important ideas and objectives outlined in this vision seek to embrace and reinforce the Restoration Movement principles of Highland’s Restoration Vision. This Discipleship Vision will enhance our commitment to the greater Restoration Vision by encouraging members to partner with the values and ministries of the Highland church. Part of the Restoration Vision is a call to Restore Highland. We believe the adoption and implementation of these principles provides a way for adults at Highland to live into this calling.
In a general sense when we discuss the nature or definition of discipleship we are necessarily talking about Christian spirituality. David Perrin helps us understand what we mean by Christian spirituality when he explains that it “is the experience of transformation in the Divine-Human relationship as modeled by Jesus Christ and inspired by the Holy Spirit.” This is to say, spirituality is the daily expression and lived experience of faith. It is easily identifiable by behaviors and actions that impact the believer and others. It is a mistake to limit our understanding of spirituality to mental assent or mystical experience. While these are elements of the spiritual life, it is important to emphasize that spirituality encompasses all of one’s lived experience. The simple day-to-day activities of life are as much a part of spirituality as church attendance or a meaningful prayer retreat.
In light of our definition of spirituality above, discipleship, or Christian spiritual formation refers to the intentional communal process of growing in our relationship with God and becoming conformed to the crucified Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. This language (terms like formation and discipleship) describes the process of faith development, the concrete expression of faithfulness (“doing”) in our ongoing journey of faith. Discipleship is another way of describing Christian Spiritual Formation and is the assumed definition for these vision principles.
As disciples at Highland, we recognize a calling to live lives that both honor and imitate Jesus Christ. Holiness is a word that invites a spirit of reverence and honor. Holiness makes us think of the majesty of God and the Christian obligation to honor God in all things. Furthermore, to be holy is to embrace the same self-emptying and others-centered qualities demonstrated by Christ at the cross (Philippians 2). These qualities include the necessity of obedience, of Christ-honoring humility, and of the life-changing effects of love for God and for others. Holiness informed by the cross recognizes the necessity of a sacrificial devotion to God. Such devotion may bring about moments of suffering. Yet there remains a joyful recognition that, just as the cross of Christ was a glorious prelude to his resurrection and exaltation, Christians recognize they, too, will share in Christ’s glorious victory.
Holiness raises an awareness of the gravity of sin. Sinful behavior is something that must be resisted. Christians recognize that a commitment to faithful obedience includes an awareness and avoidance of sinful behavior. Consider I Peter 1:13ff:
“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (NRSV)
Holiness has a communal as well as individual component. As we observe in the book of Revelation, the witness of the church in a public sense is presented not individually, but as a group. Brower and Johnson, in their exploration of this important facet of holiness from a church perspective, note that “the people of God in Revelation’s symbolic world have his [the Lamb’s] name and the name of his Father written on their foreheads.” The mark on their foreheads is visible and public such that, as a people, “they become a visible [declaration] of the narrative of the crucified Christ.” This is to say that Christians at Highland display the holiness of God both as individuals and as members of a particular believing community – a community that is present and influential in its social context. Such presence means there is a communal responsibility for the witness of discipleship (beyond the individual) to which all are accountable.
Disciples best understand their connection to God in terms of relationship. In Scripture, we learn that Christians are called to examine themselves and consider how they might mature in faith; to develop lives that increasingly imitate the faith and practices of Jesus Christ (II Cor. 13). By engaging in these practices, by learning what it means to love God and love neighbor (Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:37ff), we bear fruit. This is to say, we practice virtuous behaviors that are consistent with Christian character.
The apostle Paul notes the importance of growth in the life of faith:
“10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. 16 Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.” – Philippians 3:10-16 (NRSV).
“My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you,” – Galatians 4:19 (NRSV)
“And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?” – I Cor. 3:1-3 (NRSV)
Fruitfulness implies a commitment to the spiritual disciplines. In order to grow in faith, the practices of prayer, study, worship (both corporate and as a demonstration of a life devoted to God) are essential elements. It is important to note that spiritual disciplines are not ends in themselves. They are tools through which a closer relationship with God is attained. The disciplines are resources that support the development of holiness in the life of the believer and lead to tangible acts of service, love, and mercy.
Christians necessarily engage in life with others. Christians cannot live out the call to “let their light shine” (Matthew 5:16) in isolation. Adele Calhoun expresses this reality well. She wrote: “We belong together, not apart. God is not a bachelor who lives alone. He is a holy community of three. And we express his nature best when we are in a community committed to growing and being transformed into Christ-likeness.” To be welcoming is to recognize our created nature, and with it, our created need to be in fellowship with others. “Welcoming” calls us to see other human beings as created in the image of God. Doing so inspires within us a spirit of friendship, community, and belonging.
A shared life with others includes an ongoing concern to welcome the stranger. In the book of Matthew, Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” (Matthew 25:35-NRSV). But who are the strangers among us? Christine Pohl invites us to expand our understanding of what we mean when describing the stranger.
“Strangers are people without a place, disconnected from life-giving relationships and networks. Sometimes that’s a literal condition – as in the case of refugees or homeless people. In other cases, as with alienated teens or people with disabilities, persons may have a place to live, but they do not necessarily have a place where they can contribute something, or where they are valued. Because hospitality is part of what it means to be human, every human being flourishes in the context of welcome.”
To be welcoming is to open ourselves to others and accept invitations of others to join in their lives. We make space for others – provide a “place” – by inviting them to join us in the everyday activities of life. The stranger among us is the person who represents an opportunity to experience the joy of Christian love and fellowship in new ways. Welcoming creates something new and brings with it joy for all involved.
Finally, a welcoming disciple of Jesus Christ will be attuned to the needs of others and see them “as real and important” as our own. In other words, Highland’s Restoration Vision invites believers to seek restoration through Christian service. Our desire to be a welcoming presence to the stranger embraces a spirit of restoration and reconciliation and the actions these terms imply. So to be welcoming means we take notice of the needs of others and seek to fulfill them for the sake of the other and as an expression of our love for Christ.
Thank you for your kind attention to this new vision of Discipleship Ministry for the Highland Church of Christ. Like all such efforts, the principles and goals described here are only valuable to the extent that they are put into practice. It is our prayer that these principles will be embraced for their capacity to increase our love for God as we seek to reflect the image of the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to the benefit of all.
– Dr. Ben Pickett,