My job at the moment is developing discipleship in one Anglican diocese, so as you can imagine I do quite a bit of thinking about what discipleship is, what it means, and what it looks like. Here are some random thoughts, gleaned from my reflection on the Bible and current thinking …
Is it just me, or do you sometimes get a bit despairing about Church as a whole? On a really bad day as my mind wanders I look around from my office desk and see thousands of ancient and often crumbling buildings populated by a handful of people in their 70s, whose only hope is for survival and whose only vision is for keeping the show on the road somehow? I see clergy worn out by the demands of up to a dozen, often fiercely independent parishes, each with its individual set of PCCs and other committee meetings. I see worship which often lacks the most basic of resources, and can feel flat and uninspiring. What on earth do I think I’m doing? I sometimes ask myself. What’s the point? As my Dad used to say ‘I don’t think church will ever catch on!’
But then I get up from my desk and get out and about around the Diocese. At the moment we’re in the middle of a set of roadshows around the Diocese, running study days around discipleship themes, and based around what it means today to live out Acts 2:42-47. You might think that actually to go out and meet all this deadness face to face would be a depressing experience. But to my surprise my perambulations have had exactly the opposite effect, as, to my shock and shame, I have encountered many real life disciples who really do get it.
Of course it is true that diocesan roadshows are a bit self-selecting, and you would expect the keen people to rock up for a day of study and learning. But I have been so encouraged by what I have seen and heard, and I have come to realise that, as he did in the time of Elijah, God still has those who really are his and remain faithful to him and hungry for him. It is a bit sad that for some people their discipleship is being lived out in the context of a church and under leadership who seem bent on doing all they can to prevent it, but I have been pleasantly surprised and excited to know that faithful followers of Jesus are still going for it.
People, it appears, genuinely do want to learn how to pray, how to serve, how to understand the Bible better, and so on. One lovely story came from a man I met at one of the roadshows who had been in a pretty well-paid job and who, in response to prayer and a call from his diocesan bishop years ago, had got into the habit of regular proportional giving. When he took early retirement and had to live on his pension his immediate plan was to continue the same proportion of giving but at the new significantly lower rate. But as he was praying he felt challenged by God to maintain his giving at the old rate. He decided to try this for a month or two, but expected that he would have to reduce it before too long. But, he told me with excitement in his eyes, we’re still managing fine, and happily giving on what his salary had been.
I love this story because it isn’t just about giving, good thermometer of our spirituality though that is. It’s actually a story of commitment, of prayer, of listening to God and obeying, and above all of the discovery of the joy which comes from full commitment to Jesus.
So with people like him around, I’m optimistic. And I’ve learnt that we see better from in among the people than we do from a desk.