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 …
Last week I returned to one of the parishes in which I had worked in the past for the funeral of our organist. While I was vicar he was on the Church Council, and I think it would be true to say that we disagreed totally about pretty much everything. He was an old-school Anglican, based around the beauty of the choral tradition. An engineer by training, he had in the back window of his Austin 1100 a sticker which proclaimed ‘Foot, pint and pound are perfectly sound. Don’t go metric’, which honestly I thought was a bit too little too late.
On the other hand I was a keen young vicar in my first incumbency, determined to drag the church kicking and screaming from the Tudor era into the glorious riches of Spring Harvest and charismatic renewal. What I lacked in people skills I made up for with single-minded determination. No wonder we saw things differently!
But the fact is, it never got nasty. Ever. We listened to one another, disagreed, sparred, but always, I believe with the utmost of respect. Fundamentally we liked each other, could see where we were coming from, and always treated one another with honesty and care. I can remember returning to the church a few years earlier, for a wedding, and being shown around the new digital organ which had finally replaced the somewhat asthmatic pipe instrument which had wheezed its way through the hymns during my time there. My friend was clearly very proud of this new machine, but I was aware of what it must have cost him to make the decision to go digital, rather than continuing to spend thousands on repairing the old ‘proper’ one. But I also knew that having made the decision he would have researched carefully and thoroughly, and made sure we got the best and most appropriate deal. My respect for him increased dramatically.
Having been the victim elsewhere of church disagreement which did turn thoroughly nasty, personal and vindictive, I thank God for my friend, his honour, honesty and respect. Part of mature discipleship, it seems to me, is about how we react when we do find ourselves in situations of conflict, when we step out of glorious times of worship together into the cut and thrust of meetings and decision-making, when we reach those loggerhead impasses. Niceness of itself is not, of course, the answer, as this can serve simply to bury conflict and invite some very large elephants into the room. But neither is making our quarrels personal vendettas.
The problem is, of course, that the behaviour of others affects our behaviour, and vice versa. It wasn’t difficult to like and respect my friend, because that was exactly how he treated me. But when I am attacked I turn nasty and am tempted to give as bad as I get. I can’t control the actions of others, but I do have a duty and calling to check my own behaviour, and to act with integrity and respect. A disciple of Jesus should do no less.
Image: By Mark Brown from Hampton, New Brunswick, Canada (1967 Austin 1100 Uploaded by oxyman) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons