The challenge to Discipleship in 2022 – Pastor Thoughts

This week Jesus is talking with the crowds about Discipleship. He gives a couple of cheeky examples that overturn our expectations and remind us that Discipleship requires sacrifice. You will have to hear my sermon on Sunday to find out more, but suffice to say the point is that Discipleship, or being a follower of Jesus is a journey for which we don’t know what the end destination will look like.  

And of course, Fall has often been a time when Discipleship and related programs are promoted by many churches. Discipleship is a big church word that we have a very strange relationship with in 2022. What does following Jesus actually look like and mean for our lives today? If you have the answer, I think there is a lot of money to be made as an author and guest speaker!

Discipleship evokes a sense of doing. Disciples sound like people who are out in the world doing things related to following and having faith in Jesus. Identifying where Discipleship is happening in our own lives might be a bit of a challenge. 

I suspect that for many folks, Discipleship is what a lot of people think pastors or other clergy are out doing in the world: praying, reading the Bible, helping the poor, visiting the sick, teaching the young, comforting the grieving, etc. And if we are honest about our history as Lutherans in Canada, a lot of congregations have wanted pastors to do “Discipleship” on their behalf. Not the way that a person of means might have a maid clean the house on their behalf, but more like how a student would rather the teacher finish the math problem on the blackboard than be called forward to write it out themselves.

Of course we know that there are many ways to be a disciple. The super volunteer who makes the coffee, hands out the bulletin, has served on council for 25 years, teaches Sunday school, mows the church lawn and generally is out there making the church keep running is someone who comes to mind. Or maybe the prayerful person who prays for the whole congregation every week. Or maybe the faithful student of the Bible who keeps to a regular reading plan. 

But sometimes Discipleship can also be the overwhelmed family who manages to pull things together enough to show up at church once a month or even every six weeks. Sometimes discipleship is that faithful senior who sings alto in the choir, shows up at church most weeks, puts what they can in the plate even if it is not very much and is simply there even though they are not leading the charge on council or handing out bulletins or mowing the lawn. 

Discipleship looks like different things for different people. For some it is service, for others leadership, for others study, for others caring and compassion, still for others it is presence and consistency.  

But most of all, at this moment in 2022, it is also something that we haven’t been good at for the most part as North American Lutherans for the past 75 years or so. Discipleship today is about asking good questions. Questions like:

Who are we? What is our identity?
What does it mean to be people of faith?
What does it mean to do faith in community?
What does it look like for us to serve the world today?
What is God calling us to be now?
Why is the church important for us today?
Why is it important for the world?

For a long time, it was assumed that we knew all the answers to these questions and that we all had the same answers. Church was simply a matter of providing the space for people who mostly understood collectively that Discipleship meant to follow Jesus and to be good Christians together. 

But I am pretty sure we don’t know the answers to those questions today, or if we ever did. I am pretty sure that if there is one thing above all else that has allowed folks to drift away from faith communities, it is not knowing the answers to why all this church stuff is important and often getting reprimanded for asking. 

While some might disagree with me, I think one of the most important jobs for pastors and church leaders today is to be asking these questions, to be talking about Discipleship and what it means, to be admitting that we don’t know where following Jesus will take us or how it will change us. 

Just like the crowds who will interrogate Jesus about Discipleship on Sunday, we are in between places, on the road and uncertain of where we are headed.

But Jesus knows the way. And Jesus is calling us to follow, even if it means giving up things we never imagined that we would have to leave behind. Because who God turns us into on the other side, will make all the difference. 


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