“Discipleship” is a word we use often in our church (and, obviously, is used often in all Christian churches). We employ it as a “functionary” description of Christian believers. When we talk about disciples, we always tend to mean people who “follow” Jesus and thus “serve” the world.
However, do you know what the word “disciple” actually meant back in biblical days (back when Jesus called the disciples)? The word meant “learner.” Think of the Andrew story. Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist. He was seeking Truth by following him, observing and listening. Then one day, he happened to be in a place where Jesus was teaching. He listened and was intrigued. He wanted to know more. He posed a question about where Jesus was residing (where He was teaching), and Jesus answered: “Come and see.” So Andrew went with Him, listened to Him, pondered and processed what he was hearing, and then signed on. (John 1: 35-40) And what he signed on to do was to learn more. That’s what it had meant to be John’s disciple. Now (with John’s encouragement) he made the decision to learn what Jesus had to teach. In fact, he went and found his brother, Simon Peter, and invited him to do the same.
If we are seekers, explorers of Faith, or learners, then by definition we are disciples. If we come to Worship or Sister Carol’s classes or small groups to discover and discern, then we are disciples. If we read the Bible asking, “What does our Judeo-Christian Story actually say?,” then we are disciples. If we seek to understand the life and teachings of Jesus and how all that applies to our own lives, then we are disciples. If you have a summer book list that includes Faith and scriptural inquiry, then you are a disciple. A disciple is a learner.
“But,” someone asks, “what of all that traditional language about service? And what about all the things you, Michael, have said about discipleship and how it includes doing meaningful things in the world?” James (by many considered the brother of Jesus) said that serving the world is the inevitable outcome of learning the Faith. “I by my works will show you my faith,” he wrote. (James 2:18) What he meant was that the more we learn of Truth, the more authentic we inevitably become. The more we learn of justice, the more just we will inescapably be. The more we learn of forgiveness, the more we will tend to forgive. The more we learn of the love of Jesus, and how incredibly and unconditionally He loves us, then the more loving we will be toward others. If we are untouched and unmoved by what we learn of this Faith, then we didn’t actually learn it at all. I took Math in college because I had to, but to do Math nowadays I use a calculator. I passed the course, but I didn’t really learn it. I took Preaching and Theology courses in seminary, and there is nothing I love to do more. You see what I mean? If we study something and allow it not merely to inform but also to impact us, then we will become different people. If we value the message, we will want to pass it along. So, genuine disciples (learners) of Christian Faith inevitably become genuine servants. Otherwise, though we may have heard the teachings, we did not actually learn the lessons.
I encourage you to become disciples. Read. Study. Worship. Converse with other pilgrims on the journey. Explore what Faith means. All that, if taken seriously, will transform you into a better servant. We’ll not merely know what to do, but we will also know why we do it.