‘Discipleship’ is a bit of a buzz word in Christian learning circles at the moment.  It’s quite a good one, as it has a strong biblical resonance.  However, I have had several reminders today of the ease with which we can even make ‘discipleship’ into an idol.  My colleague Ben likes to say that ‘Discipleship is not mentioned in the New Testament – only ‘Disciples’…’.  Likewise in his discipleship blog, Matthew Porter of St Michael-le-Belfry church writes today about how the essence of discipleship is active – it’s about the action of following Jesus (you actually have to go on a journey).  I suspect that outside of times of revival and renewal, it is especially tempting to turn the business of being a disciple into an ‘ism’ – it helps bring structure to the practice of our faith when we can navigate by the four cardinal virtues, the seven deadly sins, the ladder of perfection, the spiritual exercises, the five purposes of a purpose-driven life, or whatever (as this list should indicate, it’s a temptation which cuts across the whole theological spectrum).  These waymarkers help us take steps from our new identity in Christ (which does not rely on our own action but God’s) into the business of living as a disciple of Christ (which does involve us playing our part).  When we are spurred forwards by a particularly strong or immediate experience of God, these steps often occur naturally, but between those experiences, it’s just as important that there’s some pattern of Christian life to fall back on.  Both types of experience are important – we need both the Damascus Road and the Emmaus Road; an immersion in timely as well as timeless truth; both spontaneous, immediate encounters with God and ‘long-haul’ Christianity.  In Britain today, the Church is arguably predominantly in ‘long-haul’ mode – discerning patterns of faithful practice that enable it to live faithfully in challenging and changing times.  The recent plethora of thematic and concept-driven books on ‘discipleship’ is not coincidental.  I’m not knocking them.  But the challenge is to prevent this new interest in discipleship ossifying into another kind of ‘ism’ – from becoming formulaic, conventional, and impervious to new movements of the spirit.  We follow a person, not a system.

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