Selfish discipleship?

Is discipleship really always a personal, inward-looking thing?

I’ve been reading a brilliant book about giving (yes I’m cool!) which outlines two different types of financial exchange:

  1. The transfer of money to another individual or organisation in order that they give you something back - this is trading.  

  2. Giving someone money so that they can, in turn, give something to a third party.  The most familiar example would be giving to charity - you give them money so that they can pass on the money or equivalent services to those in need. 

For me, number two is the essence of discipleship.  We are given something which we can then give away.  Our personal discovery of God is not only for ourselves but is a journey designed to be shared to bless others.  Is that really how we see it though?  I think we see our personal discipleship as something essentially for our own benefit (an ‘in’ part of our life) and that the ‘out’ part of our faith exists in a separate box.  We might see our discipleship as something which gives us energy or enthusiasm for sharing stuff from box ‘b’ with others (Christian or otherwise), but we rarely consider the stuff of our walk with God itself as the things which will encourage, challenge and inspire others towards hope.

When we teach our young people a bible story is it just a discovery for them or do we acknowledge that this is another story that they now are able to share with others?  When we teach them how to pray is that just for their personal benefit or is it also a gift that they can give to others?  Those gems of understanding or experience are given us not only for our own benefit, but as discoveries to share with others.  Do we articulate this truth to them as we help them discover God?

I have great admiration for the ‘in, out, up’ model.  I love how it has put mission onto the agenda of many church communities and given us a language with which to articulate balance in a church’s priorities.  However, I think we need to be careful not to let this great community model infiltrate our personal experience of faith and box off personal discipleship and service to others as separate parts of our life.

I had a great chat with Laura from selfharm.co.uk at Youthwork the Conference this last weekend.  We discussed how engaging young people with mental health issues is not only helpful for their personal lives but makes them confident and life-saving friends to others.  I also discussed with someone else how Christians should make the best employees - imitating Jesus should produce committed, honest, hard-working individuals of integrity.  Surely we should be openly modelling and sharing the challenges of this lifestyle to equip others to engage with a lifestyle of service and integrity.  Similarly the stories, struggles and epiphanies of our personal walks are given us not only for our own benefit but for the building up and encouragement of others.

Do you see personal discipleship as a journey whose gems are to be shared with others or is it a separate, private box?

Pippa Elmes

Ministry Training Leader

Pippa supports those in church based student ministry to do their job really well. She loves challenging churches to work with students and equipping them to pioneer new mission opportunities to reach students.                     

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