Saturday, 31 January 2015


This has suddenly become a hotly contested word in the world of the Church of England! It is the subject of a big new Report to General Synod, and an article by Angela Tilby in this week's Church Times argues it isn't a word we should be using.

This wasn't originally written with that debate in mind: it is what I wrote back in January for our February church magazine, as Discipleship is our PCC priority this year!

I wonder what the word 'discipleship' means to you?

'Discipleship' might make you think of Jesus's first disciples. People like Andrew the fisherman, or Matthew the tax collector, who dropped everything when Jesus called them to follow him. They left families, careers and everything else behind, to wander around Galilee following wherever Jesus took them. Does discipleship have a meaning like this for you - making it perhaps not entirely a pleasant idea? You may remember songs and stories about the calling of the first disciples: perhaps -

In simple faith, like them who heard
Beside the Syrian Sea
The faithful calling of the Lord
Let us, like them, without a word,
Rise up and follow thee.

Or you might think of the story of Mary and Martha. Martha, who is busy making the tea and cleaning the kitchen, gets annoyed with her sister Mary who is instead sitting at Jesus's feet and learning from him. The original meaning of the word disciple is something like learner - that's why Jesus's first disciples sometimes called him 'Teacher'. A disciple is a learner - but this isn't learning from books, it is learning by spending a lot of time with your teacher and trying to be as much like them as possible.

Or maybe the image that comes to mind is something like Leonardo Da Vinci's famous painting of the Last Supper? A group scene, with 12 disciples (the number 12 representing the 12 historic tribes of Israel, and so expressing the ideal that all people would recognise and follow Jesus). They didn't always get on or agree, they sometimes even quarrelled over who was the greatest, and more than one of them let Jesus down at critical points in his story - but for better or worse they were the group, called together by Jesus, to be the very beginnings of the church.

Discipleship is one of Bishop Paul's priorities for our diocese this year, and is Belmont PCC's single-word priority for 2015, so it is worth asking ourselves what it really means. Then we can all work together on how to do it - and do it better!

It certainly seems to me that it includes something of all those three elements: being called to make God a priority in our lives - learning by spending time with Jesus - and being the church together with all the other people who have been called in this place.

What could you do this year to help you be a better disciple of Jesus? Which of those three areas might be your focus?

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