By: Rev. Canon Mark Oxbrow, Director: Guided Study Programme- Oxford Centre for Mission Study
Intentional Holistic Discipleship happens when we actively take the decision every day to allow God to give us a ‘Jesus-Shaped Life’, at work, at home, at church, at leisure – in every aspect of our life, so that everything we do, and are, is a glowing witness to the redeeming love of God.
Intentional discipleship is the process whereby every day, moment by moment, we seek to live a ‘Jesus-shaped life’ that speaks, often without words, to those around us of the holiness, love and grace of God. For this discipleship to be holistic requires that every aspect of our lives is ‘Jesus-shaped’, not just our church life and our personal devotions but also our work life, our life in the community, how we choose to spend our leisure time, and the choices we make about friendships, money, the care of creation – the whole of life. Disciples of Jesus are far more likely to make disciples if the quality of their lives speaks as loudly about God as their words.
‘Follow me’. These two simple words of invitation and command stand at the head of every relationship with Jesus, the Son of God, whether spoken on a Galilean lake shore, on the streets of Jakarta, or in a hospital in Tokyo. Like every child responding to the outstretched hand of a parent, Simon and Andrew, Mary and Salome, and millions of Christians through two millennia have accepted that simple invitation in faith and often with minimal understanding of the life-transforming decision they have taken. To follow Jesus of Nazareth into his cosmic reign is simply the most challenging, the most beautiful, the most costly, the most rewarding journey we could ever choose to begin.
Visit any Christian community today and in each place you will be struck by the courage, faithfulness, and love with which people are following Jesus. As Peter discovered on his journey up to Jerusalem, the road ahead is not always clear, and as James and John
discovered there are temptations of power and influence. Some of us have even found ourselves as compromised as Judas, but we remain a family of women, men, and children who are deeply in love with Jesus and seeking daily to follow in his ways.
Discipleship, our following Jesus, requires much more than the latest course or introduction to Christian living. Courses have their place, but discipleship, demands much more – in fact it demands everything.
Firstly, it is an invitation to an increasingly intimate relationship with the Triune God whom we know in Jesus. This relationship, which is both individual and communal, is nurtured through prayer and the deepening of spiritual life. As together we go on following the ways of Jesus we discover, with Paul, that our life becomes less and less our own and increasingly ‘hidden with Christ in God’ (Col 3.3). In stark contrast to the individualism that plagues much of our contemporary society, we find ourselves becoming part of something (someone) much greater, much more beautiful and fulfilling. But this experience of true humanity ‘in
God’ is not something to hold to ourselves. It is for all humanity, indeed for all creation (Rom 8.19).
The invitation to follow is, in the Gospels, immediately followed by a promise which is often misunderstood as a command or authorisation – ‘I will make you fishers of [people].’ Evangelism is not a task given to the Church, but a promise. Jesus promises that as we follow him we will become fishers of men, women, and children. Our lives, reflecting the
image of God, will attract and change others. To hold the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to ourselves is a supreme act of selfishness. As we follow and are shaped by the life of Jesus, that selfish possessiveness of our relationship with him will be dissipated and we will naturally begin to include others in that love-relationship. Exclusivity has no place in the family of God; all God-centred relationships are inclusive, and our evangelism has nothing to do with numbers and power but everything to do with love, generosity, inclusion, and the all-encompassing life and love of God.
As our daily following of Jesus draws us deeper into the Body of Christ, the life of the Triune God, reconciliation becomes a pressing priority. Humanity shares the brokenness and pain
of our world, and this needs to be brought to God, to be offered at the Cross – to find reconciliation, wholeness, and life in the shattered life of God. As Paul reminds us, the heart of our discipleship is not only to ‘be reconciled’ with God but also to exercise a ‘ministry of reconciliation’ (2 Cor 5.11–21). That ministry is to be exercised within the Church, in the
wider community, and in our relationship with the whole created order. In many ways this life of reconciliation is the most public aspect of our Christian discipleship and at the same time deeply enmeshed with our witness, or evangelism.
A narrow, pietistic attachment to Jesus was never what God intended and will not serve us well today. Following Jesus will and must change every aspect of our being. At the core will be our reconciliation with God, but this can never be complete until we are at peace with ourselves, in vital communion with the whole Body of Christ, in a renewed relationship with the whole human family, and discovering a new harmony with creation as a whole.
For most Christians it will be the ‘Jesus-shaped life’ they live in the workplace, amongst their friends, on the football pitch, in politics, and in the market which will be the true test of their discipleship – their intentional holistic discipleship – which draws others to Christ.