As a child in South Africa I spent the morning in school and the afternoon playing “school” at home on our farm teaching what I had learned to our farmhand’s children. My “school” operated out of Dad’s storage shed with neatly arranged wooden tomato box desks and a hand bell to announce the start and end. I did my best with what little I had and my “teaching” was far from competent. Today, teaching is my profession. I’ve trained in the discipline and honed my art. But just as when I was a child, I’m still learning every day as I teach.
From a child, I’ve also striven to be a disciple of Jesus. How am I tracking? That depends on how we define discipleship and how we measure it. There is, it turns out, surprising disagreement within Christianity over discipleship. Should we be monks purifying our souls? Should we aim for great material success to spread the influence of the gospel? Is discipleship about an inner discipline? Is it measured by what we do? Is it faith, is it works, is it about what we consume or what we discard? Is it all of that, none of that or something completely different? And if it is something real, tangible, definable, can it be measured? Can we know how we as individuals are tracking and how we as a Church are progressing?
Some are opposed to the idea of defining and then measuring discipleship. But it turns out the Bible provides specific traits of a disciple (see, for example, Matthew 28:19,20; John 15:8; Luke 9:23). Why provide those specific traits if we don’t take a minute to compare our lives to those biblical ideals? Today we measure baptisms. We measure tithe. We measure institutional growth. We measure the trajectory of offerings. All good. But none of those measures gets to the heart of what Jesus calls us to do: make disciples, baptise them and teach them to obey all that He has commanded. If we don’t measure discipleship we can be tracking brilliantly in every area we account for and not know we are utterly failing in our core mission, or vice versa.
Discipleship is all about being transformed, maturing, remaining active, nurturing, growing, serving. Currently we’re conducting a South Pacific Division-wide survey on these aspects. The more of us who participate, the better idea we’ll have of our strengths and our spiritual needs. Please visit: <www.surveymonkey.com/r/GrowingDisciples> and complete the survey. You don’t have to give your name and no-one will be looking over your shoulder. You can even do it during the break between Sabbath School and church on your phone. Or, dare I say it, during a lull in the sermon! You might be very surprised by the outcome!
Dr Sherry Hattingh is a lecturer at Avondale College of Higher Education.