Every church provides a pathway to Discipleship. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Quoted like that out of context the verse raises a lot of concerns about working at salvation and fearing God. Setting that aside, the phrase still puts a finger on Discipleship. Salvation is God’s gift. Discipleship is what a Christian does through the receiving process. Discipleship involves hands and feet–living a life of purity and finding meaningful forms of service. It involves the heart–cultivating affection for God and forging meaningful relationships with others. It involves the head–understanding one’s faith. But different congregations see the trajectory differently they have different starting points and different ending points.
One way to think of this is to consider a catechism. People who received religious instruction through a catechism learned to give specific answers to theological questions. The pathway of Discipleship I grew up with involved scripture reading, scripture memory and scripture knowledge. Both catechetical and biblical pathways of discipleship suggest the same trajectory. The pathway of discipleship is from head to heart to hands and feet.
Other people grew up with a very different pathway. My hunch is that most Disciples of Christ who grew up in churches in the last forty years (i.e., my lifetime), grew up with a strong emphasis on relationships. Friendships were forged through church groups and people felt they experienced the presence or love of God. I’d call this the heart to hands and feet to head approach to discipleship.
Still others operate from the hands and feet to heart to head. In this trajectory, churches seek to engage people in meaningful service–mission trips, volunteering, leadership in worship, etc–and watch as their hearts are warmed and their head inspired in the process faith forms.
Where one locates the starting point of discipleship is where one looks for meaningful connections to God. And when that works we create one problem–believing that a way is the way. And this creates a second problem: exclusivity born of misunderstanding the way other people can come at faith. I have heard people make exclusive claims about scripture, relationships and service. “All you need is the Bible.” “Christian faith is all about relationships.” “Nothing really matters but service.” Though I’ve never found these claims convincing, I’ve also never been successful in trying to suggest an reasonable alternative.
Even so, my experience has also been that every pathway breaks down somewhere along the line. There are some questions for which our minds cannot form adequate answers. People lie, fail, sin, and walk away and relationships dissolve or worse square off in fierce enmity. The romance of service sooner or later confronts the reality of human life most of our problems can be ameliorated through service but very rarely solved.
One way forward seems to be self-awareness and critique. A person can map their own faith journey and assess what’s missing. If it’s all head and no heart they might seek to establish spiritual friendship. If there’s a definite lack of hands and feet, they might seek to stretch into some form of Christian service. Second, it would be to ask others to share their story of faith and listen with a sense of hospitality rather than judgment. Very hard to do.
Scripture teaches us to love God with all that we are. So we seek ways to give God our head, heart and hands and feet.