Forging the Future
There are many biblical pictures that describe the process of discipleship. They vary from the gentle gathering of chicks under a wing, to being broken, melted and then moulded in the strong hands of the potter. There are pictures of refining in the hot heat of the fire, as well as sparks fanned into full flame.
When we look at the disciple-making processes spoken of in the Scriptures and the circumstances used to shape and form character, we are struck by the challenge, risk and often pain and discomfort that leads to the shaping of a person to be used by God in their own time and place. Paul, in Romans 5, reminds us of this when he writes, “we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
Even in the life of the twelve disciples of Jesus, it is often in their failures that they learn what it means to follow Christ. Disciple-making is at the heart of the mission of the church. The Great Commission of Jesus is a call to go and make disciples, who in turn make disciples and thereby come to share this Good News of Jesus with the whole world.
In our Baptist Union of Scotland, we remain committed to our declared principle of every disciple bearing witness, reaching out to the world around. We believe that we are more able to do this in working together than we in labouring apart. In our Declaration of Principle, which is the basis of our Union, we clearly articulate: “That it is the duty of every disciple to bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to take part in the evangelisation of the world.”
This Assembly seeks to reflect on how we might make disciples who will take up this duty to bear witness in Scotland today, spurring one another on in pursuing our shared vision. Bearing witness is a costly process. In calling one another to a missionary discipleship, we are calling one another out of comfort to a place of suffering and sacrifice. We challenge one another to live as lights in the darkness; to shake off the lifestyles of our neighbours and maybe also what has become acceptable in our churches; to put on the lifestyle of Christ our Saviour and Lord; and to follow the example of Paul, who wrote to the early believers in Philippi saying, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him...”
Bearing witness also is a learning process, a calling to learn from our mistakes as well as the encounters that send us home rejoicing. It is so often in our engagement with those who do not know Christ that we learn more about the grace of God and his mission in the world. It is in taking part in the evangelisation of Scotland that we will discover deeper truth concerning our continued brokenness, creating a Christlike community of God’s people.
For many of us, disciplemaking has been, primarily, an educational process. Now, good teaching of the Scriptures has been and remains central to discipleship formation. For many, however, listening to teaching has also been the place where discipleship stalled: waiting until we knew more or had all the answers before we began to witness; waiting until we felt we had prayed enough and were secure enough in our faith to stand firm in the face of every temptation.
The disciplemaking style of Jesus points to a better way. It is to send out his disciples long before they might consider themselves ready, even before they have come to articulate clearly the deeper truths of the faith that the Scriptures reveal. The early disciples were forged in the fire of witness and evangelisation. They grew up in Christ on mission. They had no tools, no programmes, no catchy slogans; but they went by faith and told people what they had seen. They healed the sick and cast out demons and they matured as disciples of character and hope.
Please pray for our Assembly together in Motherwell as we unpack this key theme together, that we would hear God’s call afresh to be disciple-making communities and that our witness in Scotland would be distinctly Christ-like.