Eight years of living in Pen Asia have given me a variety of experiences related to discipleship and how discipleship might work in this context.
Broadly, discipling others is to be available to help shape their spiritual life. There is a sense of this being intentional, and yet also a natural process to help others seek increasing fruitfulness in their lives. Viewed this way, we might refer to it as sanctification.
Westerners usually think of discipleship as taking place during a set period of time, often early in our spiritual journey, a time we set aside to let God do His work. Discipleship may fit into a class at a set time where we form our theological views. Perhaps we ignore God’s claim on our lives- that our journey of growth should be continuous and ongoing, that God can use chance encounters or even suffering to form and shape our spirituality—that He is orchestrating all things to work together for our good.
This approach fits my context. Local folk don’t split apart their spiritual lives from their secular lives. Spirituality permeates everything. Discipleship, then, can take place through all sorts of actions, forms and situations. Discipleship is actually a whole lot of life experiences with the key ingredient being the promptings of the Holy Spirit who works so powerfully in us. Col 1:29
For some time, I managed a team made up largely of Buddhists. There were many opportunities to share Christ gently in word and deed. Some of this was direct: sharing a parable at a training session, explaining my Christian motivation to walk alongside the poor, praying with those in difficult situations, or responding to questions about my faith. But much was indirect: consciously donning a servant leadership approach, respecting others, discussing ethics and morals, or demonstrating love in action.
My current team is made up of believers, quite a different situation. We have been following a Bible study series to explore and discuss passages in depth. In these our staff bring up their unanswered questions and often theological discussion has led them to consider life application in areas like diet and health, raising children, the use of technology, and ethical business practices.
I like to encourage my staff to expand their faith through specific prayer or re-reading small passages of scripture. Attending their church services has also been encouraging for them, giving them a kind of solidarity and me a deeper understanding of the challenges of worshiping in their context.
What about those who are yet to follow Jesus as their Lord? Discipleship can then take on the form of revealing the truth of scripture as played out in real life. Acts of kindness play a role here. When I worked in development, building a bridge with a poor community, a major undertaking for all involved, led to changes in mindset about “Christians” such that some villagers are now working with a nearby Christian business. These are small steps indeed, but as we are faithful in small ways, so God can do His work to orchestrate bigger changes in the future.
Rod* is an agronomist and husband to Helen*. The couple were Interserve Partners in Pen Asia for 9 years. Helen also shared about Discipleship in the Home.
* Names have been changed