Whole of life discipleship
Rod and Helen* have served in Pen Asia for the last 8 years; he as an agronomist and she as a home-schooling mother.
Here, they each reflect on what it means to follow Jesus in the diverse contexts of their daily lives.
‘Whole of life’ discipleship means living a life of faith alongside others and encouraging them in their faith journey. This is very challenging to me because it’s intricately linked with my own faith journey. Discipleship of others feels most natural, and most authentic, when it overflows from my own experience of following Jesus, my own experience of being His disciple.
I’m still learning how to stay aware of His presence amidst my everyday activities and to walk through my days with Him. I’m still learning to turn to Him over and over again in small moments, with thankfulness and cries for help. I’m still learning to put my failings, my hopes, my needs and the needs of others around me into His hands.
As I learn more about how to follow Him, and as I experience His loving care, His provision and His encouragement, then I find myself sharing these experiences in a natural way with those around me.
John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
I find it hard to strike a balance between being intentional in discipleship and allowing the Spirit to lead me. I am committed to encouraging others to follow Jesus more closely, but I want to do it in His strength, relying on His wisdom and His timing and not my own. The times I feel a welling up in my spirit, an urgency to share an experience of His grace or an encouragement from His Word, are the times I sense His Spirit touching others through me. I pray for my heart to become more sensitive to His nudges and for more of these moments that seem truly God-directed.
The people I live my everyday activities amongst are the ones I have most opportunity to share with and encourage: my three kids who I teach at home each day, a few local women who I come into contact with regularly, and a few other expat friends in our community. These people, with whom I interact most closely, see the best and the worst of me. Amidst the messiness of my everyday life I hope they will see His strength made perfect in my weakness as I seek to follow Him.
I have the opportunity to live life and faith alongside our house-helper Bee*. She is from a small village in the south of the country but is living in the capital with her husband while he does further study. She works in our home to help support her husband’s studies and they live with us. Bee is a follower of Jesus, but her husband is not.
It is a privilege to walk alongside Bee and we’ve experienced some exciting answers to prayer. She was keen to learn tailoring skills whilst living in the capital; but we knew it would be difficult to find a tailor who would be willing to teach her around her work hours, and who would teach her a wide range of skills rather than seeing her as an opportunity for quick money or as someone to give all the drudge work to. We both prayed about how to find the right tailor to approach and one day I felt a strong urging to take Bee to a particular tailor who had made some clothes for me a couple of times before. I shared it with Bee and we went there that day. To our delight, the tailor agreed to teach Bee for a reasonable ‘one-off’ payment and for an open-ended amount of time—until Bee learnt as much as she wanted to learn. Bee has been learning alongside this tailor for over eighteen months and it is working out so well. An obvious answer to our prayers!
It’s harder to walk alongside Bee when circumstances are difficult and His answers are less obvious. It’s harder for me to trust His timing and His wisdom and to encourage Bee to do the same. Earlier this year Bee’s mother was very sick and so my family and I joined Bee in praying for her. Despite our prayers and our efforts to try and find the right medications for her, Bee’s mother died. Her family is left in a difficult situation with two younger sisters still at home and Bee’s father travelling away for work.
Although Bee’s husband is not a believer, he attends church with her each week and has been interested to read some Christian books and even a Study Bible. He has remarked that Christians really seem to care for other people and he was struck by the difference between the Christian funeral for Bee’s mother and the Buddhist funerals he is familiar with. He hasn’t decided to follow Jesus yet. Bee and I are still praying for him.
As I walk alongside others I learn so much from the way they live as a disciple. I have been challenged by Bee as she works in our home. She does her work with such diligence and care, always doing tasks to the best of her ability, and never seeking recognition or praise. When I read in the Word about taking the attitude of a servant, I think of Bee. Her example challenges my own willingness and efforts to be a servant.
Eight years of living in Pen Asia have provided me with a variety of experiences related to discipleship and how discipleship might work in this context.
In a broad sense, 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. Discipleship viewed this way is what we might refer to as sanctification.
As westerners, we 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 the claim that God has 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.
Adopting 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, by the way, works so powerfully in us; see Col 1:29).
For some time, I managed a team made up largely of Buddhists. Despite our context (where evangelism is viewed as creating disharmony and may lead to expulsion), 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. The book of Romans, for instance, is not something to be rushed through. Much of our discussion has centred on questions from our staff that have not been answered in their church settings. Discussion of theology has led them to consider life application in areas such as diet and health, raising children, the use of technology, and ethical business practices.
Living as a Jesus-follower means, however, that discipleship stays blurred. It involves a whole lot more than simply sharing scripture passages. It involves showing, demonstrating, guiding, or applauding others as they put Jesus’ words into practice. It may also be listening, crying, or hearing broken stories. Much of this takes place in the midst of the everyday. Note how often Jesus performs an action or provides teaching while he is “on the way” to somewhere else. Am I ready to adopt this view, to be available anytime, to point others to the Jesus way?
Lately, I’ve enjoyed asking our staff about their faith journeys and helping them relive why it is that they follow Christ. I like to encourage them to expand their faith, such as 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 and Helen are Interserve Partners in Pen Asia
*Names have been changed