by Brad Noel
The PAONL has focused a great deal on discipleship in recent times; you have likely heard it mentioned from your local pulpit. We have been discussing this topic for some years now at our bi-annual conferences. Personally, I have taught on this subject a number of times, and wrote an article on discipleship for the Good Tidings back in 2011.
Why this continual focus? As you will have heard or read elsewhere, the leadership of the PAONL is concerned not just with declining numbers within the fellowship, but also with significantly weakening influence within our culture at large. The Church in Newfoundland and Labrador is quickly moving from a respected place at the centre of community life, to a mere footnote on the changing landscape of society. Let me be clear: There are simply no quick fixes to the challenges we face; we will not fully undo in a few short years what took decades to develop. The leaders of our fellowship are convinced that a key piece of the solution – perhaps the only solution – is to ensure that our people, from the youngest child to most senior member, are living each day as passionate disciples of Jesus Christ.
I am fully convinced of the following:
- The shifts in culture and generational differences we have observed will continue in our province unabated.
- We have not witnessed the worst of a post-Christian culture; rather, we have just seen the tip of the iceberg.
- Weak, uncertain faith, will not survive. Those solely with head knowledge about Christ will quickly find themselves convinced of alternate options.
- Those who live in expectation of a divine intervention in the form of past revivals, who fail to prepare themselves and grow in the character of Christ in the present, will grow bitter, disillusioned, and increasingly unable to influence those around them for the Gospel.
- The disparity between our declared beliefs, and how we actually live (the evidence of our true values) must be addressed, and quickly.
To be properly prepared for a) the cultural challenges that are present and future, and b) the renewal of our own fellowship, we must live in the reality of personal and congregational spiritual health. That place of health is obtained as we set our sights on a thorough discipleship process for every believer, in every assembly, throughout our province.
What then is discipleship? Once again, it is the gradual and intentional process of becoming ever more like Christ, and seeking to help others in their own journey of growth. To borrow from my previous article on the subject, we note the following characteristics of a disciple. As you read, quickly evaluate your own life.
- If discipleship had two key goals, they would be transformation and multiplication.
- Transformation of character comes as a result of consistently and faithfully walking with God. God often uses trials and challenges in our lives to help shape our characters, and to help us grow.
- Multiplication comes as a result of evangelism and mentoring. Disciples must produce disciples. We are to multiply on two fronts: first, we seek to introduce Jesus to people who do not currently serve Him, and second, we seek to help other followers to become more mature in their Christian walk.
- Discipleship is a process. We never graduate from growing more like Christ. It is a goal that should consume our attention until the day we meet Jesus face to face.
What are the values of a disciple, those things we not only believe, but also will commit to practice? They include:
- Evangelism (making Jesus known to others)
- Transformation (being shaped into Christ’s likeness)
- Community (experiencing life in the fellowship of others)
- Worship (delighting God in all you do)
- Service/Ministry (investing your energies in His purposes)
- Power (being a dynamic presence for God in the world through the enabling of the Holy Spirit)
As with anything worthwhile, there are costs to being a disciple of Jesus. Contrary to some popular teaching, God has not called us to a life of ease and comfort, without challenge or pain. As you assess whether you’re truly living as a disciple of Jesus, determine whether you’ve recently paid the price of being His disciple.
- Cross Bearing (we seek not our will, but His)
- Self Denial (sacrificing our desires for the Gospel)
- Abiding in His Words & Teaching (we are not just hearers but doers of the Word)
- Love for Others (this is how others will know we are disciples)
- Fruitfulness (growth plus service)
Well, you may ask, “Having evaluated my own life and walk with God, I can truly say that I am committed to growing as a disciple of Christ. What does this look like?” Excellent question! In the next article, I will unpack a number of very practical and daily disciplines that believers have, for centuries, used to grow in grace and in the knowledge of God.
Before I conclude this first of several articles, however, allow me to note that in many ways, what has been most distinctive about Pentecostalism, and certainly what has been a focus of our historical growth, has also been a double edged sword. What is best about Pentecostalism has in some ways also been our greatest challenge. The Pentecostal focus upon the altar and the powerful moving of the Holy Spirit in our midst, is surely one of our most prized convictions. It is possible, however, that an unbalanced appreciation for the ecstatic movement of the Spirit in our lives has in the long term hindered our spiritual growth. We will consider this more deeply in the next article, as we ask the following questions:
- What does it mean to be spiritual?
- Do we assume that our traditional Pentecostal understanding of spirituality is also a fully biblical understanding?
- Is it possible that Newfoundland Pentecostals have for some years misunderstood what spiritual maturity should look like?
- What is the proper relationship between the moving of God at our altars, and the moving of God in our daily lives through the spiritual disciplines?
I recognize that my upcoming answers to some of these questions may be difficult to hear. I firmly believe however, that the day has long passed for soft answers, and less than honest assessments of where we as individuals and as a fellowship find ourselves. Difficult conversations must take place, followed perhaps by difficult decisions, and then – God willing – by life, assembly, and province-changing spiritual health and growth!