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Reform Magazine | November 29, 2023

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A good question: What makes a disciple?

A good question: What makes a disciple?


As the United Reformed Church prepares for ‘Walking the Way: Living the life of Jesus today’, a renewed emphasis on discipleship, we ask What makes a disciple?

‘God forms us into the image of Jesus’

Let’s begin with God. Discipleship is the process by which God forms us gradually into the image of Jesus. The Holy Spirit working in the world gently challenges us to widen the bounds of our hearts so that we can learn from and open ourselves up to a whole range of people from whom, we might otherwise have assumed, we have nothing to learn.

A disciple in Jesus’ day remained so close that they were covered in the dust of their teacher’s feet. This indicates that discipleship is a continuing process of watching and listening to model behaviour on that of the teacher. Rowan Williams refers to this as a ‘non-intermittent’ quality. This accompanying leads to an approach to the events and encounters of each day as a training ground in learning to love in the way of Jesus.

It also involves cultivating some stillness in which to receive perspective and direction and to be overwhelmed once more by the mystery of God’s blessing of the world. Not that any of this is easy. Being a disciple requires a measure of courage to speak out when you would rather remain silent, to open your home to a stranger, to challenge injustice and to do this with humility and grace.

Thus far, discipleship sounds a rather lonely experience. However, the Church is the discipleship community. It might even be regarded as a bootcamp for disciples. …

Richard Church is Deputy General Secretary (Discipleship) for the United Reformed Church


‘It is about love’

We rarely use the word ‘disciple’ outside of the context of following Jesus. In former times it might have been used of any pupil or student who was closely following a teacher, someone who was hanging on their every word, eager to know their latest thoughts or read their latest text. I have sometimes had that kind of relationship with someone, pre-ordering the latest book, looking out for lectures or appearances, excited to hear their voice. But I wouldn’t say, even then, that I was a disciple.

Being a disciple of Jesus means more even than that kind of rather fevered and fervent interest. I am a disciple of Jesus, but it’s not just that I want to read everything written about him or research his every idea or walk where he once walked (though I do want to do those things). There’s something more, and I think that that something more is about love. In the final analysis, I am a disciple of Jesus because it is through him that I know I am loved and that I can love. He is more than an author of stories or a fascinating teacher, he is the way that I have come to know God and to know that I am the object of God’s love. He is not only mediated to me through his writings and his story, but is a living, loving presence in my daily life. He is not only someone I read about, or whose voice I might catch sometimes, but is a daily companion on my life’s journey.

This means that when I wonder how to live my life and my loving, how to act in a situation or how to resolve a problem, it is to him I turn, him above all others. And this is not only in my intellectual life or even my prayer life, but all my life. …

Susan Durber is a church minister in Taunton

‘The interplay between Jesus and the life we lead’

The question is interesting because we might have expected it to be ‘Who makes a disciple?’ And that would have led us to think about who is around us. But what makes a disciple? I think one short answer might be the interplay between Jesus and the life we lead.

‘Discipleship’ can be quite slippery. It can be used to mean so many different things. This is my suggested definition: disciples are people who are learning the ways of Jesus in their contexts at this moment. So rather than discipleship being primarily about activity, or education, or confidence, it is about a wide-eyed commitment to recognise the opportunities and challenges that we are facing at any given time, and then to be able to ask how we are going to respond to them. Each of our situations, the joys and the tough times, give us a chance to learn the ways of Jesus, and to live out this faith that we profess together.

This formation of a disciple begins at the point of surrender. We get to that point where somehow or other we give in to the ways of Jesus and realise that our core identity has changed: we have become learners of a new way. We have encountered Jesus, found him to be compelling and liberating, and realised that we need to follow his ways. Suddenly, though they may not feel natural, these ways do make sense. So the first thing that makes a disciple is that sense of the freshness of meeting Jesus. …

Neil Hudson is Imagine Team Leader at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity


‘Come and see’

Curiosity is a powerful characteristic of the human person. It is through this attribute that great discoveries and small advances are made. It moves us into and along a journey of insight into the forces which shape our universe, our societies and our souls. Properly understood, it is a guard against both tyranny and complacency.

It was curiosity which gave rise to the question asked by three men who heard an unknown teacher speaking in a Middle Eastern street two millennia ago: ‘Where do you live?’ We can recognise the uncertainty in the interest: Who is this guy? Does he come from round here? Should we trust him?

They were not answered with an address, but with an invitation: ‘Come and see.’ This is at the heart of the Quaker experience. In 1647, recording a spiritual ‘opening’ (a revelation or guidance from the Spirit of Christ within) in his journal, George Fox concluded: ‘This I knew experimentally.’ In 17th-century usage, the word was interchangeable with ‘experientially,’ as it is in modern French.

It is a dual concept that would have made perfect sense to Isaac Newton, Fox’s younger contemporary. When Newton saw the apple fall in his orchard, he was experiencing something towards which curiosity and speculation had already pointed him. He was receptive, but needed the experience to take the theory forward. …

Jill Segger is a journalist and Associate Director of the thinktank Ekklesia


These are extracts from a longer article that was published in the October 2017 edition of  Reform

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  1. Michelle

    I see it as a process which happens when we sow the word first into our own , then into the heart soil of those we encounter. The powerful truth, it tells us in Mark 4, goes in and grows though we know not how. This seed is essential because its full of truth and its the truth that sets us free.

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