Discipleship is living a life of compassion and being transformed, shaped, and formed in the image and likeness of Christ. What does that look like? It looks differently in different contexts and different places.
In the past, discipleship was built on attaining right belief or knowing the right things. However, the mind doesn’t always penetrate the heart in ways that enable us to live as faithful disciples and followers of Christ. When I talk about discipleship, I focus on practices: what kinds of practices help us identify with the life of Christ, and how do these practices enable us to live out a life of love and compassion toward others? To be a disciple is to participate in the means of grace in ways that form and shape us into the likeness of Christ. Often, we think of spiritual formation as the inner landscape of the person. To be formed and shaped in the likeness of Christ is something that must be developed in community—in the context of our faith community or in our involvement with our society/culture. To elaborate, I’d like to draw from a new book I’ve written with Diane Leclerc called, Spiritual Formation: A Wesleyan Paradigm.
A definition of Spiritual formation includes four aspects: First it begins with a focus on being “formed” and “transformed.” The human person is being transformed (always present tense) into the “image and likeness of Christ.” A second aspect of Christian spiritual formation focuses on our human participation with God. It is important to note that it is not what we do that transforms us, but it is through our participation in the “means of grace” that we receive transforming, molding, indeed the sanctifying grace from God, and thus we are changed. Third, Christian spiritual formation emphasizes a life-long process that takes place in the context of community. Christian faith is often practiced void of the community. This would have been unthinkable for the writers of Scripture and the early Christians. The Christian life is intended to be lived in community, where worship, fellowship, small groups, and service are practiced. Fourth, Spiritual formation includes the nurturing of self in relationship to others. Our relationship with God does not sacrifice our uniqueness; rather, it allows us to become more fully who God created us to be. Spiritual formation then includes the development of our own unique gifts, personalities, talents, abilities. As we fully give ourselves over to God, God enables us to become more fully ourselves. It is our belief that God’s intention for spiritual development intertwines activities where care of self is not in opposition to our relationship with God and one another.*
All of us have different ways in which we connect with God and express our faith. You might be someone who says, “I express my faith through service. I really like to use my hands to express my faith.” Others may be geared to solitude and prayer or worship and singing. One generation may say, “Discipleship means engaging in issues of justice, creation care or the poor.” Another generation may say, “I define discipleship by being committed to the local church, paying my tithe, or teaching a Sunday school class.” Neither of these is wrong, but there must be a sense of balance between inward and outward practices as we strive for spiritual maturity.
MARK MADDIX is Professor of Christian Education at Northwest Nazarene University
Part of the above was taken from an interview with Mark Maddix at M11. A portion of the interview can be viewed online at www.graceandpeacemagazine.org.
*Leclerc, Diane and Mark Maddix. Spiritual Formation: A Wesleyan Paradigm. (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2011), pp. 11-16