Pathways Week Four: Radical Christian Discipleship

Journey Forward is Mennonite Church USA’s churchwide renewal process of engaging in Scripture, storytelling and sharing how God is at work in the lives of people and congregations across MC USA. Its purpose is for us to renew our local and denominationwide identity and affirm our core beliefs as we live out the mission to which God calls us as the church. It is a process, not a conclusion. The process invites you to connect how you’re living God’s call to broader church mission and draws our attention to how the Living Word is moving in our midst.

The Renewed Commitments concisely name core values orienting MC USA toward a faithful future.

God invites us to experience and bear witness to the belovedness of all creation. We yearn to know and share in the mystery of God’s unending love. But we live in a broken world. The Holy Spirit beckons us toward the restoration of all things in Christ, and on this journey together, we commit to:

 

  • Follow Jesus

  • Witness to God’s peace

  • Experience transformation

The Pathways study guide is a resource for individuals and groups across MC USA to use in exploring how they might live out these values in their particular contexts. In preparation for MennoCon19, we invite you to use this study guide and consider how these commitments are at work in your life and community.

Session Summary
Drawing on symbols in the Gospels, this session identifies multiple aspects of Christian discipleship and guides participants in creating their own working definition. Participants will consider how they can be radical disciples of Jesus in their time and place.

Gather

Read each name on the following list followed by the phrase, “a disciple of Jesus.”

A man born blind Matthew, the tax collector
Ananias, of Damascus Matthias
Andrew, of Bethsaida Nathanael
Bartholomew Paul, of Tarsus
Eunice, daughter of Lois Philip, of Bethsaida
James, son of Alphaeus Salome
James, son of Zebedee Simon Peter, of Bethsaida
Joanna, wife of Herod’s steward Simon, the Zealot
John, son of Zebedee Stephen
Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea Susanna
Lydia, of Thyatira Tabitha, of Joppa
Mary, mother of James Thomas
Mary, mother of Jesus Thaddeus or Judas, son of James
Mary, of Magdala Timothy, son of Eunice

Invite people to name Christian disciples from their own experiences, history or Scripture who they esteem, followed by the phrase, “a disciple of Jesus.”

Explain that the legacy of discipleship lives on in us, spanning almost 2,000 years since these first disciples committed their lives to following Jesus. Note that this list is not exhaustive of all the disciples in the New Testament. Yet, these 28 names represent an immense variety of identities — imperfect people whose lives were transformed by their response to Jesus’ call.

Offer a prayer of thanks for the disciples named and for each person present today. Invite God’s Spirit to guide your group toward a fuller understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.

Tell the group that today’s session focuses on the first of three “Renewed Commitments” for Mennonite Church USA: following Jesus.

“We commit to follow Jesus. As an Anabaptist community of the living Word, we listen for God’s call as we read Scripture together, guided by the Spirit. Through baptism we commit ourselves to live faithfully as Jesus’ disciples, no matter the cost.”

Encounter

Point out the symbols you have collected that are related to discipleship (cross, sandals, fish, towel, water and Bible). Ask participants to reflect silently on which symbol connects most with their understanding of discipleship and have a minute for silent reflection.

Designate an area of the room for each symbol. Invite participants to move to their preferred symbol. Allow five minutes for people to share, in the small groups around symbols, about why the symbol connected with them. If a symbol attracts only one person, add that symbol to another smaller group. If your total group is not big enough to form small symbol groups, invite people to share in the large group or in pairs throughout the remainder of this session.

Outline today’s session by explaining that the group will be invited to sketch an overall picture of discipleship and explore what it means in their context. On the board, write the following aspects of discipleship that can be seen in the gospels:

  1. response of faith to Jesus’ call
  2. loving participation in a community of disciples
  3. obedience and proclamation that God uses to transform society

Ask participants to test these themes in the Scripture passages they will be reading and to think of other themes to add (whether from these passages or others that come to mind).

Assign the following passages to small groups, pairs or individuals, so that everyone has a passage to read and all passages are covered:

Matthew 4:18-22

Matthew 28:16-20

Mark 6:6b-9

Luke 14:25-33

John 8:31-32

John 13:12-16, 34-35

Ask groups to read their passage aloud together, or have individuals read them silently. While they are reading, give each group a pad of sticky notes.

Discern

Using the sticky notes, ask groups to write down themes from their Scripture passage that describe discipleship. When groups are finished, they should add their sticky notes to the board where you have already written three aspects of discipleship. Lead the group in reading and discussing the posted themes. Do other aspects of discipleship come to mind that are not posted? Are there other creative metaphors for discipleship? If so, encourage the group to add more ideas and write these on the board. Other metaphors could include a sword and plow, joined hands representing different races, breaking chains, a marriage covenant and sharing of wealth.

Send participants back to their small groups to create a working definition of discipleship, drawing on the themes discussed in the large group. After about five minutes, ask every group member to write the group’s definition of discipleship on a sticky note. This will allow each person to take their group’s definition with them in the next activity.

Embody

Mix up the small groups so that each new small group contains a representative of each symbol of discipleship. Ask them to read their definitions to one another and identify areas of common emphasis. Mention that the Anabaptist faith tradition grew out of costly, radical choices to follow Jesus. Give some context for radical discipleship in the Anabaptist tradition.

Anabaptism emerged from the Radical Reformation, a spiritual renewal movement in sixteenth century Europe. While the Protestant Reformation tried to reform the Roman Catholic Church, the Anabaptists of the Radical Reformation sought a renewed vision for the church distinct from both Catholic and Reformed approaches.

Much diversity existed among the various groups of religious and political dissidents known as Anabaptists. Yet, we can discern some common commitments from their varied histories: baptizing believers based on their free confession of faith in Jesus Christ, disentangling church authority from ruling princes and restoring the practices of the New Testament faith communities. They placed much weight on living out the teachings of Jesus, particularly the Sermon on the Mount. As the German Anabaptist Hans Denck (1500-1527) claimed, “No one may truly know Christ except one who follows Him in life.” Because they did not conform to any leading Christian tradition of their time, some were killed for their radical beliefs and practices.

Today, followers of Jesus around the world identify with the Anabaptist tradition as they seek to follow Jesus in radical living, no matter the cost. As Mennonites, part of the Anabaptist tradition, we recognize the radical nature of discipleship as expressed in Mark 8:34: “[Jesus] called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross
and follow me.’”

Ask, “What might it look like for us to practice radical Christian discipleship in our time and place?” Don’t take time for responses now, but return to the aspects of discipleship written on the board, including any you added based on the group’s input:

  1. response of faith to Jesus’ call
  2. loving participation in a community of disciples
  3. obedience and proclamation that God uses to transform society
  4. other ideas

Invite small groups to discuss how they might live out these aspects of discipleship individually and as a faith community in a radical way. Clarify that this is not a time simply to affirm what they have already been doing, but to imagine how they might be called to greater faithfulness in ways that are surprising and confront the status quo. Consider contexts both within and outside your congregation, conference, agency or constituent group. Give 10-15 minutes for this important discussion.

Invite each group to share one or two of their most radical examples of Christian discipleship.

Send 

In closing, encourage participants to continue thinking about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, and to look for symbols of discipleship as they go about their daily activities. Offer a prayer of blessing over these followers of Jesus. End with the words, “May the Spirit empower each of you to live into your calling as a faithful disciple of Jesus, no matter the cost. Amen.”

If your group is comfortable singing together, lead them in singing “Som’landela – We Will Follow” (#40 in “Sing the Story”):

Som’landela, Som’landel’u Jesu
Som’landela, Yonke indawo
Som’landela, Som’landel’u Jesu
Lapho Eyakhona Somlandela
We will follow, we will follow Jesus.
We will follow everywhere he goes.
We will follow, we will follow Jesus.
Everywhere he goes, we will follow

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Find out more about Journey forward and download the entire Pathways study guide here.

Your financial support of MC USA helps us equip leaders and tell stories of Anabaptist faith in action across the church. Donate to MC USA here.