In conversation with one of the presenters at the conference we’re hosting next month, a conference about discipleship, that presenter asked a question. Do we have a working definition of the word “discipleship”? The truth is, I had not felt called to arrive at just one understanding, either out of trust that folks would bring their own vision, or out of poor planning, or out of sloth.
What does the word mean to you?
As we talked, I shared how a mentor had linked discipleship with intentionality. I’ve thought that it might be good, for a season, to replace the word “discipleship” with the word “intentionality.” The old church song which begins “I have decided to follow Jesus” came to mind.
Intentionality as spiritual activity shows up in many religious traditions. Around the globe, people speak of being awake. People speak of mindfulness. On the yoga mat, one sets an intention for the practice. (For me, that is often the intention to make it to the end of the class.) Thomas Keating wrote: “In centering prayer, the sacred word is not the object of the attention but rather the expression of the intention of the will.” When we counsel with a couple contemplating marriage, we ask them to sign a declaration of intention, a key milestone in the spiritual journey. Intentionality is key to the spiritual journey.
Consider these witnesses:
In the 18th century, Anglican priest William Law wrote about the early church in his book A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life: “It was the general intention to please God in all things that made the primitive Christians such eminent instances of piety.”
In that same century, William Wilberforce published a piece called A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classes in this Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity. Great title, huh? Wilberforce, whose intentionality led to the abolition of slavery in England, knew about the call and cost of discipleship. He noted discrepancy between religious observance in his day and a call to a deeper intentionality.
More recently, G. K. Chesterton said that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and not tried.
Gandhi, who observed the way Christianity was practiced in Great Britain, noted that if only Christians would live according to their belief in the teachings of Jesus, “we would all become Christians.’ From outside the Christian tradition, he noted a lack of intentionality.
You get the idea. This kind of intentionality has, for most of Christian history, been a growth opportunity. It remains so, at least in my life. So let me make this Monday morning suggestion:
Set your intention, just for this day. Imagine how this day might be a day of following Jesus a bit more closely, in some way. And if at the end of the day, upon review, you feel it has made a difference, then try it the next day. And the day after that.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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