Someone to Help Us
November 1, 2001 - The call of Jesus to become His disciple almost always takes us by surprise. And even if we have been followers of Jesus for some time, we may hear a call to more committed discipleship.
by David Lowes Watson
It seems as if Jesus is saying to us: "So far, so good. But the road that lies ahead is more difficult and the tasks I have for you are more demanding. I need to know whether I can count on you. Are you still with Me?"
When Jesus calls, He will not ask us for a trial period any more than He said to Simon, Andrew, James and John, "Follow me for a while and then let's see if I've met your expectations." Jesus asked them for a simple "yes" or "no," and He asks the same of us today.
Reliable and Dependable Disciples
If we accept Jesus' call to discipleship, we have to take the disciplines of the Christian life seriously. And this brings us face-to-face with a challenge: How can we be the kind of disciples that Jesus is asking us to be?
In a culture that worships personal indulgence and that has managed to deceive Christians into the same kind of idolatry, these are pressing questions. We know that grace will prevail in our walk with Christ if we will only trust in the Holy Spirit. Yet those of us who are experienced in the Christian life know that we need to be realistic about the spiritual opposition we face in the world, and we need to be even more realistic about our own self-deception.
"They'll know we are Christians by our love"(1)—On a good day maybe people will see our love. But as followers of Jesus we know that something needs to be done about the not-so-good days if we are to be the reliable and dependable disciples whom Jesus wants for His work in the world.
The answer lies in a time-honored practice that combines the teachings of Jesus with common sense in living in the world. Jesus urged His disciples to love one another, to pray together and to serve one another.(2) Likewise, Paul instructed the Early Church to be one Body in Christ.(3) And common sense tells us that if we want to do something that does not come easily, we need to find someone to help us.
We need mutual accountability, a method widely used in other walks of life. People who wish to exercise will find a partner for jogging, tennis or aerobics. People who wish to sharpen their understanding of a subject will form a discussion group. Clearing out a garage, or even fixing a car, seems to be put off indefinitely until we ask someone to help us.
The most obvious examples today are the various programs that help people deal with addictions. These programs are made up of people who face a common problem, who have acknowledged it, and who help one another deal with it. Members of these groups do not say they have overcome the problem. But they have reached the point where they know they cannot go it alone. They need each other to cope with their problem, and they live
No Standing Still
So it is with Christian discipleship. Our walk with Christ requires us to grow in grace "until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ."(4) If we fail to grow in grace, our relationship with Christ weakens. There is no standing still in our Christian walk. The problem is that we are sinners living in a sinful world, and while we are forgiven and reconciled to God in Christ, we still need to live with the residual effects of sin—the sin in our own lives, and the sins of a broken world.
When we first come to Christ, the joy and the peace of our relationship with God may be so overwhelming that we do not see this problem for what it is. But as we walk with Christ, we begin to understand that our pilgrimage is just beginning and that we need strength and support for the journey. We see the challenge of the Christian life more clearly than we did earlier.
It is then that Christ calls us to a deeper commitment that will bring our relationship to a different plane of discipleship. And it is then that we see the need for mutual accountability.
The "Method" of Methodism
More than 250 years ago the Anglican clergyman John Wesley founded a movement that put this method of mutual accountability into practice. In fact, it earned the members of the movement a nickname that has stayed with them ever since. They were called Methodists, and they met in societies for prayer, worship and testimony. More important, these societies were subdivided into small groups known as class meetings where the members committed themselves to hold each other accountable for the two great Commandments of Jesus: love God, and love your neighbor.(5)
To help the early Methodists with their accountability, John Wesley wrote a set of General Rules that showed people how to live out these two great Commandments through "works of mercy" and "works of piety."
Those early Methodist class meetings have been adapted today into covenant discipleship groups, where the members agree on a covenant shaped by a General Rule of Discipleship: "To witness to Jesus Christ in the world and to follow His teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship and devotion, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit."(6)
Each week members meet together for one hour to tell each other how they have kept their covenant or how they have failed to keep it. They do not judge each other, but rather, in the words of John Wesley, they "watch over one another in love."(7)
A Hunger for Accountability
These, and many other forms of small group accountability across the Church today, are evidence that Christ is calling the Church to a more reliable and dependable discipleship. The only answer we can give to this call is a "yes" or a "no." The one thing we cannot do is avoid it.