Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. —James 1:17
As I began serving as the global director of Sunday School and Discipleship Ministries International (SDMI) in August 2018, many people asked me, “When you speak about discipleship, what do you mean by ‘discipleship’? Do you mean ‘Sunday School’? Do you mean small groups? Or do you mean ‘one-on-one mentoring’?” I have wondered if they asked me that in order to see what “camp” I fell into so they could decide if I was worth listening to. Their questions, however, revealed that we had a problem.
The word “discipleship” does not refer to a program, a methodology, or a denominational theme. The concept is broader than these. Discipleship includes both the spiritual journey of every disciple and the disciple-making efforts of all Christians. We might think about a computer. Discipleship is like the operating system. All of our church programs are the software that run on the computer. The software can be uploaded to meet the specific needs of the owner. The operating system, however, defines how the computer functions.
Discipleship defines how the church functions and why the church exists!
After discussing discipleship in general, I would follow up these early conversations with a question of my own, “How does your local church make disciples?” I was surprised that most of the responses I received told me how their local church gathers believers into groups: Bible studies, support groups, and home groups. Basically, discipleship for most people is defined by how we make better Christians of the Christians we already have. Again, I realized we had a problem.
Discipleship is not just about committed believers. Now, maybe, you are the one surprised. Let me explain. The mission statement of SDMI is “to carry out the Great Commission to children, youth, and adults in preparation for a lifetime of being and making Christlike disciples in the nations.” SDMI, the department charged with inspiring, motivating, and equipping discipleship in the Church of the Nazarene, has based its mission statement on the Great Commission.
The Great Commission is from our Lord Jesus. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). The Great Commission has been referred to as the “marching orders” of the church. Certainly, few people would argue with the evangelistic nature of these words. We, followers of Jesus, are called to make disciples of people in all nations who are not yet disciples. If SDMI is going to fulfill its mission statement, we must consider the ways that discipleship includes the lost in its focus.
With these challenges, the Board of General Superintendents set out to capture a new concept for Nazarene Discipleship that will help the global church “make Christlike disciples in the nations.” On February 27, 2021, during the General Board meetings, the Board of General Superintendents launched the new initiative: Nazarene discipleship as “A Journey of Grace.” This new initiative addresses the challenges mentioned above while providing a global framework for Nazarene discipleship that brings unity and clarity to our goals.
When we consider Nazarene discipleship as “A Journey of Grace,” we must begin by recognizing that discipleship is indeed a journey. Discipleship is not a set of Bible studies: “When you finish these studies, you have graduated from discipleship.” No, discipleship is a lifetime journey that begins at birth and continues through all of life! Bible studies, crisis moments, and fellow journeyers all contribute to our journey, but they are NOT the journey. Rather, the discipleship journey is better defined as humankind connecting with the story of God and being transformed by His grace. This is why discipleship is a journey of grace. This is all about God. It is HIS initiative. Your particular journey is defined by your response to God’s gracious love in your life.
What does the journey of grace look like? We might say that this journey is a journey from grace to grace to grace. As Wesleyan-Holiness people, we believe that God’s gracious love extends to all people, everywhere. Even before we came to believe (Romans 5:8), God was wooing us by His grace. Prevenient grace is the term explaining that His grace goes before. We often refer to prevenient grace as the grace that comes before conversion awakening the pre-Christian to his or her need for reconciliation with God.
Along that journey, where God’s prevenient grace is working, there can be a crisis moment when a person discovers Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the way to be reconciled with the Father. In that moment, when faith is born in the heart of an individual, God’s saving grace is given freely! This is the moment of conversion, being born again, new life!
As the new believer continues on this journey of grace, the Spirit of God begins to transform the Christian more and more into the likeness of Christ. Again, along this journey, there comes a moment, a crisis moment, called entire sanctification. As believers fully surrender their redeemed life to God, they are set free from the chains of original sin and enter into a relationship with God that is defined as entire devotion to Christ. In that moment, God’s sanctifying grace is given freely!
Discipleship is a journey of God’s grace: His prevenient, saving, sanctifying grace! The journey of grace is a process with crises along the journey.
Even the words of Jesus point to this journey. Jesus revealed to Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). The way sounds a lot like a journey, doesn’t it? Jesus calls us to follow Him! It is the call of our seeking Savior, the call of prevenient grace. Along that journey, we realize the claim of Jesus to be the truth. He is the Son of God, and we must repent and put our trust in Him alone. This is the call of His saving grace. When we are living the life of a repentant believer, God’s Spirit calls us to fully surrender our will to Him. When we surrender, He sanctifies and fills us with His Spirit, and we experience the full meaning of Jesus being the life, the abundant life, through His sanctifying grace!
For the church, it is vital we understand that Christ not only draws us along this journey but we are called to journey with others, joining and helping them along the journey from grace to grace to grace. This is what we have termed disciple-making. First Peter 4:10 says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” The question for His Church today is this: “Are we being good stewards of God’s grace?” When believers join others along the journey of grace, we carry out the Great Commission: making disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded us. May Nazarenes everywhere join others along the journey, from grace to grace to grace.
Scott Rainey is global director of Sunday School and Discipleship Ministries International.
Holiness Today, March/April 2021
Please note: This article was originally published in 2021. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.