Garrett Caldwell is the administrative pastor of the Community Praise Center church in Alexandria, Virginia. This month, however, he begins his duties as communication director for the Potomac Conference in Staunton, Virginia. The Adventist Review spoke with him recently about discipleship.
Discipleship is a word that conjures up many images for some people, yet no images for others. How do you define discipleship?
I think discipleship is a journey--one in which we learn to do what Christ wants us to do, and to be what Christ wants us to be.
Christ wants us to have a transforming influence on the world, as well as to become transformed into His image. I believe that discipleship in the spiritual journey is marked by spiritual discipline--i.e., prayer life, devotional life, your life of outreach. It shouldn?t be reduced to those things, however. It should be fueled by them.
You differentiate between doing and being. Would you elaborate on that a little more?
We are tempted to think of Christ?s requirements in our lives as merely what we do. However, we can do a lot of things externally without being affected by them internally. The ideal is for our doing to be informed by our being.
Christ doesn?t look on the outward appearance, but on the heart. He is as concerned with our hearts as He is with our obedience and our actions. I think it is important to think about ourselves qualitatively as well as quantitatively.
When does discipleship begin for a person?
The story I think of when I think of discipleship is found in Matthew 9:9-13, about the calling of Matthew.
When Jesus passed by Matthew, Jesus said, ?Follow Me.? And Matthew arose and followed Him.
We could speculate that Matthew had heard Him preach before this. But without that speculation, what do we know? We know that Jesus confronted Matthew, and Matthew was given an opportunity either to respond or to stay where he was. For Matthew, discipleship began when he scooted back his chair and stood up from his receipt of custom and took the first step to follow Jesus.
Jesus confronts us where we are. He finds us; we don?t find Him. The moment He finds us and the moment we respond, we are disciples.
What does a disciple look like?
A disciple looks more and more like Jesus. A disciple won?t necessarily be known by his or her external appearance, but by the things that flow out of his or her life. The Bible refers to this as the fruit of a person?s life. There is an old expression that says ?You are what you eat,? and in no way is this truer than in the life of a disciple. Only as one learns to feast on the Spirit and find sustenance does one have the capacity to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit.
One thing that I find encouraging about how we disciples look is to think about how we appear in the eyes of God. The One who can clearly see us both as we are and as we can be has patience with us as we are transformed. More patience, in fact, than we tend to have with ourselves or with others who are in process.
Why be concerned about discipleship? Doesn?t the Christian?s life just ?fall into place? after we accept Jesus?
We have to be concerned. God has placed many commands in the Bible for those who follow Him. But there are few that really drive the mission of the church, and one of them is Matthew 28:19, the Great Commission: ?Go and make disciples.? We have to know what it is that we?re trying to make. We are trying to shape people into the form of Christ, and we can?t do this in our own power, nor can we leave them to do it on their own. We can expose them to the power of God and the power of the Holy Spirit that, hopefully, resides in us.
In my first years of pastoral ministry I had the privilege of baptizing a man named Clarence. When we first met, he declared to me that he was the exact opposite of the kind of person that I would find in a church, and proceeded to list a few of his vices for me. He first came to church on a dare--if I could beat him in two games of checkers, then he would give church a try. He responded to God?s Word and to the love shown him by the congregation and was baptized along with his wife and children.
A few weeks after Clarence?s baptism he came to me with a troubled heart: while he knew that he was in love with Christ, he realized he didn?t know how to live the life of a Christian. He told me, ?Before I was baptized, if you came to me and told me that you wanted to be a loan shark or drug dealer, I would not have just given you permission to do it, I would have shown you how to do it. I need someone to show me how to be a Christian.? What he was asking for was to be discipled. He had already been convicted and converted, but had yet to be discipled.
There is another important aspect of discipleship, and that is community. A core element of discipleship is that it must take place in community. We may be called individually; Jesus may find us under a tree in a garden in the middle of the night. But ultimately we will be called to be part of a body, the body of Christ.We cannot fully become the disciples Christ wants us to be and live in isolation from others. It requires community.
Why is living in community important?
Some pragmatic reasons are that, first, our characters need to be reformed and reshaped. And there?s nothing that will reform or reshape a character like rubbing up against other sinners such as yourself, or even other people that perhaps you would rather steer clear of and avoid. But Christ has called you to be in community with them, so you are going to have to learn to love people who seem unlovable to you. That?s a part of the core foundation of grace. How unlovable do we see ourselves? In God?s eyes He loves us so much that He gave His only begotten Son to save us.
Being shaped in His image means learning to love people whom we would normally not love. They aren?t attractive to us, yet we have to learn to see Christ in them, and to love them as we would love Jesus.
Tell me about a key moment in your discipleship journey.
I was raised in an Adventist home (in a sense) and was baptized when I was 12. I then proceeded to take a journey off course. My last two years of high school, however, I attended boarding academy. All of a sudden I was dropped into a community of young people who loved Jesus and were on fire for Christ.
I was told by a person who became a good friend later that when she saw me walk on campus, she was afraid and thought to herself, Oh no, who has come to torment us on campus? But living in that community was a profoundly life-changing experience for me. It?s where I began to hear God?s voice calling me to renew my walk with Him, and calling me into ministry.
Another profound moment for me was when my wife and I lost our first son, and we had to turn and cry out to God, ?Lord, can You breathe life into this baby?s lungs again?? All we heard was God?s silence. Yet we knew that He was still there. We had to learn to trust that His silence was for a purpose, and then to again watch Him shape our lives as a result of that.
The journey of discipleship is not a natural journey. It is a supernatural journey. It is a spiritual journey. But we are living in a very natural world, with numerous distractions. There will always be things that will discourage us. But in community we can encourage one another to hold fast to the course.
Bonita Joyner Shields is an assistant editor of the Adventist Review.