The Episcopal Church in Connecticut’s Mission Council, of which I am an elected member, held its annual “working day retreat” at Camp Washington, ECCT’s summer camp and conference center in January. Besides learning about one another more fully and getting newly elected members “on board” to our duties and responsibilities (we act as the governing body between diocesan conventions––like a parish Vestry or diocesan Executive Council), our gathering was to focus on what initiatives we desired our focus to be on in for the upcoming year.
I had been part of a small sub-group that had been exploring how we, as Mission Council members as well as all of ECCT, could be better equipped to be disciples in the post-Christian mission field. Part of our conversation has been to discern the differences (and similarities) of apostleship and discipleship. The two words are often used interchangeably, but in today’s world in which fewer individuals go to church each Sunday––if at all––each has taken on a new meaning. How we are called to be both apostle and disciple has been informed by these conversations, but also in two books that I happened to be bringing to publication from my editorial desk at the time. And both books are about how we tell our stories––our stories of family, stories of God, and stories of what we believe.
Speaking Our Faith: Equipping the Next Generations to Tell the Old, Old Story by Kit Carlson outlines a process (and why we need one) to help others (and ourselves) learn to share our personal stories of faith. In writing the book and its companion Leader Guide, Kit wanted to support Millennials in becoming comfortable in talking about God with family and friends. Something all of us could use help with. She names the fear: the “E” word–– evangelism. She writes:
Those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ understand the challenge of living that appropriation [Walter Brueggemann’s description of the “difficult, demanding, costly work”] every day of our lives. We are disciples. And our call is not to “save souls for Jesus.” It’s to make more disciples. When the risen Christ gives the Great Commission, he tells his disciples to “go therefore 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 that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19). The Great Commission commands us make disciples, to lead people who are willing to be different and to live differently, into a new kind of life, where they take on the lived appropriation of the good news, the new reality of God. We follow Christ because that lived appropriation means everything to us, because in him we have found a new way of living that sustains us in ways the world cannot. That is the good news we have to share. That is the new reality we are called to invite others into. (page 139)
And there is Jerome Berryman’s latest book, Stories of God at Home: A Godly Play Approach, I had just turned into production for an April 2018 release. In explaining how Godly Play stories can be told in a home setting, he shares the importance of the story of Pentecost as a pivotal moment for the Church:
Jews were streaming into Jerusalem at the time of the first Christian Pentecost from all over the known world to celebrate their Pentecost at the Temple. The disciples and other followers of Jesus were in an upper room in the city waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus promised on Ascension Thursday (Acts 1:8–9).
Suddenly, the people in the upper room felt the Holy Spirit enter with a sound like the rush of a mighty wind (Acts 2:1–13). It filled them with energy, and fire appeared around each person, as they became aware of God’s creative presence in and among them. It was in this way that their community transcended kinship and even the division of languages, memorialized in the story of the “Tower of Babel” (Genesis 11:1–9). God’s fiery and creative presence did not need words to communicate its inner and relational reality, which turned Jesus’s followers (disciples) into leaders (apostles). (page 65)
Every ECCT leadership gathering usually begins with “Dwelling in the Word,” a means for us to connect with scripture, similar to lectio divina, but done in pairs. After all, our work and ministry is grounded in the Word of God. Adam Thomas, rector of St. Mark’s in Mystic, Connecticut, and I volunteered to lead our scripture reflection at this retreat, building upon previous conversations to bring the rest of the Mission Council up-to-speed. Inspired by the work of Jerome Berryman, Adam shared “Knowing Jesus in a New Way” from The Complete Guide to Godly Play, Volume 8 with Mission Council members surrounding us in a large circle. This story is typically told in the weeks following Easter and tells how we come to know Jesus: in absence (the empty tomb), in the breaking of the bread (road to Emmaus), in doubt (Thomas), in the morning (breakfast on the beach), in making him known (in fishing), in waiting (Ascension), and in the Holy Spirit (Pentecost). We then invited everyone to wonder in pairs on the following questions:
- I wonder how Jesus is made known to you? (discipleship)
- I wonder how you make Jesus known to others? (apostleship)
- I wonder if something new is being created in you?
This was followed by a group conversation on a diagram I shared (forgive the photo of the newsprint) with questions to personally reflect upon:
- How do we help others deepen their lives as disciples and apostles?
- How do we form small groups to talk about why we come to church and how we are sent out?
- How do we intentionally make this part of our DNA?
- Where does discernment, passion, and spiritual gifts get nurtured and used?
- What is your favorite story of liturgy that feeds you for the rest of the week?
- What doesn’t feed you? Why?
- How does worship propel you out into the world?
- What connection do you see between coming to worship and then being sent out from worship?
- 1 Corinthians 15:3-11
- Acts 2:1-13
- Luke 10:1-9
How might you engage others in reflecting about the roles we play as apostles and disciples of Christ?