September 5, 2019
“And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.” (Mark 3:13–15 ESV)
The passage above describes a constitutive moment in the narrative of the disciples with Jesus. So far, in the account told by Mark, the disciples had responded positively to Jesus’ first call and had witnessed Jesus exercising his authority to cast out unclean spirits, to forgive sins, and to interpret the law. And now, some of those who had been following Jesus and witnessing his mighty deeds are appointed to be with him and to exercise his authority as they preach the gospel and cast out demons. From now on, it’s not just about following, but following with a purpose, following with a designation, a mission.
But this appointment is not predicated on doing. As much as the shape of their mission would be expressed in the very practical actions of preaching and casting out demons, the foundation of their appointment was more subtle and yet deeper: “he appointed them to be with him”. Before doing things for Jesus, they were to be with Jesus. Before the active engagement in Jesus’ work, they were supposed to spend time in the experience of “being with him”.
Mark’s description of the appointment of the twelve might be the foundational model upon which seminary experience should be built. Now, of course, it’s not as if Jesus was not running a seminary in Galilee – the Galilean Cohort for Theological Schooling (or GCTS for short) – but the experience of many seminarians is in some ways analogous to the twelve’s. After following Jesus for a while, one feels called to give a particular purpose to that following, and embarks in a 2-4 years period of training to become better prepared to do things for Jesus. However, if Jesus’ appointment is the basis of that call, then we should recognize that the call begins with “being with”.
The idea of “being with” has three aspects to it: proximity, intentionality, and community. First, being with Jesus, for the twelve, implied the actual geographical proximity to Jesus. They were to be where he was, go where he went, “shadow” him, observe his interactions with others, the way he dealt with opposition, his compassion towards the little one. And they should do this “with him”, enjoying the active presence of Jesus and being taught and transformed by him as they shared life with him. Second, there is an element of intentionality both on the part of the one who calls – “he called those whom he desired” – and on the part of those who followed – “they came to him”. It is a deliberate engagement, a desired relationship, a purposeful fellowship. It is only in the experience of “being” that one finds what is necessary for “doing”. Finally, “being with Jesus” is necessarily being with those who are with him. It involves looking at one another with an awestruck look in the face when witnessing the wonders of the Son of God. It entails learning from one another’s successes and failures and encouraging one another when the reality of Jesus’ call seems too difficult to embrace. And ultimately it develops a sense of collective mission, a conviction that together we are invested with the highest of vocations – to proclaim his good news.
Proximity, intentionality, and community. The first poses a challenge to modern disciples. How can we be with Jesus, without the possibility of being with Jesus, that is, without being in the same physical space as he is? But if we truly believe the Scripture and the reality of the presence of Christ with us through his Spirit, then discipleship is a possibility as real to us as it was to the twelve. And that’s where intentionality and community come in. Proximity is nothing without intentionality. I can be in the same space as someone without intentionally “being with” them. It is only through intentional, purposeful engagement with Christ that we can experience his presence. And community provides us with the embodied context in which we can be with Jesus.
Discipleship begins with intentionality. It begins with one’s active engagement in response to Jesus’ pro-active calling. It entails intentional, regular, committed following. And it happens in the context of community. As we enter a new semester of learning, I propose that we actively seek ways of “being with Jesus”, together.
Note: if you want to learn more about how you can experience discipleship during your time in Seminary, click here.
December 1, 2018
“What should discipleship look like?” a dear friend recently asked. “Is it two people—one more mature and one less mature—talking about faith over coffee?” This had been his general experience, he confided, but he was convinced Jesus saw discipleship as something much more hands-on.
To be honest, discipleship has primarily been sitting and talking for me as well. Primarily … but not entirely. I thought back to another friend and coworker, Jorge. Through our relationship, God worked in my buddy’s heart to bring him to faith. As I made plans to attend seminary, however, I knew I had a limited time with Jorge, so I trained him to continue a Gospel witness in our workplace. We each had a couple of people we focused on intentionally reaching out to, and we prayed for each other in that process. Jorge had several opportunities to share the Gospel with our coworkers before I left, and he was able to debrief with me. When I finally transitioned to Gordon-Conwell, my buddy was equipped to continue Christ’s work in that place. To God be the glory!
When we observe Jesus interacting with His followers, He calls them to follow Him. He allows them to watch as He performs miracles and preaches the good news of the Kingdom of God. Soon though, He sends them out to try it themselves. Afterward, they come back to Jesus and debrief. Finally, after His death and resurrection, Jesus commissions His followers to continue His ministry by making disciples of all nations—repeating what they had been doing together.
Discipleship for Jesus wasn’t just sitting and talking. There was a teaching aspect, sure; but so much of Jesus’ time with his disciples was in action. He was intentionally preparing his disciples to continue his ministry after he left. I think our outlook should be the same.
Joshua William Multunas
Student, Master of Divinity
November 1, 2018
The deep recesses of my bedroom closet are a testament to things I have outgrown. There’s a shirt demanding “More cowbell” or another one depicting a bunch of vegetables shouting “Eat More Meat,” both of which seemed timeless when I bought them; they weren’t. There’s a bunch of dress clothes I spent a great deal of money on that I assumed would last (and fit) forever; my love for ice cream and seconds have rendered those items literal stretch goals. There are countless other items I have outgrown for one reason or another.
When I first arrived at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 2016, I thought I had outgrown discipleship, like my t-shirts no longer in style or suit pants that were a bit too tight. Called to the mission field with my family, I assumed my time at Gordon-Conwell was to solely grow in my skill as a discipler and learn different methods and best-practices for raising up fully-devoted, fully-formed followers of Christ. Being discipled was for younger Christians, not seminarians. As a seminarian, my role was to go and make disciples rather than be discipled. I could not have been more wrong.
My first semester, I was approached by Dr. Tom Pfizenmaier about joining Gordon-Conwell’s new discipleship initiative and to be discipled by him. Hmmm…to be discipled by a man with decades of pastoral experience? How could I refuse? As I met with Tom over the semester, we shared our lives, studied Scripture, and prayed for one another. Transition to seminary was challenging and Tom supported, guided, and prayed with me. I came to the realize I hadn’t made it yet, and that was ok. I also began to see every interaction at seminary through the lens of my discipleship unto the Lord. Office hours, hanging out at the dining hall, spending time with my family, pacing the basement of the library doing vocabulary cards, and everything else I did was a means of growing as a disciple.
Partway through my semester with Tom, I realized I had benefited from the business world’s version of discipleship: mentorship. Through one-on-one mentorship relationships, an individual has an opportunity to gain wisdom and practical career advice from a more experienced employee in their industry. There is no upper age-limit for mentorship relationships; there’s always an opportunity to learn from someone else. The companies I worked with deemed mentorship relationships a best-practice for strengthening their workforce and developing their employees, and I had benefited from such relationships. If the business world accepts and recognizes the value such on-going relationships, why hadn’t I realized they were even more important in my spiritual life?
Discipleship is not a best-practice because businesses have tested it; it’s a best-practice because Christ commanded it. Through Dr. Pfizenmaier and the Discipleship Initiative, I was shown that I will never outgrow my need to be discipled; I’m grateful for that lesson. Following Jesus faithfully is a challenge. It has been life-giving— perhaps even life-saving—to have someone with whom to regularly reflect on Scripture and continually ask: “Who is Jesus and what does it mean to follow Him?” Whether I’m on the mission field, in seminary or at 9-5 job in my hometown, I will never outgrow my need for discipleship because following Christ is a life-long calling.
Su Kim, Master of Divinity (May 2019)
President of Student Association
“Dear Jenny, just a thought, but what if you spent some of the time talking to God that you spend writing to me about boys in your class?”
Those words, penned by my camp-counselor-turned-pen-pal, set me on a course of talking with God that has spanned my life to this point. As I grew to trust and to know Him more, others pitched in along the way.
From the beginning, my mom and dad sacrificed for me to attend Catholic school, and my grandparents sat with me every week at church. In high school, I began to wonder if God was listening. Mrs. Ehlers, who always hugged me and fed me and let me sleep over, piped up: “Even when it seems like he isn’t, he is.” In college, I thought I knew it all; but Amy, my Campus Crusade discipler, was a patient reminder of God’s kindness, not his judgment. Later, when the monotony and sleep deprivation of early motherhood threatened the end of my spiritual life, my friend and spiritual director, Sue, listened to me and rooted me in God’s love and care.
Now that my daughter is thirteen, I hear quite a bit about the boys in her class. I wonder at times if my encouragement to talk to God falls on deaf ears. I have only to look back at my own life to know: there will be others who will pitch in and point her toward God. At the same time, I trust there are some who will look back at their life and include me in their list of those who pitched in.
Jennifer Drummond currently serves in the Housing Office at Gordon-Conwell’s Hamilton campus. She has worked in three other offices at Gordon-Conwell over the past sixteen years. She lives in Asbury Grove, where she blogs, photographs nature, and generally enjoys life with one husband, two middle schoolers, and a puppy. Jennifer has joined the Discipleship Initiative in providing one-on-one discipleship to students at our Hamilton campus.
September 13, 2018
At the end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus famously commanded his apostles to go and make disciples of all the kinds of people there are on the planet—all races and ethnic groups. That’s a tall order! Where do we begin? Well, where did we begin? Looking back, most of us can identify someone who helped us as toddlers in Christ to learn to walk by faith and not by sight—to become a maturing follower of Jesus.
The goal of The Discipleship Initiative at GCTS is to teach others how to make disciples, by experiencing it ourselves. Participants in the Initiative make a two-year commitment. In Year One, they are discipled by a seminary staff member, professor, local pastor, or second-year student discipler. In Year Two, they, in turn, disciple two other people—fellow students, friends, or church members. The goal is that participants graduate having been discipled and having discipled others. In this way, we hope our students will embrace discipleship as a Christian core competency and a life-long calling.
Our approach is personal life-on-life sharing around the Scriptures—asking key questions like “Who is Jesus?” and “What does it mean for me to follow him?” Together, we hope to discover a richer, deeper union with Christ and love for Christ, expressed in ever maturing service to Christ in the lives of others.
Once per month, different people involved in The Discipleship Initiative will post their own stories about the impact of discipleship in their own lives, and the lives of others. I hope you will make this blog a regular staple of your online diet, as we seek to fulfill the Great Commission together!
Tom Pfizenmaier, Associate Professor of Formation and Leadership Development,
Director of Formation and Leadership Development,
Dean of the Hamilton Campus