Members of my family will readily tell you about how I have a tendency to leave certain things to the last minute. The ‘I can do that later’ thought process takes over on occasions and indeed things get left to the last minute quite a lot of the time. I could write about procrastination, but I’ll leave that for a later date!
But what is it that makes me reluctant to get on and get the job finished at the earliest opportunity? I can’t put my finger on it, but I’ve convinced myself that it works for me. This approach to my life struck a chord, when I recently heard and read the phrase, “The Reluctant Disciple.” It set me wondering and reflecting if I might be considered to be a reluctant disciple of the Gospel. Of course not I could easily try to convince myself, I’m a deacon, surely that means I’m not reluctant, but perhaps I’m just attempting to fool myself and flatter myself with misplaced pride and a touch of arrogance.
I think the answer lies in two parts. Firstly, what does it mean to be a disciple of Christ in the particular world in which I live?, and Secondly, how committed am I in both word and action to live in that way?
Over the years, in both work and other situations, I have undertaken a number of exercises that look to identify my strengths and weaknesses. They have had different levels and areas of focus, e.g. decision making under pressure, leadership, working as part of a team, inter-personal skills, etc, etc.. Invariably they focus on about 5 areas that show as strong and 5 areas that need improvement. The follow-up will vary in approach - focus on the strong points and build upon success, or, focus on the weak points to make me a better all rounder. But what ever it is, the answer is always that I can do better. I guess that is the purpose of these motivational tools.
But where would I find myself if I was to undertake a strengths finder exercise about being a disciple of Christ in our world of today, here and now?
So, considering how to live as a disciple would probably be a good place to start. I started to think how I can go about this. There is the bigger notion of Loving God and loving my neighbour, but trying to define that and pin it down to something that relates directly to me presents a bit of a dilemma. I like to think that I get on pretty well with nearly everybody that I meet, but then I can split that down further, family and close friends, friends and people I’m friendly with from the different communities that I come into contact with (Church, parish, diaconate, school etc, etc...), people I have a passing contact with (shop workers, the man that worked on my car, the postman delivering a package, etc, etc...) and then all those others I apparently have no interaction with other than to walk past them in the street.
Out of those 4 broad groups how strong am I in bringing the message of the Gospel, being a true disciple of Christ into their world?
Family and close friends will know me the best, but because they know me the best, they won’t always get the best example of discipleship from me. They are the ones that have to bear the brunt of frustrations and emotions, they are the ones who get the grumpy version of me, they are more likely to see the tired or emotional, they put up with my rants and strange sense of humour. But, on the plus side they are also the ones that share with me the highs and successes of not only my life, but those closet to me. They also know they can turn to me at literally any time.
Being part of different communities means that many people see differing examples of me being a disciple. Perhaps it depends on my role, or how they see my role, perhaps it stems from their expectation of my place in the community or perhaps it comes from just occasional contacts at significant points in our lives. This might be an easier place to show discipleship because I start from the point of being a ‘person of faith’, and can hopefully fulfill others expectations of that role/person.
Those very short fleeting encounters might actually be the easiest situations to be a good example of a disciple. Having a chat about nothing to the shop assistant working the till, as my shopping goes through and the bill mounts up, saying “and you?” to the receptionist at the garage, when I’m asked, “how are you today?”, or saying thank you with a smile to the postman who’s delivered my parcel - all examples of being a loving neighbour to that person. I doesn’t cause them any alarm or distress, and hopefully brightens their day a bit. We don’t need to talk about faith or religion, spreading the smile is spreading the love of Christ.
And then the everybody else group. I’m not sure if I can be a disciple to the whole world - and there are, if I’m totally honest, quite a few I would choose not to associate with. The flip side to that is that as I look around the High Street for example, there are probably many who wouldn’t choose to associate with me either. The dilemma is that this is exactly where Christ tells me I should be!
Perhaps the feeling of being a reluctant disciple, is more to do with my being in control, than being open to where the Holy Spirit takes me? It is then time for me to reflect on what are my strengths, and my could do better areas, to see what makes me confident enough to call myself a disciple of Christ.
For each of us, is it a badge, a title, or a reality?
Deacon Ian Black