Erika F. Puni, Director, General Conference Stewardship

Summary: This article initiates reflection on discipleship within denominational parameters.

Discipleship is the life of a follower of Jesus and is synonymous with stewardship, a life of personal surrender and commitment to the rule of God in Christ. Both of these biblical emphases imply a lifestyle of absolute trust and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. But how is this “new” life in Christ lived out in the church, or in the larger community of the world where the church is called to be “salt” and “light?” Quite different, as a matter of fact, and this is the multi-facet challenge that we as the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the twenty-first century is facing. So let me share with you my observations of the challenge and some of the difficulties that confront us as a people.

The challenge of knowing the goal

For some strange reason, what should have been a fairly straight forward command to the church is misunderstood by some Adventists today and so we have conflicting views about the goal of the Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20). Is the church called to make disciples, or are we in the business of simply baptizing people in the absence of a heart commitment to the lordship of Jesus Christ? This misunderstanding and confusion has at times, led to many people going through the ritual of baptism but are divorced of a transformed life from within. These church members would gladly wear the “Christian” label with great pride and would openly testify to their new “Adventist” identity, but they have no interest in a lifestyle of service, of sacrifice, or personal witness for Christ. In this scenario, we are not making disciples, but we’re creating a culture of nominal Christianity.

The challenge of information over relationship

Discipleship is not about information or about how much we know of the Bible. Discipleship is all about whom we know and have experienced. For Philip, his personal encounter with Jesus resulted in him saying to Nathanael, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” Jn 1:45 (NIV). Such a declaration comes not from something that Philip read in the Galilean herald, but a testimony born of meeting Christ personally. The Samaritan woman’s discovery of the Messiah, for example, was the result of her being in the presence of Christ Himself (Jn 4:4-26). Discipleship is about being in relationship with Jesus Christ.

The challenge of post-baptism teaching

Inherent in Christ’s call for the church to make disciples is the emphasis on “teaching them to obey everything” commanded by Christ (Mt 28:20). But while teaching is recognized as an important component (a means) of the disciple-making process, the question that is frequently asked is “when should we teach them?” Should the teaching be limited only to what happens before baptism or should it continue after the event? The sad reality that I have seen in the church is that new members (infants in the faith) are very often left to care for themselves after baptism. There is no post-baptism teaching, no modeling or mentoring, no encouragement or nurturing, and consequently many of them slide back to their old life. So who is responsible for this failure in retaining new converts; the member or the church? While the answer to this question may be complex, such situation calls for a biblical response that would include the implementation of small group ministry where members under the leadership of responsible spiritual leaders provide ongoing nurturing and encouragement for all members. Discipleship is a lifestyle of spiritual exploration and discovery and as such it does not cease with baptism.

The challenge of biblical stewardship

If stewardship is a lifestyle of submission to the lordship of Christ, then believers would willingly give of themselves as partners with God and will take seriously their responsibility as stewards of His gifts and resources. With this biblical understanding of stewardship, I have come to accept that the new life in Christ does not stop with my public declaration of Jesus as Saviour and Lord of my life. On the contrary, baptism opens up new vistas of opportunities to express my commitment and love for Him.

Where to go from here?

I believe the answer is found in the biblical mandate itself, “make disciples.” When the goal is clearly defined, and when the processes of how to make disciples are understood by the church then we can expect to see lasting results: faithful stewards and a multiplying community of disciples. This community will be characterized by a people with an unwavering love for Jesus, highly committed to personal devotion and Bible study, willing to share their faith with non-believers, faithful in corporate worship and in their support of the church, caring for the needs of their families, and always giving of themselves to God and to people in need. I believe this is true discipleship.