May 2016, Pastor's Perspective

On Being a Disciple

by Lee McKinzie
The word “disciple” is defined as “learner.” In the church this is especially fitting since Jesus is often referred to as “teacher.” And again, in the church we think of each person as a disciple of Jesus, since it is Jesus whose message opens for us a clearer picture of God at work in our lives, and whose mission and ministry gives us a better understanding of God at work in our world. All we need do is put into practice what we are taught; indeed this is what makes us truly followers of Jesus.

Herein lies the challenge: all too often to be a learner means we are called to go where we don’t want to go. Sure, we like to talk about being disciples and all, but the truth is that for many of us being a disciple means only doing it when it is convenient for us. This is precisely why we have a savior who sacrificed for us his own life, and who understands us, and our weakness in the face of temptation.

Chief among the many powerful and motivating characteristics of Jesus is that of grace. Jesus taught about the grace of God by both his words and his actions. The early church taught that to be like Jesus was to model grace. And today, in the modern church, we teach that grace is “getting the break we don’t deserve” or “getting forgiveness we have not earned.” It follows that being a true disciple of Jesus means that we not only experience the grace of God for ourselves, but that also we are guarantors of this grace in the lives of those around us.

Now, let me ask a question: When was the last time you made sure that those not like you, maybe from a different part of the world, maybe without full bellies, maybe living in such a way as to take honor away from others, maybe unclean and unkempt and unruly — when was the last time that through your actions and words you made sure these persons knew about the grace of God?

I suspect for many of us that question leads to a qualified answer, or perhaps even more questions. I am reminded of Matthew 25, the passage where Jesus sums up his teaching on the judgment of the nations by saying, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (The Wesley Study Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Matthew 25:45b.)

It seems a fair interpretation that to be a disciple of Jesus truly is learning to live out God’s grace that we have experienced for ourselves by extending it to others, ALL OTHERS. Doing so requires patience on the part of God, and courage on our part. Living in such a way is not for the faint of heart.

About Lee: Lee McKinzie is retired from the Louisiana Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, although he serves part-time as the pastor of the Nesom Memorial and the Montpelier United Methodist Churches. Throughout his career he published several articles and study guides, was honored with numerous awards, and held positions of leadership in both the Annual Conference and National Church. He is married and he and his wife have one child.