The Reimagine.Network "Quote/Unquote" Interview
Phil Miglioratti Interviewed Danut Jemna, Author of "Called to Discipleship: Reflections on the Gospel of Mark"
Danut Jemna has PhDs in theology and statistics and sampling research, which combine gracefully in this book
For details √ here
"The costly art of discipleship
- as a commitment and a way of life, not a methodology or programme -
has become rare in our Christian communities.
Danut Jemna's book invites us to take a fresh look at the way Jesus went about making disciples
as an inspiration for rediscovering this vital practice for the followers of Christ in the twenty-first century."
PHIL>>> As I was reading your observations on discipleship from the Gospel of Mark, it seems obvious to me (and your colleagues; see above) that your main objective is to help Christians and Christian leaders rethink or reimagine discipleship from a biblical perspective.
DANUT>>> Indeed, this is the purpose of my book. Why presenting discipleship from a biblical perspective? Because it challenges Christians today to revisit biblical revelation and the model of Jesus Christ in a context where we hear more and more about alternatives such as personal development, mentoring, coaching, positive thinking, character and personality building, etc. The problem is not that these concepts have emerged and are being heavily promoted. My concern is to what extent the Christian community can bring up the topic of discipleship as a way of life and as a path to maturity and fulfilment, how it can help its own believers to use their own resources, from the Scriptures and the Christian tradition, and then dialogue with what society offers. The book is an invitation and a challenge: it is a call to the fundamental message of Jesus, who asks us to represent him to the world as his disciples; it is an attempt to provide the contemporary reader with some coordinates of the dynamics of discipleship drawn from what Jesus himself practiced with the disciples of his time.
"Today's society tends to focus on relationships, small communities, and elements of local culture at the expense of the importance of institutions."
PHIL>>> Why are societal trends relevant to how the Church designs systems of making disciples? Many would say we must resist (or "cancel") cultural influence.
DANUT>>> The relationship of Christians with society or culture in general is always a challenge. Of the models presented by R. Niebuhr in the book Christ and Culture, I believe that the ”Christ the Transformer of Culture” model provides the healthiest framework for the believer's relationship to the dynamics of human society. Today, specialists consider that we live in what is generically called postmodernism, a period which, through its ideological and behavioral coordinates, offers the Christian community numerous opportunities for manifestation. Among these, I would underline the return of interest in religion or spirituality, people's openness to a holistic or integrative vision of life, the interest in shaping an identity in context and the quest for an authentic experience. All this represents an opportunity for Christians to live and offer to others the model of Jesus' life, to live discipleship as an authentic way of life that makes the values of the Gospel transparent. This seems to me to be the best way for the Christian mission. Gone are the days of the great evangelists who gathered large crowds of people and persuaded them with powerful speeches. We live in a time when we can reach others through the fragrance of a consistent lifestyle. I believe that today we are somehow experiencing the dates of early Christianity, which could not use institutional mechanisms or power to impose itself on society, but succeeded through the fervour with which it fulfilled the teachings of Jesus.
"Discipleship is possible because the Son of God himself went through this process.
Before Jesus became a teacher and a guide to others, he was an obedient disciple, a dutiful servant who diligently went through his lessons.
He has thus earned his authority to lead his disciples
along the path of formation and towards God. "
PHIL>>> Agree/Disagree? (and please explain) - -This is not new-news. But it seems to me there are profound implications if we factor into our disciplemaking equation that Jesus went through a disciplemaking process.
DANUT>>> This is true, and I don't pretend to bring big news with the message of my book. It is an attempt to highlight issues that we may neglect or no longer find relevant. For example, I believe that in the Christian community the focus on Jesus as the Son of God is predominant and we risk relating to a distant and demanding person with whom we can hardly build a relationship and whose standards overwhelm us. But if we manage to explore the dimension of his kenosis, the way in which he lived as a man, in total dependence on the Father and the Holy Spirit, in humility and obedience, as a servant dedicated entirely to others, who learned through his own experience to become a teacher and a guide for others, we discover that his model of life is no longer distant and inaccessible. I am trying to draw attention to the transparency of the Gospel regarding how Jesus lived his life, not as a superman, but as one of us, who fought with himself and with the challenges of our life to earn his authority. This is a great encouragement and opens us to the relationship with Jesus Christ from the position of a partnership in which his assistance and presence grow and support us in the process of our becoming to be authentic disciples and to be able to assist others in the same approach of their becoming.
"The biblical text distinguishes between two categories of people who followed Christ"
PHIL>>> What are those categories and why is it important to differentiate between them?
DANUT>>> In the Gospel we are told that there were large groups of people who followed Jesus because they were attracted by his signs and wonders, the way he spoke or confronted religious leaders. We may call them admirers of Jesus. It is a volatile mass of people who acclaim Christ as he enters Jerusalem and, a few days later, demand his death sentence. The Greek biblical term for discipleship means following the master, but not just in this sense of companion and admirer. The other category of people represents those who embrace the message and values of Jesus and are willing to assume the implications of being his disciples. Just as in Jesus' day, there may still be people today who are attracted by the personality of Jesus, but are unwilling to take his life model seriously and live it. Nominal Christianity represents such a situation of admirers who value the person of Jesus from an ethical perspective, as a necessary reference to draw the lines of a religious system.
"The choice and decision to become a disciple of Christ does not mean a renunciation of the world and of one's responsibilities in society.
The call of a disciple of Jesus draws our attention to the willingness to accept a radical change of life,
even if it involves a long and difficult process.
This is how discipleship begins."
PHIL>>> How is your description different from most of the disciplemaking that takes place across a wide variety of congregations?
DANUT>>> My purpose is not to comment on discipleship models in different Christian communities. I am interested in observing whether discipleship is understood as a way of life defined by the values and teachings of Jesus or whether we are talking about a set of religious practices that are consumed far from the concrete reality of the society in which we live. As in the case of Jesus' contemporary disciples, the Gospel speaks of a paradigm shift, a real metanoia. It asks us to move from being mere fishermen, i.e. people who define the meaning of life in terms of worldly goals, to being fishers of people, i.e. people who assume the mission of the Kingdom of God.
"Discipleship is a road of no return.
The right path of discipleship is the path of the transformation of one's being and the building of a new identity."
PHIL>>> How does Church leadership emphasize "transformation" into a "new identity" in our messaging and methods of making disciples?
DANUT>>> In the book I emphasize that discipleship involves a transformative dynamic of the self, building an identity that is defined by a relationship with Jesus and with one's fellow human beings. Jesus Christ insists on this transformative process in his relationship with the apostles and uses many tools that are related to the cultural and religious specificity of those who follow him. We can see both a drastic process of demolishing or deconstructing elements of practice and understanding that are far from the spirit of Scripture, and an effort to clarify and build new meanings about the human existence and destiny. This process, however, is a costly one, requiring time and effort, like that of educating children, as well as a willingness on the part of Christian church leaders and masters to assist their own disciples with a clear project. But I have the impression that such an approach is more the exception than the rule in Christian communities. Leaders are more concerned with gathering followers and keeping them in churches through religious activities, both because of lack of resources and lack of vision for true discipleship.
"The purpose of testing is not to point out weaknesses and what has not been done,
but to reveal how much learning has taken place
and how profound the disciple's transformation is."
PHIL>>> How could this insight benefit us as we recalibrate our structures and programs?
DANUT>>> Although we live in an era that promotes positive thinking, that is not what this is about. Christian discipleship represents the realistic framework that always emphasizes the importance of the steps already taken and the confident use of one's potential, of what God has put in each of us. The assistance that a disciple receives from Jesus or from a master who is his brother/sister in Christ is based on God's faithfulness and on the hope that what the incarnate Son of God has accomplished is also accessible to us through the personal participation that the Holy Spirit achieves with each one of us. This vision would lead to an orientation of ecclesial life towards the needs of the believers and towards a type of Christian ministry that would focus on the maturing process of Christians. This inevitably leads to the development of small local communities, actively involved in the lives of their neighbours and with a desire to be a transforming factor for others.
"The dynamic of discipleship in history involves this twofold effort:
the desire to become like Christ, our movel,
and the investment of helping other grow in the same direction -
participating in the discipleship of others."
PHIL>>> Expand on why (and how) it is important for a disciple to "participate in the discipleship of others."
DANUT>>> The expectation of Jesus, our great Master, is that we honour his work and investment by becoming like him, by becoming ourselves masters to others. The logic of Christian life as discipleship is elementally simple. Every believer, since he or she has travelled a segment of the journey of self-becoming, understands that he or she is called to be of service to others to help them walk the path they already know. And this approach is itself transformative and leads both to the progress of the person being accompanied and of the person who makes himself available. Scripture tells us that Jesus himself learned and became from what he did, from the service he performed for others, and from suffering for others, from his obedience to the Father's will. And participation in the discipleship of others can take many forms, from concrete commitments to support the development of others, to the involvement in projects that touch people's lives.
"This book offers a fresh exploration of the nature of discipleship."
PHIL>>> Leave us with a question that prompts/propels our exploration...
DANUT>> What are the main elements of your own cultural and social context that challenge or to test your identity as a disciple of Jesus? What about that of teacher or master to others?
"We do not have a recipe or steps to follow to become disciples of Jesus."
PHIL>>> Danut, please write a prayer we can make our own as we seek to reflect and reconstruct a disciplemaking strategy.
DANUT>> Father of all, who call to yourself your sons and daughters in the world to give them the gift of adoption and the glory of your Son, receive our prayer. We thank you for the help of Christ and the Holy Spirit you have sent to sustain us on our journey of discipleship. We thank you for the disciples and masters who are already on this journey and whom you support to be a living witness to the model of life lived by Jesus in the world. We trust in your project and commit ourselves to be disciples of the Lord in order to transform our lives, to build a solid identity and to give a coherent meaning to our existence. We desire to honor you by serving our neighbors and growing more and more into the likeness of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ.