By the Rev. Kristen Yates

When you hear the word discipleship, what comes to mind?  What does it mean to be a disciple and what activities does it entail?

According to my friends over at Gravity Leadership, for many of us who have grown up in the Western church, discipleship mostly has entailed two components: certitude and morality, in other words, cultivating right belief and engaging in right action whether in personal life or on a larger societal scale (you might call this behavioral modification).  

What this has translated into over the years is an emphasis on Bible study, theology classes, and worship services heavy on teaching, as well as moral behavior and plenty of opportunities for service, mission, and advocacy.  

Now, depending on our particular church or denomination, the emphasis we experienced may have been more on the head aspect (the cultivating of right belief) or it may have been on the hands aspect (engaging in right action), but one way or the other, it is likely for many of us that our church ignored or undervalued an important third component of discipleship:  heart transformation or what we might call spiritual formation.   

While the head and hands components of discipleship are certainly important, without the heart component, such discipleship can eventually fall flat and we can even burn out. For it is not enough to know the right things about God or to try to do the right things through our own willpower.  A disciple’s heart must be continually transformed by the Holy Spirit if he or she is going to follow Jesus for the long haul and become more and more like Jesus.  

As people, we have all kinds of desires that move us to action;  it’s why Jesus constantly asked people in the Bible, “What do you want?” for He was helping people to uncover their desires, both the godly and the distorted ones. Well, as for our distorted desires, if they are left untransformed, they’ll eventually move us into wrong action or at least inhibit us from moving into Kingdom action even if at the current moment, we are somehow able to toe the line. 

Perhaps, worst of all, distorted desires will prevent us from entering into the deep intimacy and love relationship with God that He desires for us, which is, after all, what is most important in the discipleship journey.  The truth is that God loves us because He created us, not because we do things for Him or because we have “crossed every t and dotted every i” when it comes to our understanding of God.  God loves us and wants to draw close to us.  This increasing intimacy from simply “being with Jesus” is the pinnacle of our discipleship journey. 

And guess what, if we are abiding in Jesus’s love, everything else (including right beliefs and right actions) will eventually flow out of that deep well of love – not of course automatically or all at once, but gradually as God is present to us and and as He slowly but surely transforms our hearts. 

So friends, as we continue on our discipleship journey, we are called to tend to our hearts. Holistic discipleship involves tending to our heads, our hands, and our hearts.  In an upcoming post, I’ll talk about how we can practically do this.