Continuously Growing Disciples

Discipleship in the 21st Century
April 27, 2022

Jesus left us with the Great Commission in Matthew 28, establishing disciple-making as the primary mission of the church and school. This mission requires an ongoing commitment to building a disciple-making culture in our institutions. But what does such transformation involve?

In his book, To Know As We Are Known, Parker Palmer asserts that historically there have been two ways of viewing the world—through the “eye of the mind” or the “eye of the heart.” However, our worldview should not involve an either/or proposition when it comes to mind and heart. What is needed, he says, is “whole-sight,” where mind and heart unite.

During the early 20th century, the cultural movement of modernism promoted an objective, rational or “eye of the mind” interpretation of the world. Knowledge determined truth. In the second half of the 20th century, poststructuralism focused on a subjective, relativist or “eye of the heart” interpretation of the world. What an individual thought determined truth. In either case, there was the absence of a grand narrative to provide depth and meaning.

A new yearning for meaning and a sense of wholeness emerged in the 21st century and with it a cultural movement referred to as metamodernism, which focuses on the dynamic relationship between the “eye of the mind” and the “eye of the heart.” In other words, “whole-sight.” For an individual, “whole-sight,” or “total truth,” manifests in the context of knowledge and community, according to Nancy Percy in her book Total Truth.

Applied to discipleship, “whole-sight” acknowledges God as the Master Designer and His foundation for discipleship—creation, fall, redemption and re-creation. In addition to developing deep and meaningful knowledge of biblical truths, a disciple commits to a dynamic, lifelong process of spiritual growth toward wholeness in Christ and, in turn, disciples others as they commit to the journey.

The metaphor of the life of a plant is used to illustrate transformation through discipleship: sowing, cultivating, reaping and repeating. Central to the process is the nurturing of growth; the plant is always in the process of change. Growth as a disciple is a continuous ongoing journey.

The time is right for us to accomplish the mission of the Great Commission—growing disciples. The present cultural context, focused on a more “whole-sight” approach to truth, provides promising opportunities.

In her book Deep Calling, Tara VinCross asserts that our institutions must adapt their vision and methodologies to transform the communities they are attempting to reach. This does not mean that we change our mission. Eternal truth is changeless, but how that truth is packaged will vary and change as the culture changes. The continuous process of discipleship—with an emphasis on knowing, loving and serving God through community—will be the thread that connects and unifies our practice.

By Carol Campbell, Southwestern Union Vice President for Education