Stories Change During The Member to Disciple Identity Shift

As a congregation is shifting away from member identity toward disciple identity, their stories change. When they share their stories, one notices less talk about structure and organization (though these have their place) and more talk about personal involvement with honest faith-story sharing. Increased engagement with God, life, and faith community are clearly themes in these stories.

A month ago I joined a lay leadership team for their retreat, describing the shift from member to disciple identity. This church was already poised and ready for exploration of disciple identity (before the retreat), being led by their pastor down this pathway in recent months. So last Sunday, as our family worshipped with this church, I was delighted to find one of the lay leaders sharing her story. She described her recent spiritual journey with great emotion and vulnerability; pushing herself out of her comfort zone, stirring the holy imagination of this congregation. It’s amazing what happens when we intentionally shift congregational culture toward living in the robust Way of Jesus. Our stories and conversations shift. Her story follows (shared with permission).

As a session we have begun exploring what it means to think of ourselves not as members of a church, but as disciples of Jesus Christ. As a person living in Columbia in 2016, I can’t imagine leaving my home and family to follow Jesus, or selling everything I own and giving the money to the poor, so what does it mean to be a disciple now? Perhaps some of you have struggled with this question as well. How can I be the servant Jesus calls me to be? This question really hit home for me recently.

After seventeen plus years of working at a library in downtown Columbia, I have interacted with many homeless people and others down on their luck. I have always felt uncomfortable when approached for money by these people. Almost all of our “regulars” had substance abuse issues, so would I really be helping them by giving them money? If I gave to one, wouldn’t I become an easy target for all the others? Where should I draw the line? I always felt that they were better served if I gave money to one of the many agencies tasked with helping them get back on their feet, instead of handing over cash. These all seemed like good reasons not to get personally involved and yet feel satisfied that I had helped.

But now, over the past two weeks, I have been approached by four separate women asking for money for food – please just a dollar or two. Last Saturday night, as I was getting out of the car to attend the symphony, a lady approached and requested “just a quarter or two” to buy some food. She said she had diabetes. I said I was sorry I couldn’t help her, and then sat through the symphony and agonized over my refusal to help someone who was so obviously in great need. I kept hearing Jesus’ words from Matthew in my mind: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. If you did not do it for the least of these, you did not do it for me.”

Since then I have been thinking more and more about my own discipleship. Perhaps those needy women were sent to wake me up, to call me to be more personally involved in something I have always stepped away from. Does that make me feel uncomfortable? Indeed it does! But as I rethink my priorities, I realize that Jesus doesn’t call me to be comfortable – right now I feel He is calling me to be a better servant to those in need. Think about it … what does being a disciple mean to you?

Debby, Disciple of Jesus Christ, McGregor Presbyterian Church

Pursuing the shift from member identity to disciple identity….
There is no way I want to miss out on this holy journey rising up in God’s church. May we live into our identities as disciples who vigorously engage God, life, and each other along life’s way…shifting our stories.

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA