As I write, this week sees my last ever Results Day. Have my students passed? Have they failed? Have they got what they deserved?
As a teacher I have seen every response from tears of joy to utter despair. One student told me, through her sobs, “This is the worst day of my life!” I couldn’t resist the temptation to comfort her with the words of Homer Simpson, “Look on the bright side. This is the worst day of your life – so far.”
The funny thing is, no-one has been interested in my exam results for many, many years. I’ve sat on both sides of the interview desk and never have results been discussed. No congratulations, no questions, nothing. That’s because, as everyone over the age of 16 knows, much more important than the results is the person.
Of course, exam results are important, but they are not the be all and end all of adult life. On the contrary, they are a mark of its beginning. Whatever the results, the mark of the person is how they grow from that experience.
After his resurrection, Jesus told his followers to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). This command gives the church its earthly purpose, driving missionary activity and evangelistic crusades throughout history.
Sometimes it could be true to say that this command is misread. It does not say, “make converts”. And just as schools are sometimes criticised for being exam factories rather than caring about turning out life-long learners ready to contribute to society, churches have at times been viewed as being concerned with little more than bums on seats, converts, getting people across the line rather than helping them to develop maturity in Christ.
It may not necessarily be true that people even need to be converted: there are many Christians with no conversion experience. In any case, Jesus spoke about discipleship – and baptism. Baptism, the public confession of faith, is a sign that someone has decided to be a disciple; a landmark on a journey that, like life after exams, is guaranteed to get more difficult once passed.
The important thing, then, is how disciples are made. That means providing ways in which we can learn more about God and finding opportunities to serve. This is where I think Freedom Church is growing healthily. There are many ways to connect with one another: weekly, monthly and annual events all provide places to meet with and learn about God through developing our dialogue with him and deepening relationships with one another as part of our personal discipleship.
There are also many opportunities to serve God. Often I have found this means either the Big Team rota, worship or children’s work but people at Freedom Church are also engaged in all sorts of activities that serve the wider community. The CAP Centre and Food Bank seem obvious examples as they are located at the Freedom Centre but others are involved in Woodley Grange, the Abbotswood care home, Street Pastors, teaching English to refugees, a youth bus project, and more, all motivated by receiving God’s love.
So, if discipleship means following Jesus, where is he? Who does he spend time with in the gospels? Who does he specifically state that if we care for them, we care for him?