How can we help each other to follow Jesus? I’m sure I’m not alone when I relate that my own journey of discipleship has sometimes felt more like a solo expedition than a corporate adventure. I have longed for more camaraderie on the road, to share with fellow disciples the questions, doubts, struggles, joys and responsibilities that attend the life of following Jesus.
While Mennonites value and emphasize the importance of community, we are not immune from the privatizing pressures of our individualistic culture. How can we engage our common pilgrimage in such a way that we become fruitful channels of God’s grace in each other’s lives, helping each other to grow in Christlikeness?
I’ve grown to appreciate the baptismal vow that is unique to Anabaptists. The Mennonite Minister’s Manual phrases it like this: “Are you willing to give and receive counsel in the congregation?” Upon our baptisms, we pledge to engage in the communal journey of discipleship, recognizing our dependence on one another.
This has deep historic roots. The early Anabaptists, dismayed at the lack of maturity they perceived in the state churches, committed themselves to mutual accountability, in the belief that they needed each other, to bear fruit. In this, they had significant initial success. In many locations, witnesses—including their opponents—testified to their neighbourly love and upright living. But mutual accountability deteriorated into legalism over time, becoming punitive rather than supportive.
Strict Mennonite discipline became a cautionary tale, to the point that today we are hesitant to speak into each other’s lives. But individualized discipleship is also not healthy. Alone, how can we resist being co-opted by societal values that run counter to kingdom values?
There is no single or easy answer to the question of how to engage in gracious mutual dependence, but I have had two positive experiences:
- A few years ago, a small group in my congregation experimented with keeping a simple covenant, in which each member agreed to three daily practices: having an intentional prayer time, engaging with the Scriptures and witnessing to God’s love. At the outset, we discussed the dangers of legalism and judgmentalism, and we agreed that any punitive element would be counter-productive. As we gathered bi-weekly, we shared stories of success and failure in keeping the covenant, talked about how we experienced Jesus, or not, at work in our lives, and we advised and prayed for one another.
- I currently participate in a prayer group that has been meeting four times a week online for the last 10 months, using the Anabaptist prayer book/app Take Our Moments and Our Days. Whether or not I feel like praying, and whether or not my prayers feel warm or cold, I receive encouragement in knowing that I am not praying alone, but I am part of a supportive community which is committed to praying together.
In what other ways can we offer gracious support to each other as we participate in the adventure of following Jesus together?
Werner De Jong is senior pastor of Holyrood Mennonite Church in Edmonton.