again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and
he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of
Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector's booth. ‘Follow me,’
Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was
having dinner at Levi's house, many tax collectors and ‘sinners’
were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who
followed him.” (Mark 2:13-15)
The call to follow Jesus has spanned
twenty centuries. It is just as real today as the challenge He posed
to the original Group of Twelve who walked with Him along the dusty
roads of Palestine from Galilee to Calvary and beyond.
Or is it?
Can we really be followers of Jesus in
an age where everyone wants (and is encouraged) to be “the head
and not the tail”; the “top dog”; the leader, not
the follower; the master, not the slave (“Who is he, to tell me
what to do?), where the blessing of God is assumed to be measured by
degrees of material gain (in the West, at least) and the message is
watered down and privatized because “there are no longer any
absolutes” and we are called on to fit into a neat pluralistic
If Jesus met His disciples in the
marketplace today, would He recognize them (us!) as such? Many would
be too busy striving to be “winners” to hear the call.
I recently attended an Executive
Leadership Program in Hong Kong that was sponsored by a major
government department. One thing all participants agreed on was that
there is a lot of emphasis in the corporate world on “Leadership”,
but very little on “Followership”. After all, no one
wants to be a follower; there are fewer benefits and even less kudos.
Embark on a tour of the local Christian bookshop and you are likely
to encounter the same paradigm. You will discover there is a lot of
material about how to be better leaders, but comparatively little on
being better followers. There are few “discipleship”
manuals. How can this be? Has our Christian world view drifted so
far from the original mandate?
I walked through a park in central
Hong Kong the morning after the last day of the program described
above, thinking about the new models, plans, mission,
transformational vision and authority structures my leaders wished to
inculcate. After a while, my mind turned to my life as a Christian
and I reflected on the gaps that remained to be bridged between faith
and life. I tried to imagine a roadmap to the kind of discipleship
Jesus called His followers to embrace. It started to rain, so I
entered a church and sat at the back thinking about how Jesus cut a
channel between peoples’ ideas, priorities and what mattered to
God in the context of eternal values.
As my eyes adjusted to the interior of
the church, they fell on a simple altar piece to one side of the
nave. It was originally constructed by prisoners in the Shamshuipo
internment camp during the Second World War occupation of Hong Kong
by Japanese forces. The altar was made of discarded box lids and a
brass crucifix found in a rubbish dump by the POWs. As decoration
they had used a jam jar filled with fresh flowers. For the Christian
men and women who lived and perished in the camp, without human hope,
the notion of discipleship was reduced to daily decisions to put
Jesus first, regardless of the privations they experienced and the
cruelties they witnessed. The quality of life in
the camp was horrific. There was chronic overcrowding and very
little food and water to go around. Medical supplies were inadequate
for the frequent outbreaks of diphtheria. The lack of sanitation and
hygiene meant many died needlessly.
In this midst of these conditions, a group of Christian believers
built a small chapel, where they abandoned their denomination tags
and met as often as they were able to worship God. Ultimately,
discipleship was a choice of the heart and mind, not abandonment to
Confronted by such strength in
humility and faith in the face of despair, I was reminded that true
leadership begins with surrender, to the Lordship of Christ. (Now,
there’s a paradox.) The choice that faced the prisoners of war
in Shamshuipo is also ours, in a modern, complex, frenetic world.
Inscribed on the Shamshuipo altarpiece
are the words of the prayer of Richard of Chichester (1197-1253).
Never heard of him? You are probably familiar with one of his
prayers though. For all his personal struggles Richard understood
that discipleship was a daily affair, that being a Christian didn’t
consist of depending on the peaks of faith, but walking each moment
in the footsteps of the Master, Jesus, the humble carpenter-cum-Son
of God. As you work through the following series of articles about
the Disciple’s Mission, let the words of Richard of Chichester
ring in your heart and set the scene for surrender and growth.
Thanks to you my Lord Jesus Christ
For all the benefits you have given
For all the pain and insults you have
borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, Friend and
May I know you more clearly,
Love you more dearly,
Follow you more nearly,
Day by day