When Dan Sylvia reflects on his own discipleship journey, he can’t help but mention his friends. The communities that have been formative in his growth have not been about a revolutionary Sunday morning service but about the relationships that have focused him on the reality that “every day, all day, you’re never not a Christian.”
This vision of whole-life discipleship has shaped the support and relationships he seeks out as a pastor. A few years ago, he and another pastor friend began to intentionally support each other in their roles as pastors. They meet regularly to ask the hard questions, lead each other’s leadership retreats, and, at the moment, are even preaching through the same sermon texts. They want to live into their calling as pastors well—and through that encourage and empower the people in their churches to do the same on their frontlines.
Dan knows that living as a whole-life disciple requires the support and accountability of a community. This is just as true for him as a pastor as it is for everyone at his church. He says, “Find someone you trust spiritually and make it a priority to meet regularly with them. You need consistent and available support. If you want to follow Jesus with your whole life you have to be willing to let someone look at your whole life and honestly let them tell you the truth. There is a great risk in this, but you’ll grow from having those people in your life.”
It is no surprise, then, that in Dan’s pastoral ministry, equipping the people in his church for the frontline has most often meant meeting with them one-on-one, on a weekly basis at coffee shops and other places in the local community. He describes his approach: “Whenever you can meet me during the week, on a regular basis, if you want to be discipled, I will walk through all of your life with you.” As he meets with people, their conversations cut through the oft-perpetuated “segments” of life and explore how all of them are related to a walk with Jesus: church life, home life, work-life. The goal now, he says, is equipping and empowering others to replicate what he’s doing in these one-on-one meetings.
The practical results of a life of discipleship are often simple. “It’s about being practical salt and life in their networks and neighborhoods,” Dan says. “We just try to be steady” in telling stories of what this looks like lived out. “Some people just need to know that if they survived the day with a screaming child, made it by the skin of their teeth to pay their bills, and managed to get dinner on the table, you’re a hero. We need those testimonies of simple, everyday life—and not just ones of superstars.” Sharing these frontline stories can give people hope—and are a part of a slow, steady drip of discipleship.
And Dan knows the process of discipleship can be slow. He has found that equipping people for this sort of everyday-life discipleship can be challenging in a culture that casts life as a composite of clearly marked and differentiated parts. Breaking through these segments and helping people to see them as all connected parts in following Jesus isn’t always easy. There will be some who get it right away, Dan says. There will be others who dig in their heels. And for the rest, it will be a slow process towards transformation. “Everyone moves at the rate they’re able to process,” he says.
Dan also knows that equipping and living as whole-life disciples will not always go smoothly. We will make mistakes—as individuals and churches—as we attempt to put flesh and blood on the call to follow Jesus in all of life, but these mistakes should not discourage us from this calling. He says, “Take a swing at some of these things. You’re not going to do it perfectly. Sometimes you’re going to do it all wrong. But the community of the church is here to speak the truth in love in those moments and help us learn from those mistakes.” Or, in the words his bishop: “When you feel like the Spirit of God is prompting you, don’t be afraid to fail.”
Diana Gruver (MA, Gordon-Conwell) writes about discipleship and spiritual formation in the every day. She is the author of Companions in the Darkness: Seven Saints who Struggled with Depression and Doubt. You can find her online at www.dianagruver.com or on Facebook or Twitter. Diana originally published this work with the Vere Institute (Oct 2014 – May 2021), which was founded to empower Christians to integrate their faith into everyday life. The Vere Institute’s legacy lives on through our Vere Library.