Five Areas of Discipleship

There are a lot of different ways we can talk about how one follows the Way of Jesus, but my favorite is this one.

Jesus says that there are two Great Commandments: Love God, and love our neighbors. But we love not only as individuals (showing devotion and serving others), but also as a church as a whole (worshiping in a community and doing justice in society).

So, small groups have often talked about making a covenant to pursue these four areas, often called “works of piety” and “works of mercy,” loving God and loving neighbors.


But there is a fifth area that often gets neglected among mainline Protestant churches: witness. Evangelism, which literally means “spreading the Good News,” touches all four of those areas.

The word “witness” means both observing and telling. In worship, we both observe what God is doing among us and tell about it. In devotion, we draw our attention to what God is teaching us and how God is growing us; we look for answers to prayer. In service and justice, we both tell the story of God’s liberating love and live it out by helping others. All of that stuff is “witness.” Adding this fifth area reminds us of the importance of learning to talk about the grace we see active in our lives and the world around us. We are not just telling the Good News—we’re being the Good News.

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Adding “witness” also reminds us that both observing and telling are part of what we do as followers of the Way of Jesus. We name grace when we see it. We connect current events and our modern life stories to the stories of the Bible and our faith history. Witness is how we live our public and private life, the way we embody the gospel and speak it with our mouths. Witness is our existential relationship, our “way of being in the world.”

This is also why followers of Jesus need a church. Witness is part of how you live an authentic life in community. Most of us tend to favor one expression of faith: I can go off on a mountain and pray and feel spiritual in nature (devotion). I can serve others and feel good about the good work I’m doing (compassion). I can be an advocate or activist and hold right opinions (justice). I can raise my hands in worship and try to glide through life on a spiritual high (worship). I can even tell others about Jesus without knowing intimately what that grace looks like in my own life. Any of these areas isolated from the others can become toxic. But a church helps us balance them and bring them into focus. Witnessing means all of us, together, making worship, devotion, compassion, and justice an integral part of our identity.


There’s an odd verse in the resurrection story in John. After Mary Mags comes running back to the disciples with news that the corpse of Jesus is missing, Peter and the B.D. (Beloved Disciple) sprint to the tomb. They both look at the grave clothes lying there.

Here’s the verse that’s crazy: “Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (John 20:8-9)

Now, if you’re religious, and you’ve heard this story before, you probably didn’t notice anything unusual in the sentence. But here’s the crazy thing:

What did the other disciple, the B.D., actually believe?

Most people respond, “the resurrection,” but nobody has told them that Jesus has been raised. The author tells us in the very next sentence they didn’t understand the scriptures or that Jesus must be raised. There is no content, no X that the B.D. can believe in. All they know is that someone has taken the body. There is no gospel, no angelic announcement, no one telling them that Jesus is alive. But the B.D. believes.

We so often assume that “believing” means “agreeing that such-and-such must be true,” but what we get here is something that precedes even knowing what it is you’re supposed to believe. The B.D. just looks at some folded laundry and believes. Something in him clicks, and he can’t even put his finger on what it is yet.

We use “believe” in this way when we talk about believing in yourself, believing in someone else, believing in a vision. Faith. “Believe” in this context doesn’t mean accepting a statement as a fact—it means this desperate, hopeful something at the core of our existence.

We do not yet know where God is taking us, but we are embarked on the journey, following where God leads.The invitation to believe is not about blind faith, but about trusting the one who leads us.