In this series of articles, we look at the three key experiences that mark the journey of discipleship: encounter, engage and embark. Last month, we discussed why engaging more deeply with our love and knowledge of God is a crucial experience in the life of a disciple. This month, we’ll look at what it means to embark with Jesus on a life of mission.
Jesus called the disciples to be with him (John 15:4), but he also sent them out to preach the Gospel and make other disciples (Matthew 28:16–20). Anyone who has truly encountered Christ—who has experienced his love, his mercy and his saving power—cannot help but share Christ with others. Jesus invites and calls each of us uniquely to embark with him on mission, making God known to others in order to bring forgiveness, healing and salvation to a broken world.
For Melbourne parishioner Shania, 22, the experience of becoming a disciple of Christ helped her to hear her own call to embark on the journey of a missionary disciple.
‘I was raised Catholic, went to Mass every week,’ she says, ‘but I just did it because my family did; I didn’t know why we did it. In high school, I strayed a little bit, but when I went to uni, I got involved with other young adults who were living out their faith. I started hearing them say things like, “I’m praying for you” or share about how God was speaking to them. Hearing young people talk about how God can speak to you—I thought I was a good Catholic, but I had no idea! I just wanted to know more. The personal witness and testimony of others was really powerful.’
Hearing others share their experience of a relationship with the living Jesus inspired Shania to go deeper in prayer and to share her newfound life in Jesus with others. ‘I felt so empowered by hearing other young people express their faith. It was so good for me, and I wanted more people to experience that. I finally felt comfortable to express my faith. I just wanted other people to have that experience of Jesus too. I felt like St Paul, who said, “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel!”’ (1 Corinthians 9:16).
Embarking on mission is essential to the call of baptism, and discovering this has been another turning point for Shania as she continues to seek to integrate her witness and evangelisation with her daily life. ‘I never realised initially how vital going out and sharing the Good News is. For most of my life, I was embarrassed and scared of judgement. But for most of my life, it was because I didn’t know who Jesus was. One of the last things Jesus said is, “Go and make disciples of all nations” [Matthew 28:19]. We need to hold onto the importance of that. It’s so vital. As Christians, we are not called to keep the faith to ourselves; we are called to bring people into that life-changing experience, into that newness of life that Christ offers.’
The Holy Spirit directs the ongoing process of discipleship, equipping and encouraging each follower of Jesus to disciple others in turn (see Acts 1:8). All authentic mission, evangelisation, proclamation of the Gospel and Christian witness stems from a relationship with Jesus. After all, he is the one who calls people to mission, and he is the one we are proclaiming to the world.
‘I can’t give something I do not have,’ Shania says. ‘An important part of discipleship is being a witness. That is what draws people in: seeking the Lord daily. We need to know who he is, and know who we are in him. Going out to spread the Good News stems from personal holiness; it all starts there. As disciples, we need to be seeking holiness.’
Shania points out that God calls each of us uniquely to mission, equipping us in building up his kingdom and witnessing to his Gospel: ‘There are many parts to the body of Christ [Ephesians 4:11–16]. God calls each and every one of us to an important and unique role. It can be tempting to look around at what others are doing, but we need to seek individually what God wants of us, because that’s exactly how we are needed. That’s how we build the body of Christ; it’s not going to be doing the same thing as someone else. Seek the Lord and live for him personally, and the rest flows from there. It’s from him that we find out how he wants us to go out and be missionary disciples, because it is personal to each individual.’
Jesus invites all people into a relationship with him; to experience his saving grace. Yet, ‘How … can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?’ (Romans 10:14).
As Shania’s story demonstrates, the personal witness of others has a powerful impact and can foster life-changing encounters with Jesus. Shania had just such an encounter herself and was empowered to share her faith in Christ with others. Jesus longs to forgive, heal and restore all people through a loving relationship with him. As baptised disciples, we are all called personally to embark on this mission with him, witnessing and explicitly proclaiming the Gospel to the whole world, for ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord’ (Paul VI, Gaudete in Domino, apostolic exhortation, 9 May 1975).