In his first Encyclical, John Paul II suggested that the Church's life will be renewed if it sees itself as "the community of the Lord's disciples"
Because "disciple" is a familiar word, constantly used in the New Testament, it may seem stale and "churchy". It means "learner" – one seeking to learn from a great leader. When we appreciate how important it was for the first Christians, it becomes clear that it should not be abandoned. If it has become stale it must be given new clarity and new vitality.
Christian discipleship depends upon the choice and call of Jesus, not upon our decision or personal qualities. Those called form a sign community – though differing in age, maturity, background etc they show the world that "in Jesus Christ" the differences that divide humanity can be overcome.
Christian discipleship is radically different from the following of the Jewish rabbis. The call of Jesus unites his disciples to him forever. The truth found by the disciples of Jesus is not a truth about God, but the divine truth itself that Jesus is. His disciples, Jesus tells us, form his new family, sharing his mission, his cross and his final glory.
The New Testament shows that Christian discipleship has many forms. All believers, men and women, were called "disciples", even those who had not known Jesus during his earthly life. Some left all things to follow him. Some returned to their usual occupations. Some hesitated, becoming learners at the edge of the crowd around Jesus.
As John Paul II has reminded us, the spirit of discipleship can help the Church to find the renewal to which it is called. It provides a straightforward answer to the Church's main problems. If the Church of recent centuries has tended to live in a world apart, those who are gathered around Jesus will never turn their backs on struggling humanity. If, like all big institutions, the Church has depersonalising tendencies, discipleship puts the personal relationship of each believer with the Saviour at the centre of Christian life. If the Church needs a new style of pastoral leadership, the trust engendered in a community of common discipleship will help develop the collaborative leadership we need.
Discipleship provides an accessible program of personal spirituality and prayer.
The prophetic blessings given to the Church can enrich us all, if disciples share what – through the Spirit – they have learned from the Lord.