Mustard seeds, diamonds and dancing feet

This article was published in the September to December 2017 issue of Rapport magazine.

Barry Dugmore explores growth in discipleship and how our ‘mustard seed’ of faith can extend the Kingdom of God

In the House of Commons there is a clear ‘finishing post’ to cross in terms of a certain number of seats that a political party must win to enable it to have the democratic legitimacy to ‘begin’ the process of governing and to be recognised as a government.

Crossing a defined line, and starting and growing in a journey of faith as a follower of Jesus, isn’t as easy to identify as many of us would like. In their book Making new disciples, Mark Ireland and Mike Booker use the image of a long bridge with many spans to represent the journey to faith or becoming a disciple, recognising that spiritual searching takes place in a culture where many have little or no prior connection or awareness of the Christian faith story and its traditions. The journey of beginning takes longer. In the past many viewed undergoing baptism (and confirmation in the Anglican tradition) as both reaching the finishing post towards faith and the start line in terms of discipleship, with further evidence of a committed or growing disciple marked by regular attendance at Sunday worship.

Whole life transformation

Discipleship is a watchword on most Christian leaders’ lips today and as church there is a re-awakening, a re-discovery and an exploration of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Of course any mention of discipleship will draw on images and phrases which will connect with some Christian traditions and leave others cold.

In the Gospels Jesus invites people to follow and to ‘come and see’, telling stories that make connections into daily life, performing miracles, teaching and being in community with His friends and a wider group of followers. The parables of the Kingdom illustrate that to follow Jesus as a disciple involves a life that invites God to undertake not just a ‘make-over’ but a whole life transformation, not through spiritual surgery but with our co-operation too.

Unlike an ‘app’ that we can download onto our smart phones or tablets to perform some amazing feat without us, apart from tapping on it, we need to be involved by engaging our energy and will in harmony with the Holy Spirit, and in community with others sharing the Christian journey. Not always easy. The apostle Paul speaks about the transforming nature of a relationship with the Lord (Colossians 2:6–7 NIV).

‘So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.’

Deepening relationship

I would look a little silly if I tried to squeeze into my first school uniform with the fading school badge on my jumper.  In the same way a relationship with Jesus is not a static state that involves ticking a box to say we have passed the enquirer post and moved forward from the starting line of faith, but a dynamic and moving journey in a growing and deepening relationship. Whilst baptism can be described as our ‘badge of belonging’, as we grow upwards we are invited to grow a living faith, with healthy roots that enable us to live out our faith, connecting with the world around us and those we encounter every day. Mark Greene from LICC describes this as our ‘frontline place,’ where each one of us is called and commissioned by Jesus to be the church. Discovering and growing in our call in this way unlocks the potential each Christian has to be a builder in the Kingdom of God. As the life of God at work in us brings transformation, we too can be agents for transformation in our frontline places.

Amazing potential

Sadly, many people envisage huge hurdles to be leapt in order to demonstrate somehow that they are on the road of faith in the eyes of others. Issues of self-image, low self-esteem and identity mean that many will judge themselves to be of little worth or value in the eyes of God.  The parable of the sower and that of the mustard seed communicate Jesus’ life- changing message that God sees amazing potential, beauty and value in every human life.

Mustard seed faith

A mustard seed of faith in a big God is sufficient for Jesus to work with and grow something wonderful of the Kingdom of God in our lives and with those we share our lives with. And if that is all we have to give at present, then as we give all of that little seed to God, we will be on the move towards a bigger landscape, sensing new horizons. Tim Hughes’ song ‘Pocketful of Faith’ encourages us in our going and growing as followers of Jesus to offer to God a pocketful of faith, perhaps anticipating that with God there is always so much more on offer, more to come and He doesn’t want us to miss out.

I don’t want to get there, at the end of it all
Looking behind me, to see there was so much more
Take this pocketful of faith, it is all I have today
I’m giving it all, I’m giving it all

Leaving the safety, here at the shore.
Beyond the horizon, I see there is so much more
Take this pocketful of faith, it is all I have today
I’m giving it all, I’m giving it all

God’s view of us

But what if God doesn’t want it all? What if he looks at me and dismisses me for my flaws and imperfections? As a church leader, I’ve often found that another important span on the long bridge that needs to be worked on is that of learning to see ourselves as God sees us; a precious work of art, wonderful clay in the master potters hands where he can lovingly mould us to ‘Shine bright like a diamond’ (Rhianna). What an incredible love, and an amazing friendship that Jesus offers us.

Jesus calls us to be salt and light. The apostle Paul writing to the early church mentions how God’s work in their lives causes them to shine like stars in the midst of a culture that needs God’s light. But this transformation takes shape powerfully the more we grasp the truth that God our creator calls us beautiful and sees us as unique multifaceted diamonds – precious living stones. And these precious stones are to be built-in, and built up in community with Jesus as the foundation.

Whether in inherited church, Fresh or new expressions of church, the journey towards God as a disciple often begins (like the first disciples) way before people fully understand or believe in Jesus; but connecting into a loving, welcoming and healing church community becomes a catalyst for a journey towards faith to begin. Mustard seeds and diamonds can be helpful images in putting in spans under the bridge to faith.

Pilgrim people

Yet the story of the people of God is a continuing ‘travelogue,’ because we are a pilgrim or journeying people. In his book Real life discipleship, Jim Potman comments that a disciple is ‘one who follows Jesus, is being changed by Jesus, and is committed to the mission of Jesus’.  Every day disciples are invited to join the dance of the Spirit. In Galatians 5 Paul encourages the church to live (walk) by or with the Spirit and ‘Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit’ Galatians 5:25 NIV. This on-going walk is a hand in hand, heart in heart, mind in mind way of life which yields the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, transforming and enabling us to be agents for transformation in our every day places.

The outcome of journeying with dancing feet is not achieved by how well we can strut our stuff and dance everyone else off the dance floor of life, but through people even like me – a reluctant ‘Dad Dancer’ – not to be competent in a particular style or finesse of dance step but to follow in Jesus’ footsteps; with desire, willingness and a heart to join in the dance.

Barry Dugmore

More on this at Lee Abbey Devon

Mustard seeds, diamonds and dancing feet: Exploring growth in discipleship for every-day people in an every-day world
16–20 April 2018  (Mon–Fri)  Barry Dugmore

Discipleship is today’s watchword on most Christian leaders’ lips. Teaching about discipleship can sometimes offer an unrealistic ideal for super-spiritual beings or a ‘dumbed-down’ dilution of the more challenging aspects of Jesus’ invitation and call to follow Him. These sessions will offer stepping stones to explore a growing and engaging faith that affirms our identity and call, and how we connect our faith with our everyday encounters.

More information and booking