In Opening Ourselves to Grace: Basic Christian Practices Douglas Yeo, a trombone player in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, talks about how discipline and practice set him free to make music. To illustrate his point he tells us what his teacher told him years ago:
“World class trombone players do not just happen. Their talents are forged in the dual furnaces of determination and diligence.”
From this Mr. Yeo learned that “nothing good comes about simply by accident. That there is work involved.”
Jazz is the music that has taught me the most about discipleship. Jazz is always played with at least two players and as many as 50 or 100. Jazz helps us understand discipleship because it is an expression of freedom and new possibilities drawing us closer to God. A typical performance begins with the band playing a melody. The leader then begins to improvise. As he or she plays with the theme, the band plays supporting chords. As each player takes a turn at improvisation, he or she is supported by the band. Improvisation requires skilled and close listening to one another.
This process of listening and mutual support sets each player free to play with the music and see where it can lead them. The goal is to allow the music to take them to new places and new possibilities. All the practice, discipline, listening, and mutual respect for the music and one another allows the musicians to get out of the way and allow the music to play them.
In the waters of baptism God calls us into discipleship. Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ is very much like becoming a musician. Certainly, God does not give everyone the gift of making music. However, because we are all created in the image of God, we are all given the same gift: the capacity to give and receive love. The goal of discipleship is to develop this gift to its fullest capacity. Along the way our character, which has been damaged by sin, will be restored to wholeness into the image of Christ. As we grow and mature in loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves, love becomes a natural response and way of life in the world. This process is what John Wesley called “holiness of heart and life,” “sanctification,” and “Christian perfection.”
Making disciples, like making musicians, does not happen by accident. It is done with intention born of love for God and love for those whom God calls into God’s household in baptism. The Baptismal covenant provides the compass headings for how to make disciples. In it United Methodist congregations will find guidance for developing an intentional process, or system, for making disciples of Jesus Christ. Such a system will be immersed in the grace of God from which all of the respective pieces emerge. The goal of the system is a community whose form and witness in the world are defined by holiness of heart and life.