Power that overflows beyond itself

Plenary speaker Darrell Johnson PHOTO: Kristi Lee

As we gather as a broad and diverse Mennonite Brethren family for any kind of discussion, our clear use of language is especially important. This may be particularly true in the case of discipleship – a word that we seem to use in various ways.

The definition of discipleship presented at the EQUIP study conference is as follows:

“the process of following and imitating Jesus in a way that results in inner transformation into his likeness. Discipleship always happens in community with other believers.”

There is much to be affirmed in a clear, simple definition, but perhaps an essential element of discipleship could receive more attention.

In this description, the goal of discipleship is inner transformation. The interior renewal of our lives is crucial, but does this capture all of what discipleship is about?

Tonight, Darrell Johnson reminded us of Jesus Christ’s great claim, that he has been given “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). This is Jesus stating the facts about the really real world with a cosmic scope that leaves nothing off the table. At work, at home, in politics, even in the church: Jesus is the resurrected Lord of all spheres. Therefore, being a disciple of Jesus is not something relegated only to the interior aspects of our lives, but, in its fullness, is about Christ’s transformation coming out in how we live in the world.

If being a disciple is to become increasingly shaped into the likeness of Christ, then we should imitate the story and purpose Jesus modelled. We are choosing to be the disciples of the One who “gave up his divine privileges” (Philippians 2:7 NLT), to “[come] into the very world he created” (John 1:10 NLT) and give away his life as the expression of God’s love for the world (John 3:16).

Discipleship after this Jesus is not self-contained, but needs to come out in visible, practical expressions in our complex world.

For me, the symbol of a wind turbine is a guiding image that helps me to understand discipleship. Wind turbines are incredible feats of engineering, yet remain entirely dependent on the wind in order to be effective. As the arms turn, the turbine produces power that overflows beyond itself: power to bless the world.

As disciples of Jesus encountering the Spirit’s work in our lives, we must know that this is still for a larger purpose: it will spill over to bless the world that God loves.

—Denver Wilson is pastor of McIvor MB Church, Winnipeg.


  1. I do appreciate the desire to create a clear understanding of terms throuugh clear definitions. I think the definition provided misses the mark, but not for the reason denver identifies. I agree that the nature of discipleship is that it necessarily. overflows into all spheres of life. Jesus’ language from John 4:14 is instructive where he saya “Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The image is of water that wells up and spills over into all areas of life and interaction in a way that is visible and affects others. So the image of overflowing is apt.

    But there is another theological matter in the definition that I think is urgently wide of the mark. A goal of transformation is inner change, increased conformity to the image and pattern of Christ, but the order in the definition is backward. It is not the goal that is inner transformation; it is the origin that is inner transformation. The transformation that is regeneration provides the impetus for discipleship. Because we are new creation, we are made able to be followers of Jesus and launched on a new course that begins the new life that continues to see us increasingly like Jesus. But it is the work of the Spirit in us that is the cause, not the effect. To overlook this reduces discipleship to mere activity, tactics, and neglects the supernatural origin without which discipleship cannot happen. If we forget this, we focus too much on disciplemaking at the expense of discipleship, making the latter simply a function of the former instead of the other way round. Disciplemaking comes from discipleship in the way that water flows from a spring … of living water.

    Brian Cooper MB Seminary

  2. Thanks, Denver! 100% with you on the outward, real-world trajectory of discipleship. I heard that strongly in Darrell Johnson’s “equations” with Jesus. Coincidentally, after the evening session, and after reading your blog, I ran into these thoughts from poet Christian Wiman, reflecting on what we do with those “inner” transformative encounters: “But what does it mean to transform these moments of intense inward understanding of the world and experience? I think that it can only mean that we carry them with us back into the welter of our lives, that we return to them not as refugees from experience, … that we come to understand our moments … of clear-spirited existence in terms of all the life that is so obviously not, and vice versa” (My Bright Abyss, 73). I need to let the “welter of my life” (those “valleys” you mention, Ingrid) be the place of encounter and of following the Jesus who is with me always.

  3. Great discussion here. I’m glad to see others intrigued by this conversation! Rod, I especially appreciate that quote you pulled… beautiful! Our experience of God is entirely tied to the world in which we exist.

    A lot of this discussion came together for me as we opened up the Beatitudes this morning. Being Beatitude people is not only about inner virtue (ex. poverty of spirit, mourning, peacefulness), but about engaging in these spaces of our world (real life poverty, death, conflict). The kingdom is breaking into our hearts and our world… together.

  4. The offered definitions are accomplishing the purpose of being “conversation starters” rather than definitive statements. Thank you for the good thoughts. The world “goal” is actually not part of the definition. The focus on inner conformity to Christ’s nature is to stress that following Jesus is not about outward forms or simply behaviour modification.
    If Jesus is indeed fully formed in us, we will live like Jesus in every outward expression of our lives.

  5. Great conversation here – I would like to share a thought from Gordon Smith that I think is a great concise summary thought that I have been using recently to reflect upon how I am doing both in inner transformation and outward walking. It guides my prayers, confession, repentance and rejoicing:

    …a person moving toward maturity in Christ reflects a life of biblical wisdom, a sense of calling, a concern for others and a life of deep joy, love and power. (Gordon Smith)

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: