The Sacred Roads of Discipleship

An interview with pastor and author Heather Zempel

Note: Click here for the Resource Review of Sacred Roads.

To start off, can you tell us a little bit about your ministry at National Community Church?

I serve by leading the discipleship efforts at NCC. And about 80 percent of that comes through a small-group capacity. We're a multisite church. We meet in movie theaters around the Washington D.C. metro area, and we own and operate the largest coffeehouse in D.C. Our congregation is about 70 percent single and under the age of 35. So it's a very dynamic place and we have a lot going on.

And now you've written a book.

I have.

The title isSacred Roads. Would you be willing to give a brief overview for those who haven't read it yet?

Absolutely. I think the idea for Sacred Roads came about when I had this realization that being a disciple of Jesus Christ, those original 12 guys, must have been anything but boring. When people were following Jesus in the years he was on Earth, he was teaching them in the midst of everyday life. As they were on trips from one location to another, as they were at weddings and at parties, as they were on fishing boats, he taught them about God. He taught them about the ways of God and taught them to be followers of God, and he did that along the path of life. And it was active. It was in your face, and it was always different. Jesus never had the same approach twice.

When you compare that to the way we do discipleship today, something just looks very odd. We have taken discipleship and turned it into six people sitting around a table filling out answers to a workbook, when it really should be more of a workout.

Another thing I was concerned about is something that Bruce Shelley talked about in Church History in Plain Language. He refers to this idea of historical amnesia. I was very concerned about younger, emerging generations coming up without any kind of knowledge or awareness about the rich spiritual history that they're a part of. For many of us, the idea of church history starts with, "My church was founded in 1972." We don't have an understanding of where and how God has been working for the past 2,000 years. And so I saw Sacred Roads as a way for me to help scratch the surface of church history and introduce younger generations to some people that have plowed the ground before us—people we need to honor, and maybe even learn something from.

Having said all that, Sacred Roads basically is an exploration of the historic paths of discipleship, both from the biblical perspective and from an historical perspective. I've noticed five different streams connected with discipleship throughout church history: relational, experiential, personal, intellectual, and incarnational—and we see these both biblically and historically. I wrote the book to help people understand the different paths that can be explored from a discipleship standpoint.

Because disciple works in different ways for different people?

Yes. For some people, going on a mission's trip will be the best discipleship decision they can make. For some people starting a personal quiet time is going to help them grow the most. For others, being in a one-on-one relationship with a mentor or discipler is how they're going to grow the most. And so it's helping people understand all these different arenas and paths, but also helping them discover the one that is the most right for them and the one that they need to lean into the most for spiritual growth.

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