What is Discipleship at Briercrest Really Like?
When I was in my third year of college at Briercrest, a teammate of mine sat down beside me at our weekly worship night on campus. I was praying alone in a corner of the room, but he interrupted to ask a question: “I want to have a relationship with God like you do. How can I grow deeper in my faith?”
It was a simple question, really—the type of question people ask everywhere. Many of my friends, whether they grew up in a Christian home or not, were ‘coasting’ when it came to their faith. That’s where I was for a long time, too.
But then we have these special experiences – a retreat of solitude at camp, a special prayer time with a youth group, a convicting sermon at church, or an amazing worship night at a conference – moments when we know that God is calling us to more. These moments are actually critically important for us as believers.
We know there is more to following Jesus, more to living out what we believe, but how? How do I grow deeper in my faith?
As I tried to answer my friend, I found that when someone asks this question, they are often looking for a task or a mission. “How do I grow deeper in my faith?” means something like, “What do I need to do to pass on to the next level of Christianity?”
I think this view of discipleship misses something important. We are tempted to reduce our faith to a linear progression toward ‘spiritual maturity’, a mission from (A) to (B) with a series of steps to undertake, and perhaps some great feat to accomplish, along the way. Is this really what discipleship is about? Can discipleship be reduced to a step-by-step program?
The early chapters of Acts provide a simple, communal model for what discipleship looks like. Jesus, having been raised from the dead, commands his followers to wait in Jerusalem until they receive the Holy Spirit (1:4-5). A few days later, the Spirit is poured out miraculously and thousands of people turn to Christ. This is the day the Church began. And what do participants in the new Christian community, having received the Spirit, devote themselves to? (1) The teaching of the apostles, (2) fellowship, (3) the breaking of bread, and (4) prayer (2:42).
I think we often make discipleship too complex. We have different cool, hip models for discipleship, and we are constantly coming up with new ways of defining it. Really, discipleship comes down to these four things: reading scripture, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer. Are you doing those things? That’s discipleship!
These four activities are central for our life together at Briercrest.
First and foremost, we are a community devoted to the apostles’ teaching: a community devoted to the Bible.
A crucial step in discipleship is seeing the world through a biblical lens—we need to understand our lives in light of what Christ taught his disciples. This is why meeting for chapel daily is so important to us here at Briercrest: we want to be a community shaped by the scriptures, and chapel gives us the opportunity to open up the Bible together every day.
We also have Bible classes as a part of our core curriculum, which means every student has the opportunity to dig into the scriptures during class. Dorm small groups provide another chance to read the Word together.
All of these activities serve the same goal of building a biblical worldview—learning to apply what Jesus taught his followers to how we see the world and live our lives. Studying the Bible together sets the foundation for discipleship in our community.
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But discipleship didn’t stop with biblical teaching for the early Church, and it doesn’t stop there at Briercrest either. Fellowship—sharing our lives with fellow members of the body of Christ—serves as a key ingredient for growth in our walk with Christ.
All the extra-curricular activities we do at Briercrest are an important part of our discipleship program. Whether it looks like playing a varsity sport, singing in the choir (socially distanced for right now), sharing talents at a coffee house, taking pictures at the Christmas banquet, or worshipping together at Surrender (that’s what we call the weekly worship night I mentioned earlier), we share our lives here at Briercrest.
Read: How Coming to Briercrest as a Student Athlete Changed My Life to hear one student's experience of this.
We get to know one another, care for each other, celebrate our successes, and mourn over our hardships. God made us to enjoy fellowship with each other and support one another in community.
This is why the shared living space of dorm is so important. Over 80% of our first-year students live in dorm, and many stay in dorm for three years or more. The closeness of this community is a catalyst for growth.
In dorm we have tons of fun together, we encourage one another during hard times, we work through conflict, and we process what we’re learning (seriously, all the best talks happen after class and in the dorm!). These shared experiences are the building blocks for strong community.
One of the most amazing things I have witnessed is dorm students gathering around those who are struggling for prayer, support, and encouragement. This is just one of the ways fellowship in community leads to growth as a disciple of Jesus. It’s simple: when followers of Jesus gather together around good things for fellowship, we grow together, and the body is built up.
The third pillar for communal life here at Briercrest is the breaking of bread.
Of course, when we talk about the ‘breaking of bread’ in Christian circles, we often think of taking communion, an important part of the life of a disciple. Our students attend local churches where they regularly take part in communion with other members of the local church.
But in Acts 2, ‘breaking bread’ doesn’t just refer to communion. It refers to meeting together regularly for meals.
Sharing meals is part of discipleship. I firmly believe that having a cafeteria as a common place for meals makes all the difference. (You can read one alumni's blog about how to find community in the cafeteria here!)
During meals, our schoolwork, jobs, and other responsibilities are left behind for rest, sustenance, and more fellowship. Conversations around the table range from mundane things (how did you sleep?), to everyday connection (did you catch the Lakers game last night?!), and even to deep, significant sharing (what is God doing in your life?). All of these conversations are important.
While some older students live in the community and don’t eat in our cafeteria, they practice gathering around tables in their own homes, a habit that will be important for them as they leave college and head out into the world.
Sharing meals isn’t just a convenience thing; it’s a central part of our life together at Briercrest.
In addition to all these activities, prayer serves as the backbone for discipleship at Briercrest.
We have several prayer groups that meet in and out of dorm. A significant portion of our chapel program is devoted to prayer. We even set one full day aside for prayer each semester (creatively named ‘Day of Prayer’). That means no classes, assignments, or extracurricular meetings. Just a day of prayer and worship as we seek the Lord together.
We do these things because we believe in the power of prayer—that God responds to us and works among us as a result of prayer. At the end of the day, if growth is happening, it is the result of prayer.
At Briercrest we also have many unique and special experiences to get involved in. These ‘highlights’ certainly contribute to growth of our students. But the bread-and-butter fueling growth for our students is the chance to live in a community dedicated to the four activities outlined in Acts 2. That’s where long, steady, lasting growth comes from.
I can’t remember what I said to my friend that night when he asked me how he could grow in his faith. I didn’t have a step-by-step plan or a new, revolutionary idea (I’m sure I told him to read his Bible more or something like that). But when he graduated from Briercrest a few years later, he had grown in his faith. He was a more mature disciple of Christ.
It didn’t happen overnight, and it wasn’t the result of one significant moment or feat of faithfulness. He had slowly been formed and shaped in community doing the simple things: praying, reading the scriptures, eating meals, and living in fellowship with Christ’s body.