On a whole, I agree with J.I. Packer that the Church at large just isn’t taking God seriously. At least not as seriously as we should.
Deep discipleship just isn’t in the program for many local faith communities. I’m beginning to think that if your discipleship programs don’t cause some people to take a step back and say, “Whoa, that’s gonna be pretty tough” then you’re doing something wrong. Discipleship is death to self. It’s serious business.
The discipleship programs that are prevalent tend to focus on the basic spiritual disciplines of scripture reading and prayer. This is foundational, of course, but not only are there more spiritual disciplines that are essential for spiritual growth, there are entire spheres of our life that are being neglected as areas for discipleship.
Specifically, I’m thinking of:
Stewardship training is often limited to guilt-driven “encouragement” to tithe or “sacrificial giving” to fund buildings. What about teaching people how to live simply, to re-order their values, and to discern where the greatest needs are in their sphere of influence?
How is this not a discipleship issue? In U.S. culture especially, it seems like there should be training on this. Why did God take a Sabbath? Why does he ask us to emulate him in this? What is the spiritual value of rest? Practically, what does it look like to honor God with how we spend our time? These are things that should be addressed with believers young and old.
Diet and exercise are rarely, if ever mentioned as part of regular discipleship. Gluttony has never been considered in any discipleship group I have been a part of. What we eat matters. How we steward our bodies matter. Every part of our being belongs to Jesus, including our physical selves.
Is it just me or do “singles” programs seem to be more directed at helping Christians find a mate than helping them find their whole identity in Christ as they are? Where is the talk of the great ministry that singles can have? The truth is that singles can devote their lives to ministry in ways impossible for married Christians. Why isn’t this celebrated and understood as a possible calling worth pursuing?
The trend is to offload discipleship to the church. Of course, the whole community has a part to play in raising children, but we bear the primary responsibility for the spiritual health of our own offspring. Is it really enough to make sure they are “involved” in Sunday School or Youth Group and read a Bible story every night? Who is teaching people how to pray for their children, how to help them internalize the Word of God, how to communicate why we believe what we believe?
I think a lot of Christians just don’t know how to communicate about theology and emotionally-charged, big ideas with grace and patience, and especially not in the written medium. This is a problem since so much of our interactions with people we know and people we don’t know are written through social media. We have to start looking at this as a vital area of ministry and recognize that we continue to represent Christ in the digital realm.
Every disciple of Christ is called to disciple others. Maybe not formally. Maybe not as part of a program. But every Christian is responsible to be ready to share the reason for their hope, and then to help others follow Jesus with their whole being. Are we equipping the saints for this work, or are we simply using them to attract a few more people to the pews (slash comfy theatre-style seating)?
At the end of the day, it boils down to this: Discipleship is never just about getting the basics of Christian belief and developing a “personal quiet time.”
Following Jesus is our whole life, and we shouldn’t expect people to just figure it out.
We’re in this together, so let’s start coming alongside one another, and be intentional about training in these areas.
We’re not meant to do it alone.