Friday, August 31, 2012

When Discipleship is the Focus. . .

I had hardly intended for the inaugural post in this blog to be a link to elsewhere, but I simply can’t resist. In any case, the subject matter is in line with a consistent theme in much of my own work (including The Book of the Harvest, the novel I’m currently working on and, to a lesser extent, Emaline’s Gift): personal discipleship.

If you’re going to come round here much, or read much of what I’ve published, you’re going to hear me go on so much about discipleship that you’re probably going to get quite sick of it. I apologize here and now for any future queasiness that this inspires, but I believe that the need is quite urgent. In my opinion, discipleship has long been neglected in countless local churches in the United States. I say this because of my own experience, visiting countless evangelical churches while touring with Stage Right Ministries, but also because this is the precise conclusion that researcher George Barna also came to in his book Growing True Disciples.

Jesus commanded His followers to make disciples. It’s in the Great Commission: Matthew 28:19-20. He issued this command after having spent the past three years of His life making disciples. He was investing in those twelve men throughout His entire public ministry: when He was healing the crowds, He was also investing in them; when He was doing the large group lecture thing, He was still investing in His disciples; when He was sparring with the Pharisees and Sadducees, seeking and saving the lost, evangelizing and praying, He was investing into the spiritual lives of the men who would take the reins of ministry after His ascension. They were the ones present when no one else was. When He instructed His followers to make disciples, everyone knew precisely what He meant. They had just watched Him do it, and the record of His methods are left for us in the gospels. The early church picked up right where He left off, and it was a time of unprecedented fruitfulness in ministry. Paul perhaps made the ultimate statement of discipleship when he invited the Corinthian believers to imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).

At what point did Jesus’ primary method of doing ministry become so rare? At what point did we start thinking that ministry meant first doing a Sunday morning service and then adding programming to that? I suppose the show-plus-programming tactic would be more efficient if it were effective, but the evidence—both anecdotally by simply looking at the state of our once-Christian nation and also via the research results that Barna has compiled—points to a church in crisis, so often incapable of producing genuine disciples of Christ or make any impact in an increasingly godless culture.

I am convinced, first of all, that there is a serious problem. I think we’ve all seen the statistics that show that evangelical church attendees live no different than the rest of the world (if you haven’t seen this, I refer again to the Barna book). I think that personal discipleship is the solution to the problem. Before we look at more demographics and add more relevant music or iPad notes or whatever, I think we need to at least committing to try to do ministry using Christ’s methods before labeling them outdated. If I had to summarize the novel I’ve been working on, I’d say it’s about a group of believers who decide to take a serious look at their Christian lives, to step away from the nominal sedimentary mass that is American Christianity and to truly live for Christ. Making disciples is a big part of that. Of course, that’s a fictional work and I’ll admit that my theories have not been really put into practice in any real way (my wife and I let a discipleship group of young adults for a few months before moving to Indiana and it was a huge learning experience, but we also made a fair number of mistakes).

So that’s where the experiences of Jim Putnam and the churches that have been planted under his leadership come into play. Almost every word that comes out of his mouth lines up with the theories that have been rolling around in my head, and the results? Well, they almost seems like they come right out of the first few chapters of Acts. Without further ado, here’s the link. I recommend this article for every believer, and certainly all in professional ministry! Feel free to come back here to discuss in the comments, if you so desire.

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