For about twenty-five years I have been exploring, reading, writing and talking about the non-discipleship crisis. Most everyone recognizes the crisis when we talk about it. Often, someone will offer a great new discipleship program that is sweeping through various locales around the globe, sending me the links to the person/groups that developed it. Good, thoughtful, laborious work has gone into most of them. There is much to glean and I am so appreciative that others are tackling the crisis we find ourselves in.
I’ve made my own attempt at producing a discipleship manual for leaders to use with their congregations. I think it was pretty good. However, a course or program on its own is not discipleship. Jesus didn’t run the 12, the 72, the 144 through a 20-week discipleship course complete with graphics, worksheets and activities, and we didn’t see the early Church do so either.
There is value in those things of course, but the danger comes when we narrow the scope of discipleship to just a program to work our way through successfully. It’s dangerous because we can trick ourselves into thinking that completing a discipleship course means we now understand the Christian faith, while in reality we still have hearts and minds conformed to the world’s patterns, thinking and understanding rather than being shaped by the Holy Spirit’s transforming nature and Jesus’ Kingdom-of-God point of view.
In other words, the church is “Christian” but we are not necessarily followers of Christ living out the Greatest Commandment, the Great Requirement and the Great Commission by becoming disciples who make disciples who make disciples.
Refreshing materials and programs, courses and conferences will not change that, no matter how helpful these tools are. We need to ask ourselves the bold-faced questions about how our methodologies are transforming us, if they are transforming us, and to what we are being transformed into?
The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ~Alvin Toffler
I have this quote on a sticky note on the wall in my office – I really should get it framed so it stops losing its stickiness and falling off the wall (I think there’s an apt metaphor in there somewhere). It’s there because Jesus said something similar when a curious pharisee came to him in the cover of night, acknowledging that Jesus was a teacher who had “come from God” (John 3).
I imagine Nicodemus was gobsmacked by Jesus’ response to the acknowledgment: Jesus challenged him! Even though Nicodemus he was a learned member of the Jewish council, Jesus told him he wouldn’t be able to recognize God’s in-breaking kingdom unless he was “born again.” And what did He mean by born again? Here’s my paraphrase: “Nicodemus, you need to recognize that I am the Messiah to see what God is doing in the world.”
Along the way, born again has become synonymous with a person confessing Jesus as Lord and Saviour. But remember that in Part 1 of this series, we recognized there is a difference between making church-goers and making disciples. Understanding Jesus’ remark as only an evangelistic impulse misses the fullness of what his challenge to Nicodemus was.
Jesus was challenging Nicodemus on what he understood about God, God’s kingdom and the Messiah. Nicodemus needed to unlearn and relearn by allowing the Spirit to be birthed and active within him. Jesus used a common euphemism of the day when he said “born again.” It implied you need to unlearn what you think you already know and learn again.
We’ve made born again about evangelism when it is really about discipleship–the transformation of hearts, minds, soul and strength to increasingly view the world through Jesus’ kingdom lens and live into that.
And, if I can be so bold (and I will), the very evident lack of evangelistic impulse in our church culture is a direct result of the lack of a discipleship culture in our churches. You may find this hair-splitting, but as we move to Part 3 of this series, the distinction will become obvious. For now let me close Part 2 by saying two things to start the unlearning process:
- Being “born again,” absent of unlearning whatever patterns and world views we’ve inherited from our world and people around us throughout our lives, may lead us to declare Jesus as Savior, but has left lots of permission for His Lordship in our lives to be an optional add-on.
- Discipleship doesn’t happen by osmosis. If the Church is serious about facing our current crisis of non-discipleship, we will need to rethink and reimagine our theology of discipleship.
We will need to put aside our egos and not allow offense to be our barrier to unlearning what we think we already know about it all. We hope you will join us as we take a deep breath and attempt to humbly come to terms with this continuous learning-unlearning-relearning process of discipleship.