Note: What follows was not written as a holier-than-thou diatribe but to instead highlight a dilemma within North American Christianity. Author Greg Ogden calls the problem “a discipleship malaise.” Take inventory as you read, but consider the point as encouragement to become a pro-active disciple of Jesus – not as a beat down.
“The greatest issue facing the world toay is whether those who, by profession or cutlure, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples.” Dallas Willard
Imagine walking into your church’s nursery to find able-bodied, mentally-sound adults fitted in diapers and sucking on pacifiers. It’s a disturbing thought, but a spiritually similar scenario plays out in large swaths of American Christianity.
While it’s certainly nobody’s intention to short-change discipleship for the sake of numerical growth, it commonly happens.
Christianity in North America is waning across denominations. Some of the decline can be blamed on a cultural shift away from a Biblical worldview. Evidence suggests that much of the problem lies within, however. We’re making converts but not disciples!
A survey cited by Every Believer A Witness Ministries claims that “95% of all Christians will never in their life lead one person to faith in Jesus Christ; 90% will never even try.”
In his book The King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight argues that wrong-headed evangelistic strategies have hurt the church. He writes, “Most evangelism today is obsessed with getting someone to make a decision; the apostles, however, were obsessed with making disciples. Evangelism that focuses on decisions short circuits – and yes the word is appropriate – aborts the design of the gospel, while evangelism that aims at disciples slows down to offer the full gospel of Jesus and the apostles.”
A talented evangelist once told me that “about half” of the people he teaches and baptizes eventually leave the church. And he’s reached a lot of people! His style doesn’t fall into the category of rushed “decisions for Christ” noted above. To the contrary, this brother is dedicated to in-depth teaching before he baptizes anyone. Much of the issue is that he doesn’t have time for follow-up discipling.
Given the urgency of the mission, it seems our tendency to rush the process. This leads to satisfaction with decisions and baptisms vs the needed long-term investment that builds mature disciples. It’s like leaving babies in the nursery to fend for themselves.
The writer of Hebrews grieved the issue of Christian immaturity in addressing his audience, “You should be ready for meat, but you can only handle milk.” Heb. 5:12 We still have a lot of Christians on a liquid diet.
Sunday school programs have become the default mechanism for discipleship. Although they have value, classes are not an effective substitute for the painstaking work of disciple making. The result is widespread immaturity, i.e. converts warming the pews without a commitment to discipleship or even a basic understanding of how to disciple anyone else.
The adage “you can’t pass on what you don’t have” is particularly true when it comes to disciple making. The opposite is also true! People who receive personal training and investment, i.e. discipling/mentoring, over a period of time are more apt to become mature disciples who go on to disciple others. The principle of intimate life-on-life investment makes it work, and teaching and practicing this principle is a core value of The Timothy Network.