Let’s draw a picture of Churched Harry and Mary. They go to church and love the worship; they often have jubilant or overwhelmingly emotional experiences there; they meet in small groups and add their opinions to everyone else’s as they discuss the pastor’s sermon; they meet with accountability partners and bear their souls each week; and they give a little when they can.
At the same time, Churched Harry and Mary barely see each other as they both leave early for separate jobs and get home late; upon arrival they make sure the kids do their homework, eat supper while watching television (as they have some favorite shows filled with immorality but compelling enough to play the liberty card), and then they go to bed. Though they barely see each other they have a lot of conflict; nothing ever seems to get resolved. They spend their extra time carting the kids to music, ball practice or both; their kids seem to be increasingly influenced by the world but they take comfort in the fact they were baptized. They hate their jobs but do them so they can get to the weekend and spend their time and money on things they really want. Their prayer life is relegated to meal time in a routine sort of way; they certainly don’t pray about how to spend their money or what to involve themselves or their kids in. They feel obligated to give more money to the church but too many bills make it impossible. When faced with anxiety or depression they go to a secular therapist; if they should lose a job they have no problem signing up for some kind of welfare; when times are good they’re essentially pursuing the American dream like their unchurched neighbors; in fact there is no observable difference between them and the surrounding culture except they go to church.
Does that sound like New Testament Christianity? Is that picture unfair? To some; but is it unfair to most? Could I have drawn it a little bleaker? When you add in the divorce rate among Christians, the pre-marital sex rate among Christian teens, the kids-leaving-the-church rate when they go off to college, and a lot of other rates I could site, perhaps drawing it a little bleaker, like the bleak midwinter, is an understatement. Perhaps we need to be thinking nuclear-winter kind of bleak.
Everybody’s talking about discipleship. That’s good. And yet few Christians seem to be discipled or even know what it means. Such a prospect is hugely problematic – the bible says that Christians and disciples are synonymous. I can’t judge Churched Harry and Mary’s hearts – they may be Christians; but it’s an absolute fact they’re not disciples of Christ in any biblically discernable sense.
Okay, since everybody’s talking about discipleship, me too. What is it really?
Discipleship can be Formal or Informal
Taking a class can be helpful but is not the primary means of discipleship. Since the word disciple means learner we can learn about Christ and His ways in a classroom. We have to realize that discipleship is not mere information though; it’s information applied. Often the “how-to” of being a disciple can only be learned through the example and exhortation of others. So we can learn in a formal setting but an informal everyday kind of dynamic rounds out the kind of learning we’re talking about. Real discipleship occurs in the context of relationships as others show us the way. So discipleship is not an intellectually stimulating class at the local community college. It’s more than that.
Discipleship Must Deal with the Heart
Part of the “more than that” is dealing with the heart because what we do springs from there. If you know what’s right you will be unable to do it if you don’t deal with your heart. If you seek to obey rules without heart transformation you’re a legalist. If you don’t deal with heart sins you’re a libertine. It’s not an exaggeration to say the greatest discipleship need in evangelicalism today is dealing with sin at the heart level. Discipleship always involves the ongoing sanctifying work of the Spirit. It’s about learning to relate to God and others and occurs as we learn to act and react in a way that glorifies God – from the heart. If you’re main artery is blocked and you don’t have surgery you’ll die no matter how much you exercise.
Discipleship Must be Word Based
Discipleship must be word based whether formal or informal. This truth should be obvious. We’re told countless times that God uses His word to change hearts; to save; to sanctify; to show us His nature and ours; to show us our problem and the solution; to point us to Himself and His ways. All the great confessions say the bible is our only rule for faith and practice – for what we believe and do. The current trend of meeting in small groups or even accountability groups certainly finds its roots in the biblical vision of discipleship. But if we only have the shell without the engine all we have is the appearance of discipleship and not the real thing. Discipleship is not pooled opinion (ignorance). Neither is it sharing our secret sins with someone else (priest-craft). Discipleship is word based; the word must be taught and applied whether in settings formal or informal or large or small.
Discipleship Must Deal with Theology
Word based discipleship means we must be familiar with bible texts. It also requires us to have a theology that flows from the bible, not pop culture. Too many Christians reduce life in the Spirit to uncontrolled convulsions during worship or believe their birthright is physical health, material wealth, and circumstantial happiness. For them the gospel is not really about their sin being dealt with or their role in the ultimate kingdom but about psychological fulfillment in the American playground. If you don’t understand the game of football you might do what football players do – you might run – but you might end up running the wrong way.
Discipleship Must Deal with Worldview
That’s why worldview is critical as well. Word, theology, and worldview go together but I’m making the distinction to highlight the need for Christians to look at every jot and tittle of their lives through the lens of Scripture. A housewife who has no theology of ironing clothes can become discouraged. A guy who has no theology of watching football will either unnecessarily deprive himself or sin by watching football with no thought for God’s view of it. The man who doesn’t see economics through a biblical lens will pray for welfare benefits when he ought to be working. The Christian who doesn’t understand worldview will buy into destructive cultural norms. It never occurs to him that government education, serial dating, indiscriminate entertainment, and a thousand other things must be biblically examined and wisely navigated. Without worldview-thinking a Christian is nothing more than a leaf on a river.
I’m glad to see Unchurched Harry and Mary in church now. But they have to be more than that. Churched Harry and Mary must be Discipled Harry and Mary. If not, while few may be willing to question their salvation we most certainly have an explanation as to why the church has so little impact.
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