Our Discipleship Problem

Having been a student of the church for a number of years now I always love to hear what various theologians, pastors, and analysts believe the biggest problems facing the church are. If they are even remotely correct it is safe to say that the church has lots of problems. We have a missional problem, a leadership problem, an evangelism problem, a worship problem, a tithing problem, a volunteer problem, etc. There are so many problems in the church according to these individuals that pastors can sometimes feel like it’s impossible to get a handle on the mess we’ve made. It’s like when my kids spill a bowl of Cheerios. No matter how many I think I’ve picked up I inevitably find another one when it crunches beneath my feet. Perhaps all these analysts are right; we all know that the church isn’t perfect. We’ve got loads of problems. But I am increasingly inclined to think that we really have only one major problem, that all these other issues are symptoms of that one major failure. I believe we have a discipleship problem.

Now discipleship is another one of those fun terms that gets thrown around a lot and yet rarely defined (an ambiguous ubiquitous term). Simply put a disciple is someone who seeks to follow in the footsteps of their teacher. Christian discipleship means striving to imitate our Lord in all areas of our lives. By the standard of that simple definition I feel confident in saying that the North American church has a discipleship problem.

I will let my context be the case study. I live in an area that has been preached to death. Most confessing Christians attend church weekly, sit under regular preaching, and can give you most of the right answers to the major theological, Biblical, and practical questions. Yet, for a host of reasons, Christians are not experiencing real transformation. The number of unchurched or dechurched people is growing, the number of poor and destitute is growing, and divorce continues to take its toll on the church and community. Our county has received both national and international recognition for drug abuse, and our murder rate is well above the national average. We are in a bad place, and yet there is a church on every corner (so to speak).

The national averages for Christians aren’t much better. Brad Waggoner’s thorough book on modern evangelical spirituality reveals how desperate the situation is. In The Shape of Faith To Come Waggoner analyzes the year-long growth and development of 2500 protestants. He analyzed them across seven areas: Beliefs, Obedience, Service, Evangelism, Faith, Worship, and Relationships. The results are nothing to get excited about. How can this be?

I fear that for so many Christians in so many churches the Christian life has become a routine, a hobby, and an effortless duty. So long as our check lists of Bible reading and church attendance get their required marks then we have done our part for the week…God likes us enough to give us a pass. There must be a shift not to more programs and Bible studies, not to more services in the week, but to creating a culture of discipleship within our local churches. That’s what I want to spend the next couple of weeks exploring with you.

I don’t by any means claim to have the answers, but I know we have a problem and to continue as though we don’t, or to think that some magic bullet program will resolve it, is to be naive and irresponsible with the church of Jesus Christ. I’d rather verge on audacity than sit in irresponsibility, and I trust that the Holy Spirit will lead us in wisdom to serve the church.

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  1. […] Part 1: Our Discipleship Problem […]

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