I mentioned Barna’s research on changes in youth faith practices in recent posts, but never expounded… until now.
My basic interpretation of his figures suggests a pattern: the American Church 1. DOES THINGS THAT PRODUCE visible numbers, not disciples, 2. HAS visible numbers, not disciples, 3. is externally PERCEIVED AS WANTING visible numbers, not disciples, and 4. internally, views itself, largely, as “not dedicated or bold.” What does this mean?
Before this means anything there is one other piece of common knowledge that is not in the research, but we all know to be true: American Christians WANT disciples. Conclusion: We don’t know what what discipleship is.
This is obvious in the fact that Christians view themselves in terms of “dedication” rather than “passion.”
Dedication is about meeting and pursuing a standard or goal outside of ourselves. Passion is completely different because it flows from the heart and our innermost desires. We often mistake passion for dedication. Does a dog play fetch from passion or dedication? How about an athlete who “loves the game?”
There are many methods in the Church that supposedly teach “discipleship.” Modern ministry makes use of techniques for manipulating meetings and calls it “leadership,” faking hearty friendship with youth is called “relating,” and wasting time over expensive means for conversation with little substance is revered as “life-on-life bonding time.”
Discipleship is not a matter of “striking a balance” between bull-sessions and didactic evangelism. Nor is discipleship about getting people to make the accountability group promise to really “really” do [insert activity] this time. Christian discipleship is about substantively and contagiously helping everyone we meet to fall more in love with the God who made us and can redeem us.
Jesus never told us to, “do evangelism.” He said to, “make disciples from every walk of life in every corner of the earth.” Evangelism and discipleship are not separate in Christ’s “ministry pro hoc stratagem.” Retention, new Christians, morality, a good reputation, and other qualities of a healthy Church will be natural if we stick to our one mission: Make Disciples.
The uniquest thing about discipleship is not merely in the fact that it can address any topic of Growth, but that ANYONE can make disciples. More mature people should be regarded as more reliable. Discipleship is ideal for this. Youth, especially, are smart—they know when someone is full of nonsense. When people follow a fool they probably want nonsense anyways. Discipleship gave us the idea of a “wise sage.” We know who to go to with our questions. Respect for wise counsel is stronger than paper certification. Effectiveness can’t be legislated. Discipleship can’t be faked.
Discipleship lives boldly, learns boldly, and loves boldly. Discipleship gives questions and asks answers. Discipleship is an ongoing, all-incorporating, non-cliquish, loyal-friendship based, respectful/respectable, organic state of growing together. Discipleship fuels passion without imposing. Discipleship wants people to be like Narnia’s Aslan: not tame, of course, but Good. Discipleship is not a method, it’s our mission.