Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Reflections On Discipleship 2

Part 1
First of all, thanks to all who have contributed so far to this thread of posts!

As a result, I want to focus briefly on a couple of issues.

First: An associate pastor friend of mine and I were talking about discipleship and we both were in agreement when it came to the necessary component of what gets modeled from behind the pulpits of the church. Rich noted in the comments to the last post that more often than not senior pastors see discipleship as something that they can relegate to an associate over C.E. and that a few people will choose to engage in. Frankly, if the senior pastor is not growing in discipleship, that lack will show in their ministry, and the church will follow suit. If maturity in Christ likeness is not a value to the ministry of a church, the church will not value it either.

Dallas Willard has noted that discipleship is not for the specially gifted or for those who desire to be discipled; it is the most basic and fundamental activity expected of every Christ follower. Where do we get this notion that discipleship is for the egg-heads and intellectuals among us? Wherever we got it, it has done a great deal of disservice to the Church.

This kind of modeling behavior does not only take place from behind the pulpit but in deliberate relationships as well. We learn what it means to live a Christ like life not just from learning the life of Christ, but from watching the lives of those who are further down the path than we are.

Second: I don’t know how long we can continue to pretend to “do church” when Scripture is not the center piece of our services. Due to a lot of forces out there, not the least of which is the church-growth/seeker-sensitive set of models, the role of Scripture has diminished in our churches. The more preachers I hear, the more I fit their sermons into one of two categories: Personal Soapbox and Glorified Self-Help. In both cases Scripture is given a nod as the minister grabs some small portion of Scripture to support the sermon on either the evils of [pick your demon] or the practical blessings of adding Jesus to your busy life. “With Jesus, it will all be better!”

Leave the self-help to the self-help gurus. Give people Jesus Christ and watch Him put their lives in order.

The result of this kind of preaching is a biblically illiterate culture of church-goers who are clearly not any kind of serious impact on our culture. Augustine changed his world by feeding his flocks true doctrine and, for example, going into great theological depth concerning issues like lying. John Wesley told a young preacher he was lively but shallow and that the only way to deepen himself as a preacher and a Christian was to read the classics (by which he meant Plato, Homer, Hume, Pascal, etc.) And I think we would agree that Wesley clearly made an impact.


Rusty Lopez said...

This is a great series, Phil.

I consider the issue of discipleship to be one of the paramount issues facing the church today (mainly, that of the church in the U.S.). It's a complex issue, though, in my opinion. Both senior pastors and church members seem to think that discipleship training (i.e., rationality) is secondary to experience (i.e., emotion). I've taught a few adult Sunday School classes and it is near impossible to get people interested in learning the Word. Other than the few people that are already interested in learning, most people seem to be satisfied with simply skimming the surface. And it's not just my lack of teaching ability... I've sat in Sunday School classes taught by a respected OT scholar (from Vanguard) and experienced the same thing.

Part of the problem, as I see it, has to do with how most Christians interpret The Great Commission. For one, the general thought is that TGC is our purpose, as Christians (never mind what Jesus referred to as the greatest commandment, much less the first question of the shorter Heidelberg catechism). Time and time again Christians will state that our primary purpose is to win converts, citing TGC. Is it any wonder that they don't hold discipleship in high regard when they don't even realize that the TGC commands us to go out into the world to make - DISCIPLES?... TEACHING THEM... etc.

I left a church last year mainly because the senior pastor categorically placed experience above learning. His approach was that church members were responsible for their own growth in the Word. The congregation was told, essentially, that he had heard from God that the approach he was going was by God's direction. (because, as you see, special revelation trumps everything)

Should we really be that surprised, though, at the current state of affairs? Consider that our society places one's opinion of paramount importance. Thus, objective data hardly stands a chance against how one feels about an issue (note, not what one actually thinks about an issue - not many people take the time to think anymore). And the church is hardly blameless when we focus on winning converts through heads bowed and hands raised actions, altar calls, and such. We consider signing on the dotted line to be the manner in which one enters the Kingdom with complete disregard to the details of the fineprint.

In wondering what "God's plan for my life" is we ignore "My life for God's plan." (ht: Greg Koukl) Becoming a follower of Christ has turned into having a personal relationship with Jesus. Whereas the disciples referred to Jesus as Master, Rabbi, Teacher, Lord, we now see t-shirts that state "Jesus is my homeboy." Before, Jeremiah 29:11 told us what God had told the exiles in Babylon; now, it tells us of the wonderful things that are store for us in the here and now.

Enough ranting...

On the plus side, it's refreshing to see several pastors taking the issue of Biblical literacy and discipleship training seriously. Byron Klaus, from AGTS, has noted that James River Church hosts a Center for Expository Preaching.

Phil Steiger said...


Thanks so much for these thoughts! Part of what I like about this format so much is that though I may have a set of thoughts going into a series like this, I get a chance to expand myself and my thinking through the contributions of others. Your comment sparked something for me I have ruminated over in the past.

I wonder if part of the problem of biblical illiteracy is that we no longer value things like knowledge, truth, doctrine, and expository teaching. Our culture at large is very self-oriented and feeling-oriented, and that has slipped into the theological and ecclesiological reflections of many in the evangelical world making our churches more and more therapeutic and less and less grounded in doctrine, theology, and Scripture itself. (David Wells writes very well on this issue.) Exacerbating the problem is that a sizeable chunk of evangelical churches have discovered that you can get a great response (emotional, financial, and otherwise) by playing to the feeling-centeredness in our culture. You are right—a lot of our churches are guilty of emotional manipulation to a greater degree than they are guilty of expository reflection.

As a result, what become important to the life of the average believer are shallow and fleeting things like pragmatism, emotionalism, etc. And then we lose the very thing that makes us disciples of Christ—the life transforming power of God’s revelation to us through His word.

The more I take a close look at the significant leaders and transformers in Church history, the more I am impressed by how mentally deep and spiritually grounded they were. They were minds on fire for God and changed their world while having both homiletical feet planted firmly in orthodoxy.

And thanks for the link to the AGTS Center for Expository Preaching. Finding that does my Pentecostal heart some good! (I now wonder if I can find a way to host that here in the Springs!)