Monthly Archives: June 2013
Many discipleship structures in churches today are often left to the Sunday schools or cell groups. As such, they are often run as programs based on certain curriculum. While these programmatic discipleship and curriculum-based discipleship has its strength, especially when they can provide a clear overview of what the key areas to be addressed are, however they are not sufficient to build a strong disciple. Of course, it would help us much if the disciple is self-motivated and self-disciplined. But we usually have to build a person up from scratch. There two important aspects that I want to highlight.
The first aspect is that discipleship has to be personal. We can see this example clearly in the lives of Jesus. Though the disciples often move in groups, Jesus made the effort to interact with disciples personally. He dealt with the preassumptions and preoccupations of each disciple personally even though teachings were taught to the disciples together. Perhaps this is a good model to follow. While it is important for the disciples to undergo some form of training in groups or in classes, most of the things are being internalised when they are discipled personally. This is a time where the discipler can clarify and instill the teachings of Christ with greater intensity. But sad to say, most leaders today are not able to carry out personal discipleship. They have so many meetings, planning, vistations, sermons, administration and coordination to do that they have no more time for the most important ministry for church leaders. Discipling and developing people are often left out, if not, pass down to some other people. Since this is the main task that Jesus did, I believe that it is the same for us too. Many of the things that church leaders do today should be delegated to others so as to allow the leaders to do the more important job of discipling and developing disciples. As leaders of the church, this job is best done by us and not others. This is perhaps the key to building a strong church with good successions.
The second aspect is that discipleship has to take place naturally. Jesus never told His disciples when they were having class. In fact, everywhere was His classroom. He did not have a program or a curriculum to follow. Everything just flow out of Jesus naturally. He taught them along the way and He used whatever the disciples were discussing to form His lessons. He just followed their topics and discussions accordingly. As such, He was able to seize their most teachable moments. We too need this kind of informal settings to disciple others. This is a time when they are off guard and open to us. Sometimes we may be too deliberate. But too much planning can make us functional. Our disciples can get so serious that we cannot see their true needs. If we have been walking with Christ closely, why not let Jesus overflow out of us naturally. Rely more on the Holy Spirit, and less on our knowledge, skills and experiences.
When we make discipleship personal and natural, we would realise that we ourselves would have also grown tremendously. Discipleship is no longer about programs or structures alone, but an adventure with Jesus and His people. We would learn to rely more on Him as He makes us a better discipler.
A lot of people know the importance of discipleship, but not everyone who knows would put in effort to build a discipleship church. Simply because discipleship is tough and it takes up a lit of our time. As such, as long as the church is growing and there are cell groups or Sunday schools, we are happy enough.
Like it or not, churches seem to be more interested in their growth rather than maturity today. They pay more attention to results than relationships. They are more interested in conversion rather than transformation. As a result, we are seeing more Christians that are building their faith on some charismatic leaders, or some programs that hyped up their churches. Today, we see churches are more anthropocentric, performance-based and programs-driven. This is worrying because our faith has been reduced yet covered up with aesthetics. It deceives people believing that they have great faith, and indeed, we can also be deceived because these churches are usually so vibrant and lively. Some are entertaining as well. Mind you, these are growing churches. But just not sure whether they are maturing churches.
They are two crises of discipleship that I want to highlight here. First is converting people too fast. This sounds absurd. Is it not good for people to come and know Christ as soon as possible? Yes, but not at the expense of not understanding the full Gospel. Since we are becoming more result-oriented and performance-driven, we want to quickly get the people to say the sinner’s prayer. We usually emphasize on the love and grace of God while neglecting the part on Lordship and repentance. People quickly ‘confess and believe’ because of the blessings or healing they can get. Some do not mind believing one more God even. So we are happy that we have successfully converted another person into the kingdom of God. We met our first target of winning one soul for God. But we didn’t know the person might not have really repented and let Jesus be his Lord. Even if he did really believed, we might just have made a self-centred, individualistic Christian. This kind of believer tend to make the church live for him rather than him living for God. This makes discipling a tough job and the church becomes weaker. We might argue that Jesus Himself never explained the full Gospel when He called His disciples, but yet the Gospel always show how ready the disciples are willing to repent and honour Jesus as Lord. Jesus was never quick to convert. He preached hard messages to filter out those who didn’t really believe. Never rash to convert a person. This is not a salrs target or a business goal. It is more important to make a disciple. Let people listen to the full Gospel. Let them know what it means to believe and let Jesus be the Lord. Don’t just show the blessings, grace and love or even being healed of their sickness. All these prove what a great God we have, but we also need the proper human response.
The second crisis of discipleship is leaving the people too fast. What happen when we reached our first target? We go for the second one! We usually neglect the first. We probably put the person in Sunday school or follow-up class or put him in a cell group. We think that’s it. The person is being discipled. I’m not sure about that. The person may be knowing more about his faith, but proper discipling needs relationship and time. It takes the effort of the discipler to guide and grow the faith of the new believer. And before we know it, the new believer is ask to serve. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s good to get people to serve. It can cultivate a sense of stewardship and ownership too. However, there are many levels of service. There are those which are not so critical with regard to its impact and those which needs good examples. For example, a worship team members and cell leaders and facilitators would have more exposure and influence than notice board or kitchen ministry. I must say that all ministries are important and require spiritual persons to do the jobs. But due to a shortage of manpower and a lack of discipleship and development, we end up putting up people too fast. While we need not wait for a person to be totally prepared or ready, there need to be some guidance and more importantly, on-going discipleship where the people are serving. We should not just leave them by themselves or just leave them to the job of Sunday school or cell group. We need to constantly disciple them, whether intentional or natural.
Before these two crises overtake the church, let us attend to them urgently.