The Danger of Discipleship

Discipleship has been a hot topic in recent years, and rightly so. In churches there seems to be great activity but very little discipleship. This is concerning because making disciples is at the foundation of the Great Commission. There has been a great renewed interest in discipleship according to the Bible, particularly personal disciple making. Many seek to imitate Jesus in his disciple making and propose a personal and relational approach. I think this is a healthy redirection for how we think about discipleship. However, there is one big danger. You are not Jesus.

The great danger of personal disciple making is that our disciples will begin to look like us instead of Jesus. When we disciple other people we can  have a positive influence and a potential negative influence in their life. You see Jesus was the perfect disciple maker, always without sin. You and I fall short constantly. As we invite people to watch us, we must be mindful that they will also pick up on our sinful inconsistencies.  Not only will they pick up our inconsistencies, they will often times blindly imitate them.

I have heard it said that over the course of years a church will begin to look more and more like its pastor. They will begin to focus on things that the pastor has taught. They will be passionate about what the pastor is passionate is about. All of this for better or for worse.  This is the wonder of long-term relational discipleship, however we must watch out lest we begin to make disciples of ourselves and not of Christ. If we are committed to following Jesus' relational model of discipleship, how do we safe guard it from our conflicting examples of following Christ?

Don't Be a Guru, Be a Fellow Disciple

It is easy for the disciple maker to begin to think of himself as the model of Christian perfection. You and I both know this is not true, but often times we communicate this to the people we disciple. If we are never honest about our failures and never share about our struggles, we will indirectly communicate to our disciples that we have it all figured out. We must model humility and model dependence on the righteousness of Christ. Don't be a Guru who has it all figured out, but a fellow pilgrim and disciple pointing the way to Jesus Christ.

Disciple in Community

This is why the diversity of the body of Christ is so important in disciple making. In the body of Christ each of us are gifted in certain areas, are more mature in certain areas, and weak in certain areas. When discipleship happens in community, the strengths of other disciple makers will influence and make up for your area weakness. This is why the local church is the best place for disciple making. When we pair off in isolation, weakness is sure to be passed down. When we disciple in community the disciplee gains from the strengths of the entire community of saints.

Disciple making does have its potential dangers. This is why we must be sure to point people to imitate Christ, not ourselves. You are not to make disciples of you, but disciples of Jesus. In relational discipleship, this distinction can often times be blurred. As disciple makers we must always model humility, honesty, and repentance as we disciple in the blessed community of the local church. As we do this, the dangers of personal disciple making will be minimized and our disciples will not look so much like us, but like Jesus.  That's a good thing.

Have you seen this danger in disciple making? What are some other ways we can safe guard discipleship from this danger? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Multi-Ethnic Congregations: A Present Need and a Future Reality

Our world is changing. It is not any secret that ethnic diversity is accelerating in American culture. What has been a traditionally white dominated culture is simply changing before our very eyes. The unfortunate thing is that many times churches are the most segregated gatherings of people in the country. Established churches have a tendency to be mono-ethnic, meaning that they reach one sort of ethnicity. White people go to church with white people. Black people go to church with black people. Asian people go to church with asian people. You get the point. This is incredibly unfortunate and fails to reflect the reality of heaven in which there will be people from every tribe, tongue, and nation worshiping King Jesus (Read Revelation 5). If established churches are going to survive and thrive the next few decades, we must begin to get a vision for mult-ethnic congregations.

The Church is Not Dying

Many Christians seem to be the prophetic voice of doom. "The Church is dying in America!", well,  so they exclaim. However, this is proving not to be the case. Soong-Chan Rah in his book The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity argues that christianity in America isn't dying it is just changing. He writes incitefully:

“As many lament the decline of Christianity in the United States in the early stages of the twenty-first century, very few have recognized that American Christianity may actually be growing, but in unexpected and surprising ways. The American church needs to prepare for the next stage of her history—we are looking at a nonwhite majority, multiethnic Christianity in the immediate future. Unfortunately, despite these drastic demographic changes, American evangelicalism remains enamored with an ecclesiology and a value system that reflect a dated and increasingly irrelevant cultural captivity and are disconnected from both a global and local reality” (p. 12)

We are looking at a next stage of evangelicalism and it isn't just a white or black movement. It is multi-racial. Rah argues that evangelicalism is actually growing rapidly in America, not among whites, but among first and second generation immigrants from Asia, Africa, and South America. The reason we have been missing this trend is because all of our studies and research are done through an Anglo-Centric lense. Rah continues to write:

“The public face of America is no longer a white male. Meanwhile, the trend of a nonwhite majority America will hit the churches faster than it will hit the general population. This tend is due in large part to the sustaining of American Christianity by newly arrived immigrants who bring their Christian faith with them…. Contrary to popular opinion, the church is not dying in America; it is alive and well, but it is alive and well among the immigrant and ethnic minority communities and not among the majority white churches in the United States” (p. 14).

Embracing Racial Diversity in our Churches

We must begin to reach out and engage people of other cultures and nationalities in our churches. This will by no means be an instintaneous transition. It will be slow and gradual, but we must be commited to reaching all people from every sort of ethnic background. The nations are no longer overseas. The world has gotten smaller and the nations are right outside our door.

In my own church, a southern baptist church, I've been so excited recently because our church is beginning to look more like the throne room of heaven. We still have a long way to go, but by God's grace we have seen multiple cultural backgrounds.

  • We have a thriving hispanic ministry meeting at our church and worshiping with us on Sunday morning.
  • We have many deaf members along with a deaf pastor on staff to reach this people group in Wilson.
  • Our church has become less "white" by having black Americans join and visit our church.
  • We have begun to see Asian people begin to join and visit, including this past Sunday where we had four japanese students visit our congregation.

These are very exciting things that are happening in our church, and for a SBC church which is known for being predominatly a white denominatio, this is amazing to see. It is my conviction that our churches should look like our local Walmart, which has become a population sample of the etnic melting pot of our cities. May we learn to see that the Gospel is for all people from all backgrounds and may we create strategies to reach all the people in our cities, even people with different skin color.