Why the focus on discipleship?
Peter Tasker mentioned to me last week how the next generation of church leaders emphasise discipleship. This is not to say previous generations were unaware of the notion. But it was not the focus or the vocab. Emphasis was placed on teaching people outlines of the gospel, and getting people into bible studies.
Why the shift? Why are we not teaching people “2 ways to live”? Why DNA groups? And discipleship pathways?
In the past (in Christendom), several assumptions underwrote our culture. There was a shared consensus that: there is a God; this God created a good world, which also now has evil; we can choose good over evil; Jesus was the best example of this; God somehow sees and weighs our choices; and will reward us in eternity in ways that are just and fair. People who attended church, and those who did not – people who prayed and people who did not – most believed these commonly shared assumptions.
In such a culture, half the work of discipleship is done for you by culture. The church needs to place its emphasis on the fact that God is not a vague divine presence, but has come to us in Christ; God speaks through his Word and Spirit, and emphasise belief in Jesus as a means to accessing God’s grace. This last point is what our 20th Century gospel presentations centred on.
That world has gone. There is no shared consensus about God’s existence. And if he does exist, religions all disagree, so we cannot know much about him with any certainty. Jesus was a good guy, but so was Buddha. The bible may have some underlying truths, but they have been corrupted and manipulated by a self-serving power-hungry church. So you are best served to trust your own intuition and heart, finding your own meaning in the present, and let the future be what it will be. These new ideas hold the default status of plausible. The old Christendom consensus is now assumed to be implausible.
Being a Christian is a lifelong process of taking the next step to follow Jesus, in the midst of a body of people doing the same. In a culture where following someone else is implausible, emphasising discipleship of Jesus is very appropriate.
Rev David Rietveld
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