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Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Discipleship in the Modern World

I will never forget the conversation.

A pastor I greatly admire was "complaining" to me that a young convert was wanting to spend time with him. That pastor had more important things to do with his time than hanging out with a young convert!

This good pastor believed that what a young Christian needed was to "come to the meetings." Twice on Sunday and once midweek - and this was all that was required of a young believer to grow into spiritual maturity.

Where on earth did this strange - and profoundly misguided -  idea come from?

From the Academy - the secular learning institution which dominates and shapes all modes of training and thinking in the evangelical church.

The "Academic Model"
Image result for university class roomIn just the same way that we might train a historian or philosopher - stick them in a classroom and lecture to them, so we train our young believers - we expect them to come to "lectures" each week.

The Academic Model has affected the church for centuries. How was the pastor trained? Aping the world, he spent endless hours in a classroom, listening to "experts" give him lectures on "Church History", "Hermeneutics" and "Systematic Theology" and he thinks that this is what all young converts need.

The pastor then becomes the classroom teacher and the people are the students. That's it.

This "Academic Model" often extends its influence to the rest of the week. Pastors who adopt it tend to hold "surgeries" where their "clients" / "students" can come and chat to them about their problems for an hour or so. Inviting a fellow believer into your home just for a chat or a coffee or a meal would be unthinkable: much too informal, too equal, too relaxed, too personal.

How very different, the example and model of Jesus and his disciples!

The Jesus Model
The  model Jesus set could not be more different. Jesus did life with his twelve disciples, day in and day out, outside life, inside life, eating, walking - the whole of life.

He taught them sometimes formally - sermon on the mount / sermon on the plain - and many times informally when an issue came up. When they lacked faith - best time to teach them about faith; when they lacked humility - best time to teach them about humility; when they lacked forgiveness - best time to teach them about forgiveness, and so on.

They not only learnt from his words, they learnt from his life. He was close enough to them so they could see how he dealt with arrogant Pharisees, seeking Pharisees, the bereaved, idol-worshippers, errant women, and so on.

Why the Academic Model doesn't work - especially today
Perhaps - just perhaps - back in the 50s in the UK, when most folk knew what was wrong and what was right because of the heritage of Christianity in the culture - churches could get away with the Academic model. Perhaps.

No longer. Today, folk coming in from the world have no idea how to live for Christ. A couple of lectures a week will never ever suffice. What they need is the virtually-daily contact with more mature believers who can show by life as much as word what it means to follow Christ.

How many hours did Jesus spend with his disciples per week? 20? 30? And we wonder why we have so little impact on the world? 

The implications of the Jesus Discipleship Model
The implications of the discipleship model are far-reaching: Those who wish to disciple the world must be prepared to spend much time with new followers of Jesus. Sunday and Midweek is just not enough.

They must be self-sacrificing about Sundays and Midweeks, though. After saying that Sunday and Midweek Home Groups are not enough, I now say they are vital. Young believers understand so little of divine truth. They must spend as much time as they can listening to the Word. So we who disciple must be prepared to be sacrificial about Sundays and Midweeks if we want young believers to come along.

We live in a culture where evenings and weekends are regarded as playtime. If older Christians are away every other Sunday or every other homegroup so will the baby Christians (by example) and they will therefore not receive the teaching they need.

Jesus' last command needs our first attention. When Jesus said "Make disciples of all nations" he did not mean tell them to come to church. He meant spend lots and lots and lots of time with them, teaching and exampling Christ to them - just as he had done.

Only in this way will the world be won for Christ and true disciples formed.