By Mary Wiley, Marketing and Communications, B&H Publishing Group
We live in a microwave meals, listen-to-podcasts-in-double-time world. We want more with less; work smarter not harder. However, the move forward or get left behind mentality of today is not a good transferrable principle for discipleship. Mostly because discipleship is all about people, and people can’t be boiled down to a series of tasks. People are messy and their needs aren’t linear.
Discipleship can be described as simply passing along what you know, while also learning from someone who is ahead of you in their walk with the Lord. We see discipleship happen in the work world as leaders train up the leaders of tomorrow while also learning from their executive leaders.
This concept was once so woven into the culture of Israel as stories of God’s goodness were passed down orally because copies of Scripture were unbelievably scarce. Today, we have access to all the information in the world at our fingertips. Often, Google is the new discipler, passing along the information we seek.
And yet, the more I ask questions about discipleship in the churches of individuals, the more I hear that this might be a missing link in many of our congregations. So, what should we be aware of in light of culture to equip our people for discipleship? And how do we encourage everyone to seek out someone further along than them who might be able to teach them the basics of the faith?
1. Our culture has shifted our theology into a choose-your-own-adventure exercise.
Without being deeply rooted in the Word, it would be so very easy to believe whatever sounds best about God. Surely, every road leads to him and there are no real consequences for sin, right? That sounds very loving. Yet, this is not what is clearly portrayed in Scripture. Discipleship is both teaching and learning to read the Bible thoroughly, and with the whole counsel of Scripture. We can’t pick and choose verses and passages to build our beliefs.
Yet, without quality discipleship that leads to reading the Bible well, developing strong theology, and understanding genre and context within any given book, we can be swayed by whatever the cool thing to believe is at the time. When we aren’t in God’s Word, theology becomes a nebulous term that we actually use to describe our opinions.
2. Our culture has given us the concentration of a goldfish.
I see this in myself, and I wish I didn’t. In the span of five minutes, I may open 10 different apps, read the first half of three articles, and flip through 15 different TV shows. I get antsy when I need to read long sets of content, continually checking to see how many pages remain before a chapter break. (And I love books and work with them for a living. Sad, right?) This has translated into our discipleship processes as the desire to read one verse and talk about it rather than reading context and larger portions of Scripture. And to sit and read an entire book at once? No way.
Good discipleship reminds us of the importance of Scripture and the need to read it for what it says, through the context of a close relationship with another person. It also teaches us how to read Scripture, pray through Scripture, and confess sin as we read Scripture that reveals our hearts are not in line with God’s good direction.
Unfortunately, good discipleship doesn’t happen by reading a verse on Twitter.
3. Our culture would like for truth to be a sliding scale of gray.
Good discipleship allows us to ask hard questions of God, of his Word, and of each other because of the depth of relationship and heart to see one another grow. Discipleship is not just “doing life with someone” and keeping it vague enough so that the relationship would make sense outside the confines of faith. Instead, discipleship is passing along a legacy of faith, of reading the Bible, seeking to honor God with our lives, and spurring each other along in righteousness. It is exercising the muscle of identifying truth from lies, and learning how to speak and live that truth in love for all people, continually learning and growing as you go.
Discipleship might be awkward at times, but doing it how culture tells you to will certainly result in a lack of growth. Do the hard work, make the uncomfortable asks, and grow alongside others who are walking in the faith with you. There’s no better formula than that of Jesus: who walked alongside his disciples, constantly teaching them to know and observe the Truth.