I will be speaking at three Vancouver churches this weekend — one seminar, one adult Sunday school class, one sermon and one consultation with some church leaders. Independently, all three have asked me to speak on discipleship. I wondered why, seeing they have access to so much Christian formation resources in Vancouver. I was further intrigued when I met up with an old friend, a pastor of another church, and he mentioned that the Lord had told him to focus on the Great Commission. Discipleship again. Is the Lord saying something to the Vancouver churches? I can’t wait to catch up with my friends from the three churches to see if I can learn more about this fresh interest in discipleship.
Perhaps my pastor friend had already given me a clue. He said that things in his church were going well and there had been significant numerical growth. But he was not happy. He wanted to see more radical life transformation among his members. He knew that he needed to embark on discipling programmes but found that not many really understood what it entailed. Most of the older members had never been personally discipled. They had received instruction and had gone through various “discipleship” programmes but had never been relationally helped to grow in Christlikeness.
Greg Ogden reminds us that discipleship that works has to have various ingredients. They include:
* Intimate relationships: developing deep trust as the soil for life change
* Accountability: lovingly speaking truth into another’s life
* Spiritual disciplines: practicing the habits that lead to intimacy with Christ and service to others
(Greg Ogden, Transforming Discipleship [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003], 15.)
Few in my friend’s church, indeed few in most of our churches, have been discipled in ways that were based on intimate relationships, required accountability, and insisted on the practice of key spiritual disciplines.
What must also be borne in mind is the goal of discipleship — to help followers of Jesus to become conformed to the image of Christ. We are told that “ . . . everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher” (Luke 6:40b NIV). A disciple, then, is someone who follows Christ to learn from Him how to be truly human. Following Jesus, Christian disciples are transformed by Jesus to become like Him. Commenting on Acts 11:26, the editors of Sources of the Christian Self note that “ . . . outsiders in Antioch recognized how radically these people (disciples) were to be identified simply and wholly with Jesus Christ, wherefore they coined the nickname Christianos (Christians)”. (James M. Houston and Jans Zimmermann, Sources of the Christian Self [Grand Rapids, MI, 2018], xv.) Christians are “little Christs”.
It becomes more obvious by the day that what the world needs is not money, armies, politics, or technology. What we need is a whole new humanity. Christ has done all that is necessary for that to happen. But the church quickly forgets and/or is distracted by other priorities. Disciple making is relegated to one of the many programmes in our churches and we end up with little to offer a fallen world.
But God is infinitely patient. Like a gracious parent, He calls us back to what is important and central. Let the church give herself wholeheartedly to help followers of Jesus be the people they were meant to be. I am sure it is not just the church in Vancouver that needs to hear this.