Thursday, October 28, 2004

Believers and Disciples

What if the way that we present "becoming a Christian" or "getting saved" is acutally producing people who are MORE self centered than less? What if all our focus on an event that makes it possible for you to go to Heaven (or "not Hell") when you die is producing people who embrace that fact but coundn't care less about becoming like Jesus? Is it possible that we've made mental agreement with certain propositional ideas our highest goal at the expense of the apprenticeship (discipleship) of Jesus and the mission of the Kingdom of God?

The current method for evangelsim works something like this: Bring your friends to one of our events (or if you are really brave talk to them yourself). There they will hear about an amazing propostition. They (your friends) are all sinners bound for Hell when they die. But Jesus came and died for them so that they could, instead, go to Heaven when they die...and they get an amazing bonus of blessings here on earth! Not only that, but they are shown what our church has to offer them. We have all of these great ministries designed to meet their needs...and they can even come and participate/observe even if they don't mentally agree with all of our ideas the first time they are presented with them! To be honest, the self centeredness so rampant in modern Christianity shouldn't surprise us. It is simply the natural product/result of our system. Under the false assumtion that behavior and action naturally follow belief, we've wound up with people who are simply "believers" and nothing more. To top it all off, when the world doesn't revolve around them, when bad things happen, when they aren't seeing all of the personal blessings they feel like they were promised their faith begins to fall apart. Community even appears optional because faith is presented as being all about the individual [personal Lord and Saviour, personal relationship with Jesus, "For God so loved ________ (put your name in the blank)", etc.]

I've heard/read Dallas Willard several times say something to the effect of: any system of evangelsim that does not naturally produce disciples (or apprentices) of Jesus should be abandoned immediately. He also points out that "disciple" may have become so "churchy" a word that it's meaning is lost on us. He says that "apprentice" is also an equally valid translation of the same greek word and might convey it's meaning a little better. Doug Padgitt says that maybe "spiritual formation" (another term that is being used in the place of "discipleship") works like language aquisition theory. According to this theory, the best way to learn a language is not to sit in a classroom and learn grammar. Instead, the theory asserts, the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in a culture where the language is primarily spoken. Is it possible that we have got the cart before the horse? Have we tried to educate people into being Christians (another word that has possibly become so "churchy" that its meaning is obscured), and wound up with only "believers"? What if we focused on incorporating people into our faith communities and immersed them in the practices of a disciple of Jesus? What if they came to belief BY belonging to a community and participation in the mission of the Kingdom of God? Would it produce something different that what we are currently getting (in general)? I can see discipleship playing out that way in scripture, but admittedly I'm trying to see it there, so in some ways this is just a theory. Would it work? To be honest, I'm not sure. We've got to try something though, because what we are currently doing isn't cutting it.


Gilbert said...

Great thoughts! I have often thought that we make people good believers, but we do a poor job of making them followers. I am just as guilty as the next guy when it comes to this.

Tony said...

I agree with you, Gilbert. Too many people in the church are good believers, but aren't true disciples of Christ. Our beliefs should translate more into action, more into a following of the model that was Christ on earth. If we did more to model Christ to those people we would bring to our services, or to those people we are brave enough to engage in spiritual dialogue, people would have a better idea of what it means to be a true disciple of Christ (rather than a just a believer in Christ or in a system). Good stuff Adam--thought provoking. I bet you never thought you'd hear that from me, eh? ;-)

Emily said...

Hey Adam.

I really liked what you had to say today. Definitely food for thought. And int he beginning paragraph, I completely agree. I heard someone in the church (several months ago) say, "Because it's all about getting to heaven." They say that's the goal. But it's not... It's the reward of following the real goal. Getting to know Christ on a deeper level and becoming more like Him everyday.
But what that person said opened my eyes and I see that you are right in saying that even the "church focus" is more "me, me, me focus".

Anyways, thanks for the posts.


John Owens said...

Don't go tinkering with the system, Adam. Oh wait, our system sucks. Tinker away, my friend.

I agree with you on this stuff. I do believe that the TERM Christian is wimpy, but DISCIPLE, has more of an edge. The apprenticeship/disciple learning method is such a mark of Postmodernity. It's such an Eastern way of thought. did work for Jesus.

The thing I want more than anything else in life right now is a mentor. I've got my eye on a few, but am not pushing or rushing. I want God to place in my life, the right man for the job.

Good stuff as always. When are you writing your book? And are you coming to Youth Specialties in the big ATL? I'll be there. We gotta hook up.

BULLSEYE said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
itinerant said...

You make some points here. The kids in my youth group will invite all their friends, but they won't step foot outside the church to help people in need. Youth ministry becomes entertainment instead of making disciples. Jesus must shake his head in dismay.

c said...

I agree. First, our theory has tended to be:

Believe -> Behave -> Belong

What if it changed to:

Belong -> Behave -> Believe

To make this happen, we must be willing to admit to ourselves that "Ministry is messy." By having people that don't believe as we do yet but still engaging with us in Kingdom work, then the lines begin to blur. "Who's a Christian?" we might ask. It's going to take alot of people, including myself, to be humble and open ourselves to the fulness of God's love and erase those boundaries that may seem to discount others in following Christ before actually believing in him. Thats why I like the term "pre-Christian" instead of "lost" or "unsaved."

Secondly, I think this education idea that you presented has tons of ramifactions (big word of the day). What would our Sunday School classes as well as Wednesday night look if we changed the way we learn? Most people in our churches have gone to church long enough to know the stories in the Bible. They know the ideas presented. Do they really need more outlines and points to fill their day? We need to start counting deployment instead of attendance in our churches. I still think we need that standard education, but we must doing something about it, having useful faith.

Brandon Scott Thomas said...

Are you sure we're not related?? Geez, you're like my mind's twin sometimes. I loved this post and I am loving your writing via what Phil Wilson is haring with me. We must meet one day. Blessings on your ministry. From one brother to another--keep pressing on boldly.

Unknown said...

Wow! You can't be suggesting things like this. Some may think it is heresy. But then again...what's wrong with them thinking? They haven't been doing too much of that anyway now have they?

I hate the fact that we have turned Christianity into a formula. It has become a step by step process that only results in the end conclusion. But what if our conclusion is all wrong. What if Jesus didn't just come to "get" us into heaven but rather to transform our lives into something radical and holy? I think you are right, we are too focused on things we shouldn't be focused on. What do to about it? Well, I am working on this too....


Brandon Scott Thomas said...

Loved our conversation online today. Hope you don't mind that i added a link to you on my blog. Peace, my bro.

Carlos said...

Great blog.
I worked and lived in inner city Manchester in a housing project for 6 years starting up an initiative called EDEN. The essence is exatcly what you are describing. To be able to REALLY understand the message, the young people of the estate needed to see it lived out in their faces. Many of them wanted to associate themselves with us even though they didn't nessesarily understand the faith. The knowledge came after the belonging and after the experience, the knowledge simply explained it for them. This seemed to be a much more effective method of evangelism and discipleship but I got to be honest was much harder work! You can only replicate mission focussed pasionate followers of Jesus if that's what your starting with, so my advice is let's get on with it, live it out and inspire others to do so.