Disciplism – Part 2.
While I do believe that a comprehensive understanding of what authentic discipleship is has been all but extinguished, we can still observe some residual aspects of discipleship in our churches. And even though these “vestiges” are reductions of the kind of discipleship we see in the pages of the New Testament and at certain times in church history, nonetheless they still have some residual transformative capacities in them.
The most basic way the contemporary Church has thought of discipleship is to see it as an introduction to the theology and culture of the local church, perhaps along with some of its denominational distinctives. This introduction normally happens through something like a 12-week group study (with other new Christians) where they are taught the heads of doctrine—and are introduced to the theology of God, salvation, church, eschatology, etc. At this level, which is all that most of us can expect to get, discipleship is more like a church membership class or a kind of fast-tracked catechism for unchurched new believers. It’s not difficult to see that this process is utterly inadequate to help form people who can impact the world. But it is what it is.
Some churches take a different approach, usually understood as various pathways to Christian maturity. I believe most pastors sincerely want their members to mature in their growth as believers and do encourage (while certainly not requiring) believers to learn and practice what have traditionally been called the spiritual disciplines. Normally, these disciplines are comprised of a smorgasbord of distinct practices that
- develop personal prayer (mainly in quiet times and quiet places);
- encourage regular church attendance and hopefully a regular small group;
- foster regular reading and study of the Bible; and
- promote various forms of voluntary service, usually within the church community itself.
But even when rightly emphasized, these practices always seem to have a feel of being an optional extra—seen as an assortment of options for those who have prayed the sinner’s prayer but now wish to go deeper in Christ. It’s hard to find any average church in America offering much more than these.
If the mission of God is to sum up all things in Himself in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:10), then we will have to go beyond church attendance, quiet times and random voluntarism to help align the church around that purpose. Now, I strongly believe that the spiritual disciplines—as they are understood and practiced in our churches—are necessary and must not be abandoned but rather strengthened. But surely an adequate understanding of discipleship for our time must go beyond erratic prayer and devotional Bible study. In other words, the Church tends to lack a theology and practice of discipleship, as well as a vital sense of what the end game is all about. What’s the point of it all?
Excerpt taken from Disciplism a free ebook by Alan Hirsch available here.