Professor Charles Taylor, in his book “A Secular Age” summarizes research trends that led him to see how discipleship, culture and secularism are, in a sense, merging today. “The shift to secularity in this sense consists, among other things, of a move from a society where belief in God is unchallenged and indeed, unproblematic, to one in which it is understood to be one option among others, and frequently not the easiest to embrace.” Said another way, what makes Christianity’s people different is being lost in the traffic and trends of a secular society.
The research suggests that individual disciples are unlikely to survive the onslaughts of these trends. Not because the disciples don’t want to. Because the culture surrounding them, not just outside church walls, but inside are embrittling Christ’s people. This is something that only leaders can truly address – a change in culture.
A lot of research from well-known organizations contributed to our thesis about the dilemma facing discipleship: Pew, Barna, The Hartford Institute, Navigators, PRRI, Missio-Nexus, Baylor Research and more. The picture was remarkably clear. Clear that discipleship has a problem. While the research numbers move around a bit from study to study on key topics, just as you’d expect them to, the scatter diagram clusters on a single conclusion. Western Christianity has a discipleship problem.
The trends in believers abandoning faith in Christ are stark. Studies about the many Christians going on mute about who they are and what Christ has done abounds. The preponderance of Christians insistent that Jesus Christ is just one of a number of ways to get to God rises up again and again. You don’t have to look hard to see these trends. It can be tempting then to say “Here’s the problem! We fix those (recent) issues, disciples are good. All is well.”
The research doesn’t allow that simplistic conclusion though. The research into the disciple dilemma points to the foibles of a Church, for centuries trying to mass-produce disciples, trying to take in a tsunami of people, some simply there to stay in the good graces of the Church’s sponsors. From Constantine to the Kings, and now today oddly, Christendom’s many diversions—using power to drive an agenda of prosperity, or causes or nationalistic political dominance—the arc of historical research and the trajectory of trends researched today say the same thing: discipleship is in trouble. Leaders, this is your fight.
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