“The Christian life comes to mean nothing more than living in the world and as the world, in being no different from the world, in fact, in being prohibited from being different from the world for the sake of grace. The upshot of it all is that my only duty as a Christian is to leave the world for an hour or so on a Sunday morning and go to church to be assured that my sins are all forgiven. I need no longer try to follow Christ, for cheap grace, the bitterest foe of discipleship, which true discipleship must loathe and detest, has freed me from that.” That’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a book he wrote called “The Cost of Discipleship”, just before he was executed by the Nazis.
The Disciple Dilemma is a leadership conversation. It’s intended for people in Christianity who are responsible for people, whether that’s one other person, or thousands, whether it’s formal supervisor/subordinate relationships in work, or church leaders/members, or just a small group of gathered believers. Our core message is “You, as a leader, have to engage this dilemma.” We want leaders to see that Western discipleship is being razed – being torn down – from inside the Christian community. How? Old traditions, non-biblical traditions are busy at work, replicating a hacked (defective/malfunctioning) culture. Don’t go dark on me here. There are many wonderful things about Christian culture to celebrate. Yet biblical discipleship is usually not one of them in local Christian communities. Leadership has become overwhelmed with managerial duties that demand attention. Leaders who spend time working the tactical things that demand attention train themselves and their successors that what’s in front of us is what matters – buildings, staff, programs and curricula. The natural result of that kind of leader-turned-manager is often mission loss, and discipling negation.
How many people in your Christian community have active and transparent discipling relationships with someone? Not groups, but one or two people? Symptoms prove what a culture really is – not the words – the actions: Be like THIS. Act like THIS. Think like THIS. Symptoms of Western Christianity’s culture, ranging from swaths of friends and family running away from their faith, to a strange timidity about the most important issue in the annals of history (the resurrection), to a slumping ethos, where the heavy lifting in faith is for the pros, pastors and professors – symptoms abound. Razed like that. Sure, we do church, we do small groups, we pray, we do mission trips. Then, back to the weekend.
It sounds harsh, unfair. But the research says Western Christianity is replicating new believers in that image, retrofitting believers in that image, and souring a watching world on that image.
Looking back 1,800 years, the good news is, it’s not our fault.
We may not be able to take all the credit for the culture of our Christian community historically, but neither can we shrug our shoulders and move on to the next meeting. We own the problem now. Our children and grandchildren will own it soon enough, if they choose to stick around in it. What do you truly want to leave as your contribution to Christ’s work on earth? Do you want to be able to say that under your leadership we doubled memberships at our place of worship? Or with your leadership how many souls you directly and indirectly introduced to Jesus? None of those are actually the mission Christ gave us.
Would you consider the possibility that your life as a leader is to be about changing the Christian environment, such that disciples actually want to make disciples out of other people? Such that disciples actually want to walk in the outside world alongside other disciples making more disciples? And just to be clear, by disciples we mean to say Christ-following, cross up-taking, life-laying-down, cost-counting, perpetually morphing bondservants of the Lord, who is Jesus, the Christ.
The biblical discipling culture has, largely, been replaced by an institutional discipleship movement not at all like Christ’s way. That institutional inertia will resonate for years into the future replicating fragile and brittle followers, as well as a lot of walk-offs. What will you, today’s leader, bequeath to the years ahead for your Lord’s service? Growth, memberships, facilities and activities are all nice. But the mission is making biblical disciples. You won’t do that by sermons and seminars alone. You need a culture change. How, exactly, do you do that? Welcome to the crux of The Disciple Dilemma.
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