Dear Congregational Family,
1. The Present Day Plight of Discipleship: Recently I read the book, “Ancient-Future Evangelism” by Robert Weber. He addresses the global concern, that the Church is growing in converts, but oftentimes there is no depth of Christianity in convicts of belief, in commitment to the community of the Church, and in development of character and behavior. The quote “It is a mile wide, but only an inch deep” has become increasingly true of the church in many areas. He especially laments the shallowness of Christianity in America where “our zeal to go wide, has not been matched by a zeal to go deep.” Thankfully he does more than lament. He points the church back to the early centuries of Christianity for some guiding principles of discipleship.
2. Early Church: He (and many others) have discovered that the early church had developed a lengthy and thorough process to develop disciples. Surviving church documents, even from the first century, give us insights into this. The process was three-fold: 1. Believing, 2. Belonging, 3. Behaving. Those three aspects were not necessarily done in that order and were not isolated from each other, but rather were intertwined, and advanced together in the discipleship process.
I found it insightful that even Rick Warren, famous for authoring “Purpose-Drive Life” and for founding the megachurch Saddleback Community, has given a new direction for the future: “Instead of focusing on growing a church through programs, focus on growing people by setting up a process, based on God’s purposes, that enables people to become what God intends for them to be. If you do this, the growth of your church will be healthy, balanced, and consistent.”
3. Believing: The early church made certain to rigorously teach and train new members in the Scriptures and in the practices of the Faith. At one point it was a 2-3 year process, rather like our Confirmation Ministry, which then followed with a public reception into the church through a particular Rite of Service. This teaching and training was done through faithful participation in the worship services, special classes of instruction, and mentorship. What one believed was of utmost importance, because it also resulted in convictions and commitments which would require great sacrifice as Believing was inextricably tied to Belonging and Behaving.
This preparation was not all done by the pastor, but by the congregation as multiple lay leaders would teach and “disciple” new believers (or seekers). This is especially important today in our Post-Modern world, were “truth” is understood, accepted, believed, and put into practice; not merely because it is stated as truth, but because it is experienced as truth within the fellowship of the community. Today, more than any time in the past 1,000 years, BELONGING to a community is of utmost importance for one’s belief in truth and growth in spiritual formation.
(I will address Belonging next week.)
God bless you as we continue,
“Growing Together in our Faith as the Family of God.”