Friday, August 1, 2008

Where Did All the Disciples Go?

Not long ago I met with a group of college students to teach about cults. This was the third time I had been asked to meet with the group. It amazes me how much fun it can be to teach people who really want to learn something. At the end of the session I was taken back by a question from one of the students (Austin). He asked me: “Why doesn’t the church teach us as much about the Christian faith as the cults teach their people?” I have to admit, for a moment I was stumped. But then it dawned on me – Austin, disguised as a question, had made a profoundly true statement. You see, many churches today are minimizing an investment in the future of Christ’s kingdom because they are not investing in disciple building.

It is sad but true. We’ve forgotten the simple truth that it is very difficult to make disciples of the people within this world unless we are building disciples within the church. It is impossible to separate disciple making from disciple building because you can’t separate evangelism from discipleship. A close examination of Matthew 28:19-20 makes this clear. This is more important today than it has been in the past 50 years because culture is farther away from the church than it has ever been.

The importance of this point can be illustrated by the fact that in modern American culture, discipleship itself must begin prior to conversion. The historical disciple making process is being turned upside down. Today the typical non-churched person often decides to participate in the community of the local church, including serving in the church and even taking part in mission activities, prior to their decision to become a Christ-follower.

This trend, however, represents a major risk to the church and as such reinforces the need for disciple building. Since many new non-churched people today come to the church from a radically different worldview and seek to participate in its ministries prior to believing, the danger exists for degradation of the Christian worldview. Therefore, it’s important for the church to return to intentionally and systematically building disciples.

So here’s the truth: most Christ-followers deep down really want to grow in their faith and they are searching for ways to make their faith more alive, but they won’t be able to do so inside the church until the church commits itself to growing them into disciples. Unless the church does so, there will be people like Austin who will search out other sources for the information they need to answer their faith questions. Unfortunately, these sources are becoming increasingly non-Christian and sadly, many people will either miss the kingdom of Christ or live a shallow spiritual life void of the richness that comes only from a life of sitting at the feet of the Master.

Dr. Richard Tompkins

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