Discipleship in Its Many Forms

Our theme this month is a discussion of discipleship from a global perspective. Our three main themed articles are rich in ideas and application.

First, Knud Jorgensen, a Norwegian, writes from the perspective of lament and admonition. As one who has seen the demise of a Christian Europe, he makes an appeal for a robust and rigorous discipleship. He argues quite convincingly that one of the reasons the Church in Europe needs revival today is because the “cost of discipleship” was lowered for centuries.

Using Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s concepts of “cheap grace,” he remarks that when the only requirement for incorporation into the church was infant baptism (with no corresponding faith and responsibilities of faith required later in life), that the vibrancy of Christianity was less than ideal. We often hear the term a “faith a mile wide and an inch deep” applying to the fast-growing churches in the Majority World. But Jorgensen uses the term to define European Christendom. It is a sober reminder.

As an American, I see the same dangers in churches here. We don’t have a “state” church, but we do have the challenge of most people calling themselves “Christians” but neither living out the responsibilities nor the joy and power of faith.

LaNette Thompson discusses the special challenges of discipling new believers from oral cultures. As a practitioner of evangelism and discipleship in such a world, she writes in a compelling autobiographical tone. I expected the challenges of oral discipleship to be the lack of resources. In literate cultures, books and periodicals are available, but in oral cultures there is little discipleship content in cassette, CD, or digital formats.

I thought that would be the problem. According to Thompson, however, the main problem is not resources—it is oral disciplers who come from primarily Western cultures where faith is private, discipleship is private, and growth is between the new believer and God.

Most oral cultures are communal. Thompson realized that until she was willing to spend as much personal time discipling new believers as she spent evangelizing them, their growth in Christ would be slow. Her admonitions are as valuable for those of us discipling people in the Western literate world as in oral cultures.

I ended my readings with the fine article by Sara Singleton. She discusses a theme I find very relevant—namely, that it “takes God to make us God-like.” That is good news. The spiritual disciplines that define the content of discipleship are not an end in themselves—nor are they to be done in our power.

Rather, they are reminders initiated and used by God to move us to depend completely on Christ, and to rest in him. In my journey with Christ for over forty years, I’ve gone through stages where I make my own discipleship a “good work” to achieve an end.

That was and is wrong. Singleton’s brief outline of learn, listen, and live in the light were helpful signposts on the journey where Jesus himself leads us to love him more deeply and faithfully.

Dr. Lon Allison is executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, USA. He also serves as director for the Institute for Strategic Evangelism at Wheaton College. He is co-publisher of Lausanne World Pulse.