“In an age when facilities for rapid communication of the Gospel are available to the Church as never before, we are actually accomplishing less in winning the world for God than before the invention of the horseless carriage.” – Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism
Coleman’s observation is right on point and speaks eloquently to the contemporary Church’s fascination with social media. A fascination, I might add, that has yet to prove it’s effectiveness in furthering the Church’s mission of making disciples. Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it is effective. We live in an age of bumper stickers, and I’m not referring to the ones on cars or “flower power” vans. Too “old school”! Today’s bumper stickers are digital. They’re on your computer in the form of pins and tweets and posts and a variety of other social media I won’t even pretend to understand (O.K., I admit I tried Google Calendar and gave up. I use an ol’ fashion Day Planner! Hey, when the internet goes down I’ll still know where I’m supposed to be next Tuesday!). The goal of these electronic bumper stickers is to say something pithy that will go “viral.” Significance and fame in a hashtag. Eternal truth and a following in 140 characters. From what I can see, the net effect of all this “viral” activity is that the average American under the age of 50 now has the attention span of a gnat with ADHD. I’ll be lucky if those gnats were even able to read this far. If so, congratulations. You’re either over the age of 50, not an American or have exercised the willpower to avoid becoming a gnat. And, yes, in case you missed it, digital bumper stickers have infected the Church, too. Welcome to bumper sticker discipleship in an age of Christian gnats with ADHD.
What caught my attention and resulted in this article was a blog post which I came across several months back. Entitled “40 Lessons In Discipleship,” I was intrigued to read more. But more quickly became less. Having read the post, I went from being intrigued to being somewhat dismayed. Don’t get me wrong. I’m very open and interested in people’s thoughts on discipleship. But it quickly became clear that what I was reading was not 40 lessons on discipleship. It was more like 40 personal observations on the technique and process of discipleship. And as if to make my “bumper sticker” point, and all but two of the forty observations contained a character-count made for Twitter! And therein lies the issue which bothers me.
The American Church (and those we influence around the world) demonstrates a tendency to focus on style, technique, and process, as opposed to substance. As I have noted several times in my own writings, in the Kingdom of God, spiritual maturity is the result of spiritual truth experienced over time. The process of fostering and developing that kind of spiritual maturity is what Scripture calls “discipleship.” Biblical discipleship embodies our life-long commitment to grow spiritually and to authentically live out what we claim to believe about Jesus and the Kingdom.
If the author of this post had named it “40 Personal Observations On The Process Of Making Disciples” I probably would have looked at it differently. We all have thoughts and observations on topics which are important to us (my writing this article is a case-in-point). We live in a time when the Church is suffering from an appalling degree of biblical illiteracy. We know the Bible verses we were told to look up in the workbook, but not the Scriptures in their proper context. The result is a profound lack of biblical obedience. That’s what happens when we focus on technique and process, rather than on biblical substance when it comes to making disciples.
When it comes to the issue of discipleship, the contemporary Church appears stuck between two extremes. On the one extreme, it is focused on style, technique, and process. On the other hand, the Church is focused on “knowledge,” the most common expression of this being the “discipleship in a workbook” phenomenon (see my article on “Raising The Bar Of Discipleship” for my thoughts on this phenomenon, and Pastor Derwin Gray’s article entitled “Do We Have Discipleship Wrong?”). As an organic Church called to “make disciples,” we need to do better. We need to get back to making disciples the way Jesus did.