‘Discipleship’ may seem to be a well-worn topic, but it is the most important and fundamental condition for the continued growth, vigour and vitality of the church. The church disregards discipleship at its own peril.
The gradual demise of churches in the West is testament to this. We are reminded and cautioned whenever we visit the august buildings that were once filled with worshippers, which now see dwindling numbers and a majority of seniors. Today, many of these churches give scant regard to the authority of the Bible, and they neither teach the Word of God nor encourage believers to preach the Gospel. All these arise from neglecting the importance of discipleship.
When did the church consign to oblivion the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ? Did He not state clearly in Matthew 28:19-20 to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”? Churches today yearn for disciples who are spiritually mature, but are not prepared to pay the price to nurture and develop them.
Let us be aware of some snares and pitfalls that have crept into the church:
1. Instant result-oriented thinking
With the emergence of modernisation, the emphasis on efficiency and speed has become pervasive in modern life. This may also be seen in how churches try to grow their membership. Some churches have achieved notable results using strategies suited to their particular set of circumstances. Others try to copy their form in the hope of quick results. But without systematic investment of time and effort into nurturing disciples, there is no substance. When the hoped-for instant results in membership growth do not materialise, morale slumps and they lose heart in discipleship training.
2. Taking the easy way out
Disciple-making has never been a simple task. The Lord took three years to make disciples of His followers, who would continue His work. Current discipleship training courses often take six months or more to complete. Some churches are not prepared to spend too much time on developing disciples. Instead, they try to look for easier ways to increase church membership quickly. Some even try running activities and events in place of the study of God’s Word, which is the true price to pay in becoming Christ’s disciples.
3. Encroachment by secular culture
Unless the church strives harder to win believers over to paying the price and studying God’s Word diligently, their time will be taken over by secular pursuits, e.g. social activities or preoccupation with digital devices. By the time pastors realise that their members are too busy with such activities to receive discipleship training or attend church services, it may be too late.
We live in turbulent and constantly changing times. The many issues the church needs to deal with today are unprecedented. We face challenges that can no longer be handled using traditional approaches alone. Our faith is buffeted on several fronts by various forces including those of pluralism, atheism, extremism and post-modernism. To stand firm, the church must return to the Bible. As believers, if we are to continue witnessing for Christ in these challenging times, we have to study God’s Word diligently and become true disciples of Jesus Christ.
Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung –
was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2016. He served as President of the Chinese Annual Conference for two quadrennia from 2008 to 2016.
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