In the early days of my pastoral ministry, I was drawn to books, sermons, and meetings which had a revival theme.
Then it dawned upon me one day that pastors can be so enchanted with stirring this movement in their churches, without realising that it could actually be an indictment of their own ministry.
If as a pastor, I say that my church needs revival, is that not an acknowledgment that my church is dying, if not already dead, spiritually speaking? And whose responsibility is it that it turns out that way? Mine? Or am I shifting the blame to my predecessors and the preceding generation of leaders?
Strictly speaking, ‘revival’ refers to bringing (eternal) life to people. Paul wrote: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked… But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…” (Ephesians 2:1-6)
So before we jump on the bandwagon, we need to check ourselves – when we make the rallying call for revival, are we also acknowledging our failure at discipleship? Authentic disciples are people truly alive. They do not need revival. When they sense their faith faltering, like David, they know how to “strengthen themselves in the Lord” (1 Samuel 30:6). They are the very agents God uses to bring about revival.
Where we have ‘failed’ at discipleship in one important aspect is in doing it mostly in terms of programmes, of which there are plentiful.
We end up trying to complete a curriculum by passing on information, without any transmission of the virtues of Christ and formation of His character in those participating in the programmes. For this transmission and formation to be effective in discipleship, it demands that we focus more on relationships where we are honest, transparent, and teachable with one another.
Effective discipleship takes place either in a one-to-one setting or in the community as a whole. When one’s faith begins to flag, a close brother or sister, or others in that community, must actively reach out to encourage and edify.
Yet a faith that is solely dependent on others in community to invigorate it runs the risk of falling into an unhealthy dependency. One’s faith is ultimately one’s own personal responsibility.
Discipleship also takes place in the family – the basic unit upon which communities are built. The one-to-one aspect is found between parent and child. Where we have failed here is in parents abdicating their roles as ‘disciplers’, and outsourcing it to pastors, church staff, and other persons interested in being spiritual fathers and mothers in this aspect of the children’s lives.
As a result of this outsourcing, the subsequent generation of Christians has no role model on how parents should disciple their children. The parental art of discipling children is lost, compounding the church’s weak efforts at discipleship.
Pursuing revival on its own is not the panacea for a faith in need of awakening, for when a revival does come, we still have to ask the question, “Then what?”
We still have to disciple the revived. It is when we have lost the art of discipleship that we look for the quick fix of a revival.
Discipleship has a beginning but no end while we are on earth, as it is something we work on through our lives. When we pay attention to it, our faith remains alive. We are then equipped and empowered to carry on the task of reaching those who really need revival with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Bishop Emeritus Dr Wee Boon Hup –
is the former Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore between 2012 and 2016. He is currently a Pastor at Paya Lebar Methodist Church. Bishop Emeritus Dr Wee will be one of the speakers at the Aldersgate SG 2018 where he will share on God’s expectations on families.
Picture by PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek/Bigstock.com