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The Discipleship Crisis

01.16.18 | by Larry Gates

    A recent Barna report, The State of Discipleship, reveals the urgent need to address the current reality of discipleship in the lives of today’s Christians and the church in general.  The stark reality of the situation is highlighted in the following statistics.

    • Only 1% of church leaders think churches in general are doing well at discipling new and young believers.
    • A sizable majority (60%) of churches indicate they are not doing well in discipling members of their congregations.
    • 62% of all Christians believe that spiritual growth is very important, however, their participation in activities that lead to spiritual growth suggest otherwise.
    • Only 20% of Christian adults participate in some form of discipleship (Sunday school, spiritual mentoring, group bible study or Christian book study) 
    • On 9% of born-again Christians hold a biblical worldview.
    • Of the 51.6 million Christian men in America, less than a fifth are engaged in any form of discipleship.
    • One in ten Christians say that their spiritual growth is not important to them, while two-thirds indicate they are comfortable with where they are spiritually. Thus among a significant number of Christians today, there is simply no drive to prioritize spiritual growth.
    • Among Christians who believe spiritual growth is important, one-quarter are being discipled by someone (one-to-one 23%) and one in five is discipling another person (19%).
    • 41% of all Christians believe that spiritual life is entirely a private matter and not relevant to other people.
    • Among church leaders, 85 percent say busyness is a major obstacle to discipleship. 

    These statistics should cause evangelical Christians to pause and reflect on the question, “How have these conditions come about?” The answer to that question is simply this: the body of Christ is not living in faithful obedience to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) and to the Great Work (Matthew 9:35-38) Jesus directed His disciples to embrace.  Many Christians are familiar with context and content of the Great Commission, but few are equally as familiar with the Great Work passage in Matthew 9:35-38. So, let’s take a quick look at this passage.

    As Jesus went from town-to-town teaching, preaching, and healing He witnessed the condition of the common people.  Their circumstances were such that He had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.  Jesus told His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:37-38). The workers Jesus is referring to are those individuals ministering as disciple-makers – evangelizing and discipling others. They befriend the hopeless, lead them to Christ, and then help them grow in faith until they reach spiritual maturity.  They are then sent out as workers into the harvest field to replicate the process they have experienced. 

    The statistics previously noted are the result of too few disciple-makers. These are people who have a heart for God, a heart for the Word, a heart for people, and have the know-how to develop disciples who can develop other disciples.  The need is great for more harvest workers! So pray that the Lord of the Harvest will call out more men and women to be disciple-makers -people available and willing to invest their life in the life of another person, one person at a time. 

    The disciple-makers vision should be multiplication that has a multi-generation impact. The pattern of this vision is given to us in Acts and 2 Timothy. The scripture reveals that as the gospel message is faithfully and powerfully proclaimed; God is faithful and true to multiple the numbers of believers in Christ. Paul writing to his young protégé Timothy says, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).  In this passage, we find four generations of disciples – Paul, Timothy, the reliable men, and other men.   Multiplication and multi-generational impact is the outcome of the labor of the harvest worker. So, step up and be engaged where you are as a disciple-maker, a worker advancing God’s kingdom.  

    As a disciple-maker, embrace the attitude of the Apostle Paul when he stated, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it.  But each one should be careful how he builds.  For no one can lay a foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.  It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

    Let your kingdom labor never be in vain!