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Discipleship material is all over the place.  Go to any Christian bookstore and you’ll find entire sections devoted to the latest and greatest in the subject.

Its intent is to help new believers or less-seasoned believers learn more about their faith.  Naturally, at the heart of its purpose, it’s a very good thing.

However, contemporary discipleship material has a lot of flaws.  Some are big enough that they can actually end up stunting a believer’s growth.  It’s actually the opposite of what it’s trying to accomplish.

The goal of this article is not just to criticize our modern-day attempt and making people strong in the faith.  The goal is actually to show why we as the church can do so much better.  It’s about optimism, not pessimism.

And I’m also not trying to say that systematic teaching is a bad thing.  I’m actually all about systematic teaching.  For example, I love Martin Luther’s small and large catechisms.  But if we’re going to teach systematically, it’s gotta be done the right way.

We as the church can do so much better. #discipleship Click To Tweet

1. Contemporary Discipleship Material Is Often Too Individualistic

discipleship cultural creative hipster camera millenialGo ahead and pick up any of the best ones off the shelf.  It probably does an amazing job at explaining the gospel.  And explaining how your relationship with God is of utmost importance.

But it probably does not talk a lot about the structure and purpose of our families to our faith.  But the Apostles considered this foundational.

And it almost certainly does not give more than a token nod to the structure and purpose of the church in our faith.  You’ll be taught that you should attend a good, bible-teaching church.

But it rarely provides rationale to make the case that the church is the center of God’s plan.  That our integral involvement in it as believing communities is the most important connection we have to what God is doing in the world.

And you can hardly blame the authors of the material.  They grew up in the same self-centered individualistic society that any American did.  So it’s easy for them to neglect community focus.  And it’s easy for us not to even notice the problem.

But our discipleship of new/less-seasoned believers must also include focus on family, the church, and our community at large.

2. Contemporary Discipleship Material Is Fragmented

The authors of discipleship material focus on what they believe to be most important.  It’s only natural.  Why would they include what they believe to be lesser subjects?

But what ends up happening is the materials focus on some foundational stuff, but also a lot of controversial stuff.

And it’s not that controversy is bad – the gospel is the most controversial thing in the world.  It’s that the controversies often don’t communicate themselves to new believers as subjects which are not actually agreed upon within Christendom.

The #gospel is the most controversial thing in the world. Click To Tweet

For example, way back when I was a new believer, my discipleship material had a huge emphasis on why the charismatic gifts of the spirit ceased after the Apostles died out.

Not necessarily saying this theology is right or wrong, but I didn’t even know what speaking in tongues was!

It was a conversation that should have happened a lot later.  After I learned the first principles of the faith.  It lead to confusion in my life for a very long time.

Our discipleship today should focus on what the Apostles emphasized as “the faith“, “sound doctrine“, “the tradition“.  It’s the difference between systematic theology and biblical theology.

3. Contemporary Discipleship Material Is Often Short-Sighted

discipleship cultural creative girl woman hipster adventure christianityOne of the most important things that the Prophets and Apostles contributed to believers is a long-term focus on living a holy life.

They wanted us to get our finances in order, get our families in order, have good citizenship, produce good works, give our entire lives to the mission of the church, develop godly habits, and on and on.

But none of those things come quickly.

Contemporary discipleship material usually does encourage an eternal perspective.  They’ll all tell you to work for rewards from God at the Resurrection.

But they often ignore how to achieve the long-term pursuit of wisdom and knowledge of God in our temporal lives.

Our discipleship must include practical living tactics so our lives today (and for the rest of our days) can honor God in a maximized fashion.

4. Contemporary Discipleship Material Does Not Teach Effective Bible Study

Any given discipleship material will provide a ton of principles which are derived from Scripture.

I’m not arguing against that.

But they don’t force new believers to learn the process of effective personal Bible study.

In a way, it’s spoon-fed when you can just learn a principle and move on.  And spoon-fed isn’t always a bad thing when you’ve got someone who is so immature in their faith that it’s all they can handle.

But before a discipleship process is complete, the believer must learn how to deal with a passage or an entire book of Scripture and be able to identify the following:

  1. The main purpose of the passage/book.
  2. How each of the parts fit into the whole message.
  3. What aspects are either biblical functions (and therefore necessary to all believers to imitate) or cultural forms (and therefore not necessary to imitate exactly).
  4. If something is a cultural form, what is the principle behind it that is meant to instruct us today?  What is the 21st century equivalent to their first century form?

5. Contemporary Discipleship Material is Culturally Static

discipleship City StreetYes, contemporary discipleship material is dynamic in the way that it is usually done in a dialogue format.  So any subject can come up in conversation.  And the disciple is able to learn according to his/her needs.

But it is static in terms of how it relates our faith to our culture.  Sometimes, discipleship material will provide examples of how we must fight against unhealthy cultural trends, such as atheism, agnosticism, existentialism, etc.

But those materials seldom provide avenues to discuss current events, how they are impacting our communities, and how we deal with it as Christians.

We must teach new believers how to sort through all the media and the madness going on around us.  We must teach them how to integrate our faith as we interact with people around us.  We must teach Theology in Culture.

Am I asking too much?

I know what you might be thinking, “Come on, Nate.  You’re shooting for the stars.  Even if you can identify these problems with contemporary discipleship material, you’ll never find a solution.  You can’t make a perfect program.”

Maybe I can’t find a perfect program, but I have found one that is really good.

And it satisfies every single need listed in this article.

It’s called The First Principles Series produced by BILD, International.

I’ve used it in my own church, and my own community.  Even as a believer with a few years under my belt, this material was enough to change my life.  And it has done the same for those around me.

Check it out.  Use it to establish your church, and help them to build their faith, and their ability to impact their city.


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