Spent most of Mission 21 in the '24/7 Discipleship' stream, where we explored issues around evangelism and discipleship, and the cultural reality that the vast majority of people now have no Christian/church background at all.
What struck me most powerfully was that my church may not actually be set up to do the main thing Jesus asked us to do. Matthew 28 'make disciples of all nations' - ok, it's a big ask, and the church has other tasks and responsibilities too, but are our churches set up to make disciples, or set up to do something else? It struck me that church attendance on a Sunday morning isn't always a very good 'delivery system' for growth in discipleship. And lets face it, Sunday morning is the engine room, so if it's not going on there....
There are a few people at the moment who are exploring Christian faith, or have recently made first-time commitments. And to be honest I'm not sure that simply encouraging them to regularly 'come to church', or even to be part of a small group in the church, will be enough. There's a lot to learn, questions to ask, changes to make, struggles to overcome, things to be prayed through, never mind getting stared with the Bible, prayer, working through lifestyle issues etc. etc. Jesus did this on a personal level, with only 12 people. The secular world knows that apprenticeship, coaching, mentoring, accountability etc. are all part of effective teaching and learning, and are the best ways to bring about change and development. The church is starting to catch up, having forgotten that this is just what Jesus did.
The two things I'm involved with in Yeovil which are bringing about the strongest growth in discipleship - Street Pastors and the Growing Leaders course - are not churches. They both involve a process of learning and action, practice and reflection. Our standard models of discipleship normally involve sending people on a nurture course and then slotting them into a small group: both of these are primarily intellectual rather than practical, but spiritual growth actually happens most powerfully when people have to give out, go beyond their comfort zones, and engage in learning experiences. Jesus discipled his followers by a combination of teaching, hanging out together, and getting them to do what they'd seen him doing. We do plenty of the first, but I'm not that sure about the rest.....
1. Am I being too hard on 'normal' churches, just because I've been on a conference?
2. If you're part of a church, are people there growing as Christians and if so, what's the compost?
3. Do the mature Christians in our churches have time to disciple newer Christians, at a personal level, or are they too busy? Ditto church leaders? And if they did have time, would they know what to do?
It strikes me that the church faces a very new challenge: we've relied for most church growth in recent generations on people returning to the church after being brought up with the Christian faith. They therefore have some background in the Bible, prayer, worship, lifestyle, values etc., and it's primarily a question of reintegrating them. But that pool is drying up, and folk who've got no Christian background present a different challenge. When people have no Bible of their own and have never read it, but want to become Christians where do you start? And how? - it's not just the content, but the method too.
We need 2 things that we currently don't have: a more relational way of being the church, so that relationships of discipleship are natural to the community, and time. The only way of achieving the latter, is to find less labour-intensive ways of doing what we currently do - either that, or stopping some of them altogether.
some of these thoughts are still half-formed, or probably just plain wrong, so apologies if this seems a bit rambling.....
as an aside Christian Today has some good summaries of the keynote talks at mission 21:
interview with Martin Robinson done at the end of the event.