As a follow up to my last blog on movements, I want to share a few thoughts on what I see as the most significant movement in North American Christianity at this time.
First, you might be surprised to find that I do not think it is the “Emergent Church.” I do think that the Emergent Church may be a part of it, or a spin off from the main, but largely, I think the Emergent business is way too small to call it a movement.
For the past 20 years, I believe the movement has been The Discipleship Movement. I would describe the movement this way. As Christendom continues to crash, and the Protestant consensus that dominated American Church life until the 60’s ebbs, many church leaders have discovered the need to return to disciple making. I would further describe this as a movement away from Church membership and toward discipleship.
Discipleship is more than bible study or small groups, but it incorporates these tools. This movement is the realization that one of the reasons Christianity is failing here in the U.S. is because nominal Christianity is detrimental to the spread of Christianity and nominal Christianity is the inevitable outcome of Christendom and its implied membership.
All of this was foreshadowed by Bonheoffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship” and many of the leaders of this movement have been affected by his pivotal work. The question behind the movement is “How can we help seekers and un-churched in our world move toward wholehearted following after Jesus as his disciples. In addition, the Post-denominational moment in which we live, allows churches of many different traditions to contribute to discipleship formation across old divisions.
I would define a disciple as a person who has heard the good news of Jesus Christ and has accepted him as savior who has decided to follow him in a discipline way. Of course, in Lutheran, Anglican and Roman circles, this is often described with the term “Christian Formation.”
All of this recognizes the need for Christ’s people to go deeper and more fully live out a life of witness “by word and deed” that is counter-cultural to modern secular consumer driven society.
The key question for the local congregation is to think through how we help form people beyond mere membership questions into this deeper relationship. I like to say that each congregation needs a clear path to discipleship.
Not everyone who is seeking or even who is attracted to the church is ready for this deeper relationship, but we should continually invite them to it while living out the values of God’s kingdom.
How will your congregation meet the challenge of moving beyond membership and toward discipleship?