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03 March 2014

Discipleship: a time for action

Discipleship: a time for action

by Krish Kandiah 

Some 1,523 out of 2,228 passengers and crew were drowned during the sinking of the Titanic – a loss of 68 per cent. But according to Peter Brierley's research, of every class of ten children in Sunday school in 1985 between the ages of zero and nine, only three were still connected with the Church in 2005.

For some time a particular statistic has haunted me. It's been quietly displayed for the last two years on the Alliance's 'It takes a whole church' microsite – but it's still a terrifying statistic. If true, it should send shivers down our spines.

We have a titanic problem. As I have travelled around the UK talking to 20 somethings at universities, festivals and conferences, no one seems surprised by these numbers. Most can point to their own experience of friends who have walked away from church and many from faith. The main reason for this exodus? Anecdotally it is time pressure, boredom, or fear of ridicule.

Through friends at Open Doors I arranged a live Skype link-up at a young adults conference with 800 students from the UK and one Egyptian 20-year-old. We heard a little about the challenges facing Egyptian Christians at that time. We heard how police shot at protestors during a peaceful protest march, we heard how Christians had to hold prayer meetings in caves for fear of persecution. This young Egyptian believer prayed for the assembled British students to remain faithful to God despite facing challenges at college and work. He prayed with such fervour and urgency most of us were deeply challenged at how small our challenges were to his own. It was then it dawned on me that we often blame the large numbers of young adults leaving the Church on external factors: social media, peer pressure,education, the press, militant atheism. 

But around the world and throughout history Christians face much sterner external pressures and yet hold fast. We are struggling to hold on to our own young people, let alone reach the nation. When you compare our situation with China or the early Church – not only did they hold on to their young people they saw exponential growth in the Church. The trouble does not seem to be external to the Church; but internal. We are not producing mature Christians that are able to endure the pressures of ordinary life. This problem is not confined to 20 somethings but seems to be endemic throughout the Church. Many have identified the "discipleship deficit" as the key challenge facing the Church today. Take for example the South African born missiologist Alan Hirsch:

"The Church in the West has largely forgotten the art of disciple-making and has largely reduced it to an intellectual assimilation of theological ideas. As aresult, we have a rather anemic cultural Christianity highly susceptible to the lures of consumerism."

Similarly Antoine Rutayisire, a Rwandan church leader and seminary principal, challenged the Third Lausanne congress in Cape Town by providing a startling autopsy of the Rwandan Genocide that saw Christian Hutus killing Christian Tutsis. He argued that the main challenge was the flawed gospel and with it an inadequate model of discipleship exported from the West to the rest of the world.

"It's time for us to decide about discipleship – to not just stem the flow of those leaving the Church but to see our Church rise to the challenge of living for God and reach our nation with the whole of the good news of the gospel."

One of the groups engaging with discipleship is livelife123.org which focuses on investing in accountable and intentional relationships between believers. It aims to encourage people to be discipled, to be accountable to others and to act as mentors for young people. It is led by Urban Saints alongside several partner organisations. 

More closer to home at the next Evangelical Alliance council meeting we are gathering significant leaders from across the UK to hear from God and from one another to assess how we can move forward collectively. No single stream of the evangelical movement in the UK has the answer to this. In fact we will be hearing from:
- Tracy Cotterell from LICC about why the workplace is the frontline for disciple-making.
- Paul Machonachie from 3DM challenging us to take seriously creating a disciplemaking culture in our churches
- Lucy Peppiatt from Westminster Theological College encouraging the Church to take the spiritual disciplines

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