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It Takes A Village

It Takes A Village

An old African proverb says that it takes a village to raise a child. This proverb refers to the fact that many people impact the upbringing of a child. In addition to the people who are involved, there are institutions influencing the formation of the child as well as the community norms, taboos, and mores that weigh in as well. This reality is both a comfort and a stressor to parents today. 

This old proverb could also be applied to discipleship in the Church. It takes a church to make a disciple. We often focus on an individual’s responsibility to become a “self-feeding” follower of Jesus, but it is very clear that it takes more than simply reading the Bible on your own to truly live a Christlike life. Whether we like it or not, there are a lot of other influences in the life of a follower of Jesus. 

So what can we do? 

But what can a church leader or pastor do to make sure that the people in his or her church are being discipled in the right direction? Recently, Chris Martin wrote a very insightful book about how much of our formation occurs from the input of the social internet. In his book, The Wolf in Their Pockets, Martin notes that the average adult in America spends around two and a half hours a day on some kind of social internet platform or app (p. 17). When you consider that the average Christian barely spends two and half hours engaged in church-related activities in a given week, it is very clear what will have the greater impact on their spiritual formation.

It starts with refreshing our definition of discipleship. According to Glenn Packiam in his book The Resilient Pastor, most pastors define the goal of discipleship as “being transformed to become more like Jesus” (p. 147). While this is a great goal, when the Barna Group polled practicing Christians, their stated goal of discipleship was “learning to live a more consistent Christian life” (p. 148). 

We are becoming more like Americans and less like Jesus. 

This reveals a huge gap between what Christians are hoping to gain when engaging in anything that is called discipleship and what pastors are hoping to see happen in the lives of those same people. Practicing Christians seem to want to get better at following the rules and having a sound doctrine, while pastors want to see lives transformed to be shaped more like Jesus. 

This gap in the desired outcome of discipleship must be addressed. For the last 50+ years, we have been focusing on a discipleship method that trains people to focus on individual learning and a personal relationship with God. Now we have churches filled with people who are focused on becoming a better version of themselves rather than conforming to the image of Christ. We are feeling the consequences of this shift in a myriad of ways as our culture becomes more and more divided around political and social issues. We are at a point where our political and social perspectives are beginning to determine our theological engagement with the world rather than the other way around. 

Pastors and church leaders are facing a crisis of discipleship. The only way we can resolve this crisis will be through a renewed vision of discipleship. This vision must focus on helping people develop a cruciform life – one that is formed by the way of the Cross. This kind of discipleship will not be curriculum driven, and it will take a community effort to make this happen. 

There will not be a curriculum for this. This will involve the investment of time and energy into a community of people willing to embrace a vision of becoming more like Jesus – our crucified savior – rather than a more successful business person or even a better American. These communities (i.e. villages) of people will then become the force that shapes the next generation of Jesus followers.

It will start with ministry leaders embodying a cruciform life rather than a life that presumes it can grasp real significance on its own terms. We must model a life surrendered to the Kingdom of God, even when the culture penalizes and cancels that way of living. We must do the hard work of infusing our churches with the vision of discipleship that leads to becoming more like Jesus, more cruciform, so that our churches will then become the village that raises the next generation of disciples in the cruciform way.

To do this, we will need to focus on practices that are communal as well as habitual so that our churches are rooted in an ethic of sacrifice, love, and generosity.  That is what a cruciform life will look like. That is what Jesus’ life looked like. 


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