Do some of you remember those times during the move of the Spirit when we could not leave the meetings? God’s presence was so thick, palpable, and wonderful. How could we leave? The unbelievers were coming in large numbers because they heard about the reality of God in our midst! It was truly the most seeker-friendly time I have ever seen. It was seeker-friendly in God’s way.
The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, an article by Ronald J. Sider, documented an alarmingly different reality among believers in the U.S.A. from what I have just recalled. (Much greater hope and encouragement is found in the second and third world!) We will not repeat the statistics in detail, but only say that the great majority of professing believers do not know the content of the Bible, nor are they able to well live out the teaching of the Bible. As a case in point, consider that the incidence of immorality and divorce in the Church, fully parallels those found in the nation at large. In addition, there is a lack in understanding the biblical world view on its basic teachings of doctrine, absolute truth and ethics.
An Astonishing Repudiation
I have watched over the last 40 years in astonishment, as those who were greatly impacted by the mighty movement of the Spirit in the 1960s and 70s gradually began to repudiate the importance of the very dynamics that brought them into the Kingdom. They do not repudiate it in their verbal profession but in their practice. One friend said that, “What you win them with is what you will keep them with.” However, in this case, it seems that, “What they were won with, is not what is keeping or motivating them.” What do I mean by this? Basically that the very dynamics that were connected to the last great move of the Spirit in America that swept millions into the Kingdom of God, are now considered not appropriate for building today’s Body of Believers. The 60s and 70s were a time of signs, miracles and wonders. It was a time when the gifts of the Holy Spirit were sought, and many expressed these gifts and manifestations. Preaching on being filled with the Holy Spirit brought many to seek such an experience of being filled or immersed in the Spirit. These dynamics work because they are God’s universals, not merely a cultural approach. This is historically clear.
We now see many leaders saying that such doings are not helpful in attracting the lost. Therefore the user-friendly and seeker-friendly congregation will often prefer to keep manifestations of the Spirit in the closet. Indeed, some would say it is too hard to know what is or is not of the Spirit and so we had best maintain our planned agendas only. We provide upbeat music, a lively, entertaining and relevant message, and a creative kids program. This will pack in the people. For some leaders who measure success by attendance, income and square feet, the formula seems to be working. However, transforming power is missing as evidenced by the statistics on discipleship.
The Crying Need for Discipleship
Let us then address the central issue of discipleship. Today, there is little depth of discipleship. In the New Covenant Scriptures, we learn that the Body of Believers is to be a discipling community. The true measure of a congregation is in discipleship and in extending the Kingdom to those who have not yet embraced Yeshua. This is clear from the great charge Yeshua gave to his disciples before departing. Yeshua said we are to disciple the nations and teach them to obey all He commanded. (Matthew 28:19,20) For this we have His presence and delegated authority and power. The total numbers of believers weekly attending congregations has been declining in the United States for 15 years now. In addition, the percentage of those who do attend but without being discipled, may be the largest in the history of Evangelicalism.
Discipleship is a Work of the Spirit
The work of the Spirit and discipleship are totally intertwined. One cannot grow into conformity to Yeshua, which is the goal of discipleship, without the power of the Spirit. Those who are led by the Spirit are the sons and daughters of God. This means to be led into God’s paths of righteousness.
(Romans 8:14, 29) The reality of the Spirit breaking through in miraculous power, prophecy and conviction of truth provides the settings in which discipleship is possible. Hearts are changed to seek greater conformity to Yeshua. Continued access to the Spirit provides the context in which discipleship is effective. Without the Spirit we have a severely limited reconditioning of human behavior. The process is then only one of human effort.
One dear friend, after many years of what others would call successful ministry, is giving himself full time to discipleship mentoring. In this mentoring, he emphasizes obeying what the Spirit is saying as the center of being a disciple. Of course, the Spirit is constantly calling us to obedience to the Word of God. His reminders, promptings, convicting and encouragement provide the very stuff which makes discipleship something totally apart from mere self help programs. The Spirit applies the work of Yeshua to our lives whereby we know the reality of having died and risen with Him. By the Spirit, we put to death the deeds of the flesh and fulfill the righteous requirements of the Torah. (Romans 8:13,4)
Becoming Involved in Discipleship
Every person needs to ask himself whether he is either giving himself to disciple others or being discipled. Many are to both disciple and be discipled, according to their attainments and needs. The need is to face the areas in which we are not living in conformity to Yeshua and where we therefore need to seek mentoring and spirit power to be transformed. Where do we need help with regard to Yeshua’s commands or Yeshua conformity? Of course, this assumes knowing the Bible well enough to identify such areas. Accessing the power of the Spirit and maintaining a Spirit filled walk will be key. A systematic approach is generally needed for success. We are so thrilled that there are some communities in the United States emphasizing this and doing the work of Spirit-filled discipleship. Some of these congregations are small, and some are large. It does not seem that overall size is the key one way or another. But the small group focus does seem essential. Mentoring seems essential as well.
This may be the beginning of hope in the United States. In Israel, our goal is to make disciples and to see God work to plant communities that are effective in discipleship though the power of the Spirit. May we be a good example of living Biblical truth.