The future of discipleship
As we celebrate the graduation of men and women from Bible colleges and Christian universities across Canada, it’s clear that Christian higher education is in a state of upheaval. Enrollment is down, finances are tight, and parents are questioning the value of their investment on behalf of their children.
As parents, Gwen and I are committed to providing our children with a biblical foundation because we believe it is vital to their lives as disciples. We put money aside to ensure our three sons would have the opportunity to experience Christian post-secondary education: short-term mission school, Bible school and Bible college.
Was it worth the investment? Absolutely! Would I encourage others to make the same investment? Without question. So why are fewer parents making this choice?
Many families are grappling with the question of whether or not to spend the money on Christian education. Schools are wrestling with the challenges of offering effective Christian education in an age when costs are increasing, employment fears are on the rise as boomers delay retirement, and student debt is mounting.
What is the right decision for parents and young adults to make regarding post-secondary education? The important question is not, “Can we afford Christian education?” The important question is “Can we afford not to send our kids to receive Christian education?”
While schools need to adapt to current realities, parents, churches and supporting communities need to invest in disciple-making work with young adults – both for their personal development and to ensure we fulfill Christ’s mandate: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20, ESV).
Christianity is undergoing great change in Canada as we observe increasing spiritual stratification, decreasing church attendance and the growing influence of pluralism. The authority of Scripture is being questioned within the church, and Christians are choosing which teachings of Christ they want to embrace, as if grazing at a spiritual buffet. Why?
From casual observation, it seems that the church has done a poor job of passing on what it actually means to be a disciple. That may sound like a cynical statement, but as traditional forms of biblical instruction have faded away, we have not found new ways to communicate and train up generations with a biblical understanding of discipleship.
What does it mean to be a disciple? “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21, ESV).
Regardless of context – parents, teachers, pastors – it’s our responsibility to teach and model what it means to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
Rethinking from the ground up
I have a confession to make. As I look back over my pastoral life, I didn’t place enough emphasis on disciple making. I wasn’t intentional enough in giving people the teaching they needed so they could discern the difference between a biblical worldview and the prevailing values and worldview of Canadian society.
While hindsight is 20/20, thankfully many younger Christ followers are unsatisfied with the status quo and are calling church leaders to provide more – more in-depth discipleship, more applied theology, more spiritual wholeness.
Historically, we have looked to our schools to play a strategic role in equipping young adults to love and serve Jesus. While our schools continue to work hard at fulfilling this role, the overall disciple making system appears to be broken. As a faith community, it’s time to rethink what it means to be disciple makers. I’m encouraged to see partnerships emerging between leaders in churches, schools, camps and conferences – so that, together, we can fulfill Christ’s disciple making mandate.
In the end, disciple making begins with the local church. The church needs to ask how to engage and support schools, camps and mission agencies without completely outsourcing faith formation.
This is the critical issue facing the church today. Without disciple making, we will not mature established churches, plant new churches, develop teachers, pastors, planters or missionaries for the mission God has called us to.
So, what can you do? Be a disciple. Get into God’s Word. Follow the leading of the Spirit and invite others to follow Jesus with you. In other words, be a disciple who makes disciples.
Follow executive director Willy Reimer on Twitter @willreimer