“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19–20, NIV)
As a pastor this is one thing that I am passionate about and speak about, but it seems that many just think of this as just another buzzword that no one refutes, but most just kind of nod and smile at when we speak of it. It is “one of those biblical terms” that has meaning, but often not in the life of the average church-goer. Then we look at the statistics that are out there now from Pew Research and Barna that shows increasing numbers of those that declare they have “no faith” and some of those are even “anti-faith”. Yet when I see this, one thing enters my mind, “At least the 20% are being honest of the entire population and the 33% are being even more honest of those under 30 when they say under faith affiliation “none”.
So, again the question of discipleship rises. What is the problem? Well, much of it is the fact that much has been forgotten about what it means to be a disciple. I have been struck by the fact of how many life-long Christians can not speak about the simple basics of the faith. Many have not read the Bible and because of that they are easily confused about the faith by things that are half true. One of the reasons that many people give for not reading the Bible is they find it too confusing or they find it dry and boring. This won’t change quickly or easily, but it can change.
How? By reigniting a desire in the hearts of believers through reviving within them an understanding of the basics. Like Philip on the desert road opening the Word to the Ethiopian, we can open the Word to the many hungry souls by breaking it down in a simple way. We return to the practice of Catechesis. It’s an old practice that many modern evangelicals cast away as too Catholic, but it is how the Church was developed. Jesus sat and taught his disciples and those disciples became apostles to carry the message out and they taught new disciples and houses were baptized with a duty placed on the head of that household to make sure that all who were under his care would be taught. It was revived by Martin Luther in the Reformation in which we received the Small and Large Catechisms and then it was reinstituted in Rome by the Council of Trent.
We live in an age with the religious and spiritual writings in such abundance yet we have a culture of Christians that when asked about faith and life would probably speak more about the praise band then about the content of the message or more often will hear a message that is simply a self-help seminar with Jesus said somewhere in it. Children and youth are growing up in programs that focus more on entertainment then on faith and character development and when they go home many parents feel that the “work” of “raising their children in faith” has been done by the church. The work of raising our children in the faith has been, for many parents, given to the churches, and sadly when the children grow to adulthood and walk away from the faith the one left to blame is the church. I agree, some of that blame belongs to the church, but not because they didn’t make a valiant effort, but because they only had a limited time with too great of a hurdle to overcome. Parents need to be discipled so they can know how to teach their children. The issue is that faith needs to be learned and that learning is lifelong.
Discipleship is a life long process and it is a practice of continuing to learn as we go out and tell others. It is a constant returning to the basics. Constantly reviewing the foundational principles of the faith. As a wrestler one thing I remember coaches continually doing throughout the season is the practice of going through the basics and reminding of the basics. We are never too knowledgeable to the continue to going back to the basics. As a pastor I have been convicted of the reality of the lack of understanding of the faith by many parishioners that are in their 80s and how they have been excited as they have begun to recapture the wonder of the faith. This has left me a strong feeling that the beginning of discipleship is the with a return to basic catechesis.