Posted by: ryanmccoskey | February 3, 2009

Why We Don’t Disciple: The Destructive Dichotomy

As most of you know, assuming you’ve perused through my blog before, I enjoy writing about the authentic application of Christian faith in real-world situations; this post will most assuredly stem from the same vein of thought. But before you change the channel in an effort to skip a “re-run,” I humbly ask you to read through this message with an open heart and mind. Although I’m not a fan of using an overly-solemn tone in a casual, blog environment, I’ve recently been struck with a significant Truth that I believe merits an attentive audience. To me, it’s a borderline epiphany; I pray it will be a liberating discovery for you also.

Olivet Baptist Church, the local body of Jesus Christ to which I belong, has been in the process of making “discipleship” less of a concept and more of a reality. To be sure, it doesn’t require much study in the Scriptures to see the incredible impact of Christian discipleship upon the life of someone; in my estimation, the leaders of Olivet are in a very worthwhile pursuit. Nonetheless, I’ve recently been pondering the obstacles to discipleship, asking myself questions such as: Why is it such an uncommon practice in contemporary American churches? How is it possible to cultivate a genuine desire for discipleship? What intellectual and spiritual equipment does one need to disciple a fellow Christian? These questions and others have led me to realize a major cultural dichotomy in the modern Christian ethos. I have come to believe that modern-day, American Christians have either purposefully, or more likely, subconsciously adopted a set of destructive false assumptions about the applicability of their faith.

First off, at some level, I think that many church-going Christians believe that the mission of the church is to be completed through salaried church personnel. Although it may not be audibly voiced, there is this subtle, corporate conviction that tithing exists in order to provide staff salaries, which equips them to “grow” the church. But we have to ask ourselves: Why does our modern Christian culture carry this sentiment? Why is there this aura of deferring “Kingdom” responsibilities to church leadership? Here’s where we insert the next false assumption. I also think, at some level, that many American Christians believe it is too difficult to accomplish “Kingdom” work unless they are in a full-time ministry position. We perceive that our pastors are on the frontlines of spiritual warfare, but we envision ourselves at the back of the war party, doling out our monthly checks to buy war supplies for the leadership. And so once again, why do Christian laypeople in America carry this worldview? I think we can find our answer by unpacking the secular, cultural nonsense we’ve been consorting with.

Growing up in public school, I was taught all the standard disciplines; math, science, history, english, fine arts, etc. I was taught how to do them, and if any student asked why we needed to know them, the answer was always “real-world preparation.” Beyond this reason, there was never any other reason provided. And so we learned that high school existed to prepare students for college; and that college existed to prepare students to achieve gainful employment; and that jobs exist to provide money so we can get by. And so on Wednesday nights, I would go to youth group and hear Brian talk about “living for Jesus.” Then I would go back to school on Thursday and learn about math so I could go to college, get a job and make money. Now while this dissection may seem trivial to you, allow me to amplify the implications.

The modern American culture and the public school system have taught me that there are two divided groups of knowledge. There is objective, non-biased knowledge and subjective, faith-based knowledge. They purport that all rational people must know the objective knowledge and should never apply their religious convictions to it – that’s simply not what rational people do, they say. And they claim to care less about the subjective arena; tolerance and acceptance is all they talk about here. And so I grew up operating more like an emigrant than a citizen; I spoke the language of “irrational” faith on Wednesday and Sunday with my church family, and spoke the language of “rational” real-world preparation the rest of the week. This, my friends, is the issue. This is the dichotomy of which I speak.

Essentially, most Christian Americans do not operate in full-time ministry positions. They operate in the “real world.” And thus, we have all been programmed by our culture to believe that there really is no place for faith in the workforce. There is, of course, the encouragement to not cheat or lie, to be nice to coworkers and to share Jesus with them; but what about the application of Jesus Christ in the content of our profession. For example, God most definitely heals people in unexplainable, miraculous ways; but does He not use doctors to heal people? Do Christian doctors not see that they are on the frontlines of God’s Kingdom, using their profession to heal? What about attorneys? God most definitely protects the weak and punishes the wicked; but does He not use attorneys to carry out His will? Do Christian attorneys not see that they are the preservers of God’s justice on Earth? For a less tangible application, consider a mathematician. It doesn’t require faith in Jesus Christ to know that 2+2 always equals 4. But tell me why 2+2 always equals 4? Is it true just because that’s the way it is? Or can the Christian mathematician talk of the singular Truth of God’s order, and His nature being revealed in mathematical singularity? To some degree, many Christian laypeople have decided that they cannot be on the frontlines of God’s Kingdom work, simply because they chose to work in the “secular” arena. That’s a lie! All truth is God-breathed and everything can be done for the glory of and service to God.

So back to the original issue; I think Christian laypeople minimize the significance of discipleship, and simply don’t do it, because they have been duped into believing that their faith cannot possibly be applied to every facet of their life. We’re so accustomed to this “objective truth/subjective truth” dichotomy that we’ve simply adopted it as a working worldview; the proof is in the pudding. We live like emigrants, speaking the language of our “people” one day a week and going back to the “trade” language for the other six days. Jesus Christ has made all things new, not just some things.

Finally, although our culture says that it’s possible to operate “objectively,” that’s simply impossible. We are religious beings by nature and we naturally worship; removing God from the picture doesn’t change that – it just changes what we’re worshipping. Our culture worships money, professional success, instant gratification and independence. The “objective” truth professed in our public schools and by our culture is tailored to provide these ends. Thus, we cannot idly stand by and assume that we are being “bigoted” and “narrow” by adopting a fully holistic Christian worldview; our culture proclaims that judgment upon us in defense of their idols. And what’s worse, if we believe it, we’re sure to mitigate our significance for God’s Kingdom. Instead, we must choose one master to serve. Discipleship is a byproduct of authentic Christian change and joy, and stems from the conviction that Jesus Christ is the most precious treasure in the universe; if we believed this, we would most definitely share it. But if we continue to rob ourselves by worshipping idols for six days of the week, we’ll never make room for the Spirit to lead us into a discipling relationship.

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Responses

  1. For a long time, I struggled with the fact that I felt led to some sort of “ministry” type position but wasn’t doing so just yet.

    Even now, well into my second year of teaching, I am still getting over this struggle. I always tell myself “I’m cool with teaching…until I get my ‘real’ job.” However, just recently, I’m beginning to see how purposeful and meaningful my job can be. I knew it before, but it’s like…instead of my heart and mind knowing how purposeful my job can be, my Spirit is finally realizing it as well.

    I just might teach until I can’t anymore. We shall see.

    Have you ever watched the Rob Bell video “Everything Is Spiritual?” The first 30 minutes is almost entirely about science, biology, astronomy; it’s a great explanation of how everything in our physical lives and our spiritual lives tie together. I know some people have reservations w/Bell and his ideology, but Everything is Spiritual is a great video nonetheless.

    hope you’re well man.

    • I hear you there, brother. I love what I do, but I sometimes get this misguided sense that unless I’m in a full-time ministry position, I’m not giving service to the glory of God. But it’s cultural bunk!

  2. yep.

  3. I agree whole-heartedly. if you don’t mind, this article will get a spot on a new startup for Ministerial staff called MinistryPlace.net that launches next month. Pastoral staff need to hear this kind of stuff from their laypeople!

    Thanks Bro

    • Brent, that would be great.

  4. […] My friend Ryan McCoskey has been quite the writer of late. He is a Financial Planner in Kansas that approches money from a Christian Perspective (Think Dave Ramsey, but without the part about being famous).  He wrote an article today about the importance of Discipleship, Why the church laypeople often fail to participate, and how our current society skews the need for such an important spiritual discipline. [read more] […]

  5. Question–I’ve been talking about homeschooling today with a lot of people. I don’t have kids yet, but I’ve thought about what kind of schooling I would like for them to have. I used to be against it because I want my kids to be culturally relevant and impact the students they go to school with. But I’ve considered it as a serious option lately. It ties in directly with what you’re saying about discipleship, and certainly there is a hidden curriculum in our schools far greater than what most educators realize. And just because a person is homeschooled, they can still be very relevant. Any thoughts? Do you know what you’ll do?

    • Jennifer –

      That’s a good question. I haven’t made up my mind about the value of home-schooling yet. My first objection to the idea of home-schooling is the fact that cultural ideals will not suddenly stop plaguing my children when they leave the schoolhouse; all throughout their life, they will have to “take every thought captive” and test it in relation to a Christocentric worldview. Thus, I almost see public schools as a necessary training ground to prepare them for the rest of their life. Perhaps our greatest shortfall, collectively speaking, is our negligence to spend time with our children outside of school hours, discussing their studies and instilling in their minds a greater reason for acquiring career skills. The nuclear family in our culture has become much less nuclear; rather than looking like protons, closely huddled in the center – we’re more like electrons, erratically rushing from one trifling task to another, never taking adequate time to really invest in the development of our childrens’ worldview.

      What about you? What are your reservations with public schools and home-schooling, respectively?

  6. Ryan my friend and brother,

    An excellent article. You have tapped into a critical artery which connects with an very complex system of veins which are feed from the disgusting heart of idolatry in our lives. I believe that what you are getting at is absolutely right. I know that for most people though, they are simply entrench in this worldview because the way we have done church. The Church is “producing” this kind of Christian person. Can most people be blamed that they bifurcate their Christian faith from their “secular” life? I think that our efforts–mostly unintentional–have produced Christians who live so one day a week. Unfortunately, we have developed a very passive discipleship process in our churches for so long and depended so heavily on the information = transformation paradigm that we have gotten exactly what we have worked to develop. It is time for pastors, church leaders, seminaries, etc to take seriously what discipleship is calling us to. Namely to get relationally involved in people’s life, point them to Jesus constantly, and multiplying that to others. We have thought discipleship is about what we get out of it–it is about what we give. God gave us so much not so we could keep it for ourselves but to give away to others. The only way this happens is when disciples are reproduced!

  7. I think I would have to agree with you about the negative side of home-schooling. I kind of like the idea of home-schooling, but is I decided to do it, I’d have to find a way so that my kids where not in a bubble. That’s not really the goal. I see the goal of home-schooling to be the same as public school. You’re preparing kids for the real-world, and they’re not going to get that by doing their lessons at home. I know some people that do it and have done well. Their children aren’t “weird” like some home-schoolers are labeled. They used it as a way to excellerate their children’s learning because they could devote more time to the subjects that were interesting to that child, or spend more time training on an instrument, or just fill in the blank here. I wouldn’t want it to be a bubble, but I’d be concerned it would turn in to that. I’d want to create an experience where they could see more of the world and learn to interact with people, just as public education claims it can do. All that said, I still think public school is a good option.

  8. um…accelerate…I thought that looked strange when I typed it

  9. I like the thoughts. Ryan, I’m still thinking about what you brought up in conversation yesterday about the reality that we spend 75 percent of our lives working. This is a huge gap that we must bridge in regards to thinking about the relationship of our faith and work.

    FYI: I’m posting this to the feasting blog on Olivetwichita.com

  10. Great thoughts. At some point, though, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on what discipleship actually looks like to you, and in your own life.

  11. What does discipleship look like at Olivet? And what have the pastoral staff said it looks like and lived what it looks like?

  12. Eric –
    At Olivet, the concept of and significance of discipleship is not a new development; but a newfound sense of desiring to create a community that values it is a new development. The difficulty with discipleship is that it’s such a nebulous concept; it would be like getting together and talking about how to promote diversity in the workplace. I think the modern church struggles with it because you can’t form a committee and install “clean, cut and dry” programs that move your people into a discipling relationship – it’s not something that you can feasibly dictate.

    Perhaps the best way to gauge the efficiency of a discipling process is to ask the following questions: 1. Do you sense a calling on your life to invest your time, love and spiritual experience into a less developed believer? If the answer is no, then there is likely a disconnect somewhere in the heart of that person; I would venture to say that it’s impossible to honestly understand the Gospel without seeing it in a “missional” light. It’s not a weekly motivational speech; it’s a treasure that moves its finders to share it with the lost. Long-time churchgoers that do not exhibit affections for Christ and the Gospel have moved away from the centrality of the Gospel. They have become “elder brothers” and like Paul says, they have turned to another Gospel. And in our culture, it’s most likely a works-based gospel, where they say that they understand the work of Christ on the cross, but deep down inside, they don’t serve for the joy they have in Christ; they serve because they feel that if they don’t, God will dislike them or not bless them.

    2. What is the purpose of discipling someone? This seems simple, but there are so many routes to go with this. We have to cut to the heart issue and ask ourselves why we disciple. What do you want the disciple to walk away with? I think the first and foremost reason needs to be this: they need to come away with a heartfelt belief that Jesus Christ is the most precious treasure in the universe. I don’t think that there is any higher, more life-changing truth than this. Of course, we want to “plug them in” and give them encouragement and help them overcome sin and see them grow; but none of these will occur in a healthy manner unless they find ultimate value in Jesus Christ.

    And finally, I think we sometimes over-think issues such as discipleship. The truth is, a desire to disciple others stems from an authentic love for God and His Word. Discipleship is a byproduct of a Christ-centered faith. In other words, no matter how hard we try, and no matter how many programs, and classes, and meetings we have about disicpleship, we will never stimulate a community that values discipleship if people are not consistently led into seeing and believing the implications of Jesus Christ’s work on the cross. If we don’t become utterly broken with the reality of our sin, and at the same time, become utterly convinced of our spiritual perfection in Christ, we will naturally default to a works-based mentality; and no one operating under this mentality will be a good discipler because there is no joy in Christ and there is no joy in obedience when we’re wearing this mask.

  13. Very good post. I know I am “Johnny-come-lately” in reading this, but I still really enjoyed it. I too struggle with this whole how do I live my faith at work question. I can definitely understand how Cary is feeling. I am in my first year of teaching and already feel the pressure to stay. The difference is that I know I am called to the mission field. I am teaching for now, but I know that this isn’t it for me. My heart lies elsewhere. So many days, I walk into the classroom and think, “Man, my students need Jesus. I wish I could tell them about Him.” It is very hard. I love to teach Speech and Drama, but I see a much greater need for my students. Not sure if that makes sense, but what I was thinking.

    • Overturf. I miss your bellowing laugh and that funny look you give me when I say something ridiculous – which basically means that you gave me that look almost every other sentence.

      Thanks for reading the blog. And I loved your statement about saying to yourself, “these kids need Jesus.” When I get up in the morning and look in the mirror I say, “wow, that ugly fellow in the mirror needs Jesus.” It’s such a simple statement, and yet the most life-changing realization. I miss you and know that God is unfolding a beautiful plan for your life. Just remember, if He is for you, who can possibly be against you?

  14. […] McCoskey presents Why We Don’t Disciple: The Destructive Dichotomy posted at Think, Laugh, Know […]

  15. […] McCoskey presents Why We Don’t Disciple: The Destructive Dichotomy posted at Think, Laugh, Know […]

  16. This was a very interesting article. How should we disciple? What should we do in our daily lives?


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