Coming soon to your church, the best ever discipleship course ….

…Or why not simply get involved in the life of the church? 

We love a good course don’t we?  We have more courses than a posh dinner! It seems that the solution to every issue in church life from how to become a Christian to how to conquer that habit is answered by putting people on some kind of 7 -10-week programme.

It’s important at this stage that I point out that we do run courses at Bearwood Chapel (a couple of them are available on our publications page).   Inviting someone along to a 4 week mini-series can be a helpful way into gospel conversation.  Then there are those specialist situations where we want to get a group of people together for training and so we’ve done short courses on leadership and pastoral care.

However, I was challenged the other day in conversation with a now retired pastor who asked me why it seemed that Discipleship, Discipleship courses and discipleship 1-1 programmes seemed to be the fad.  “Surely,” he suggested, “discipleship is what happens when we are properly engaged in the normal life of the church.”

I think there’s a risk that we can become too dependent on the course.  The risk is that:

1.       Discipleship becomes implicitly linked with the latest fad/programme rather than being seen as normal church family life as we hear teaching together, encourage and pray for one another, witness together and hold each other to account.

2.       We become dependent on the evangelical priesthood.  Evangelism and discipleship is done by our particular favoured professional. Often, it’s not live or local but requires us to watch the international expert on DVD. 

3.       We are dependent upon and have to wait for a critical mass of people to run the course.

4.       We think about how we can successfully process people …and we don’t know what to do with those for whom the process doesn’t work.

I think that part of the problem is the success of Alpha.  In effect, Alpha is designed to take people through a process from questioner to person filled with the Holy Spirit.  Alpha gained a high profile.  A lot of people have attended the course and a lot of people testify that they became Christians because of it.

So what’s happened since is that we’ve tried to copy it and replicate it.  Those of us who have issues with aspects of its theology have tried to create our alternatives. Then we put people on the course and we hope that over 7 plus weeks they will go through the process and come out the other end as proper disciples.  If we are not careful then we stop thinking about people and relationships and just think about the process.

Now a couple of additional comments here.

1.       The former Manufacturing Engineer/Process Improvement person in me wants to remind me ….and anyone reading that processes are good. We need them. Everything we do in life follows a process. The choice isn’t between having a process and not having one. It’s between having good processes and bad processes

2.       Just to re-iterate, a course can be very useful indeed.

However, I think the challenge is first of all, that we don’t become so obsessed with the process that we lose sight of the people, the relationships and most of all the Gospel.

Secondly, we should not turn our courses into idols that replace Christ.

Thirdly, don’t wait for that course before  you tell that friend about Jesus or get alongside a brother in Christ to encourage their growth.

Fourthly, we should not become mere educators/training colleges offering a menu of courses at the expense of being genuine local churches, families who exercise body ministry to each other.