ED STETZER ON THE YOUNGER UNCHURCHED

26 03 2011

From Ed Stetzer comes these thoughts:

Here is my latest column from the Spring 2011 issue of Facts and Trends magazine, focusing on the younger unchurched:

Adlai Stevenson stated, “That which seems the height of absurdity in one generation often becomes the height of wisdom in another.” He did not have a particularly high view of the next generation, but he does challenge us to consider the radical changes in thinking that are sometimes seen between generations.
The reality is that generations do think differently and different views emerge – and it is worth our time to consider them. As George Orwell said, “Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it and wiser than the one that comes after it.”

This bothers some and challenges others. For me, my concern is not to rail against the next generation– I want to reach them.

In the book, “Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them,” I shared some of the findings from a survey conducted of 1,000 unchurched young adults about the issues of church and spirituality. The study revealed that the younger generation is more open to issues of spirituality than our conventional wisdom allows us to admit.

This generation is open to God and spirituality. When asked if they considered themselves to be spiritual, 73 percent of respondents age 20-29 answered affirmatively. They are interested in learning more about God or a higher supreme being. Eighty-two percent believe a person’s spirit continues to exist in some kind of afterlife. Seventy-seven percent believe in the idea of heaven and 60 percent believe in the idea of hell. Perhaps most surprising, 66 percent even believe that Jesus died and came back to life.

The Jesus that they believe in, however, is in some ways a Jesus of their own creation. Only 57 percent believe there is only one God, the God who exists in the Bible. Fifty-eight percent believe the God of the Bible is the same as the gods or spiritual beings of other religions. Though Hinduism ascribes to a million gods, Buddhism has no god, and Christianity has one God, a majority of young adults believe that all of these gods are the same.

While there are clearly negative implications to this pluralism, there are also great opportunities for the church. Sixty-three percent said they would attend a church that presented truth in an understandable way. We need to be proactive about sharing the gospel to this demographic in clear, understandable terms. Simultaneously, we should defy the “Chicken Little syndrome” that believes the church is about to crumble under the weight of pluralism.

It’s easy to look at some of the viewpoints of the younger unchurched and write them off. Rather than throwing up our hands in disgust, we need to extend a hand, exemplifying Christ and His gospel now more than ever. We need to enter into authentic relationship with a generation filled with brilliance and potential. We need to begin honest conversations with those who have honest questions.

You can read more about our research on the millennials here, and you can subscribe to Facts and Trends by emailing factsandtrends@lifeway.com.

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EVANGELISM WITHOUT DISCIPLESHIP

4 03 2011

Evangelism without Discipleship
Posted on February 28, 2011 by Dr. Tom Cocklereece

My readers know that I am passionate about disciple-making and it pains me when other Christian leaders accuse proponents of full discipleship of being less than zealous of penetrating lostness by saturation evangelism. I am just as zealous of evangelism as I am about the teaching part of the Great Commission. However, I am also against what I call “Constantinian evangelism” which is evangelism without discipleship. Allow me to explain.

CONSTANTINE’S CONVERSION TO CHRISTIANITY

Chi-Rho Symbol

In the spring of A.D. 311, Constantine and his force of about 40,000 troops marched toward Rome to confront the more numerous forces of Maxentius. In the evening Constantine saw a vision in the sky which was described as a bright cross with the words “By this sign conquer.” According to Constantine’s account, Jesus Christ told him in a dream to take the cross into battle as his standard. Constantine reportedly had his commander to mark every soldier’s shield with the Chi-Rho symbol- thought to be an early Christian sign identifying allegiance to Christ (Christianity Today).

CONSTANTINE SET THE STAGE FOR EVANGELISM WITHOUT DISCIPLESHIP

Constantine

Stories continue to circulate that Constantine supposedly marched his army through a river for a ritual mass conversion to Christianity or gave them a sprinkling baptism as they marched under a bridge. There is scant evidence that such a mass conversion event occurred. It is well documented in history that Constantine himself remained a superficial Christian at best during the rest of his life. The standard practice of that day for new converts to Christianity was a rigid discipleship course lasting up to three years followed by baptism. Constantine refused any such course of training and even refused baptism until he was close to death.

By his victory at the Milvian Bridge using the Chi-Rho symbol, many soldiers likely adopted the mark in a superstitious way. They accepted the symbol of Christianity while never seeking to really know the Savior Jesus Christ. Thus began what might be called “Constantinian evangelism” or evangelism without discipleship. Constantine may have instituted mass conversion of his military by the use of an indoctrination prayer:

Constantine’s Army Prayer
Emperor Constantine ca 320

We know Thou art God alone;
we recognize in Thee our king.
We call on Thee for aid.
From thee we receive victory,
through thee we are made greater than our enemies.

We recognize thy grace in present blessings
and hope on Thee for the future.
We all beseech Thee, we implore Thee
to preserve our king Constantine
and his pious sons safe and victorious to the end or our days.

In A.D. 303 it was illegal for a soldier in the Roman army to be a Christian; by 416 it was mandatory for a soldier to be a Christian (Adventist Review). The possible use of a prayer for either mass conversion (which converts no no one) or represents compulsory religious conversion by the state should send chills down the spiritual spine of any evangelical Christian. However, it does raise the question for evangelicals: “Do we use what is known as “the sinner’s prayer” in a similar manner?

“Father, I know that I have broken your laws and my sins have separated me from you. I am truly sorry, and now I want to turn away from my past sinful life toward you. Please forgive me, and help me avoid sinning again. I believe that your son, Jesus Christ died for my sins, was resurrected from the dead, is alive, and hears my prayer. I invite Jesus to become the Lord of my life, to rule and reign in my heart from this day forward. Please send your Holy Spirit to help me obey You, and to do Your will for the rest of my life. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.” The Sinner’s Prayer

Certainly evangelicals do not approve of or use the sinner’s prayer for state compulsory or mass conversion but the focus on evangelism and baptisms without an equal focus on discipleship raises concern.

INVESTING IN EVANGELISM FUTURES

Process Discipleship

I am not a proponent of a several year discipleship process before one is accepted as a genuine Christian. However, if only by default, many evangelical Christian leaders today may have unintentionally accepted a powerless form of Christianity—evangelism and conversion without discipleship, i.e. Constantinian evangelism. I am for all evangelistic efforts PLUS discipleship.

Discussions rage about the decline of evangelical churches and much of it centers on the need for more evangelism. However, undiscipled Christians are often poor evangelists. Consider that an original document is printed and then successive photo copies are made from copies of the original. Eventually the document will be unreadable. Undiscipled Christians may be like the illustration and fail to make new disciples. On the other hand, good discipleship of new Christians is an investment into future evangelism and real church growth.

Good discipleship of new Christians is an investment into future evangelism and real church growth.

It is time for the evangelical church to return to making disciples as the Great Commission commands—baptizing AND teaching. Church leaders should connect all discipleship ministries in an intentional process as well as cultivate a church culture where people are motivated to follow through in the growth process. The process must include missional opportunities that encourage hands-on ministry experience. Churches that do this are revitalizing their ability to do effective evangelism, as they create needed sustainability.

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QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT

1. When Jesus commands his church to make disciples, to what degree does the responsibility belong to the church and to what degree is it the individual Christian’s responsibility?
2. Do you think that some evangelists use “the sinner’s prayer” as Constantine may have used “Constantine’s Army Prayer?”
3. What process does your church use to make disciples?
4. Does your church focus on evangelism without a viable plan for discipling new believers?
5. Does your church take a passive laissez-faire approach to discipling new Christians?
6. How may your church improve the discipleship process?

Simple Discipleship Blessings!

Dr. Tom Cocklereece, The Disciplist

The Simple Discipleship blog is read by Christian leaders in over 66 countries. Pray for this ministry as God has enlarged our territory!

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Simple Discipleship: How to Make Disciples in the 21st Century was published and released by Church Smart Resources in November 2009. It is not a self-published book. To learn more about Simple Discipleship and to order the book, follow the link below:

http://www.simplediscipleship.com

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Dr. Tom Cocklereece is CEO of RENOVA Coaching and Consulting, LLC

Author “Simple Discipleship,” contributing writer L2L Blogazine
He is a pastor, an author, professional coach, and leadership specialist