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What Happened to Discipleship?

There is a growing body of research demonstrating that there is a significant disconnect between professing faith in Jesus Christ and actually following Jesus.

  • Michael Craven

A 2005 study by the National Study of Youth & Religion entitled, Portraits of Protestant Teens revealed a great deal about the contemporary approach to youth ministry and its shortcomings.

The study revealed that 59 percent of Protestant teens (13-17) report regular church attendance, meaning they attend church at least 1-3 times per month while 41 percent of all teens reported regular church attendance. The study participants identified affiliation with nine Protestant denominations with Southern Baptist being the largest group represented in which 65 percent of teens reported regular attendance.

Forty-seven percent of Protestant teens reported active involvement in their church’s youth group compared to 38 percent of all teens. The majority of Protestant teens also reported that they attend Sunday School “a few times a month,” participate in youth retreats, rallies, and conferences.

In all, 90 percent of Protestant teens say they believe in God compared to 85 percent of all teens; only 12 percent of all teens say they are “unsure about the existence of God.”

Clearly this generation is not irreligious, quite the contrary. However, further research begins to reveal this disconnect that I mentioned earlier. According to the study, only 55 percent of Protestant teens believe in life after death – a belief held by 50 percent of all teens including the non-religious. In a further contradiction, 69 percent of Protestant teens say they have made “a personal commitment to live for God” and yet only 32 percent read the Bible once a week or more and 19 percent report having had sexual intercourse in the last year compared to 22 percent of those who are un-churched. Additionally, 63 percent of Protestant teens report cheating in school compared to only 58 percent of all teens and 41 percent say that morals are relative – that “there are no definite rights or wrongs for everybody.” Barna Research further underscores glaring contradictions between the beliefs of most professing teens and accepted biblical doctrines.

Sociologist, Dr. Christian Smith reported in an even earlier, much larger, study gleaned from in-depth interviews, which he published in his book, Soul Searching that “we suggest that the de facto dominant religion among contemporary U.S. teenagers is what we might call “Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism.” This of course has very little to do with historic, orthodox Christianity.

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The fact is, according to research, most Americans have a period of time during their teen years when they are actively engaged in a church youth group. However, Barna’s tracking of young people showed that “most of them had disengaged from organized religion by their twenties.”

Of course, these conditions are not exclusive to young people. Also according to Barna Research; “Among those adults who attend Protestant churches, only twenty-three percent named their faith in God as their top priority in life.”

The “modern” idea of church, or ecclesiology, it seems is that the church exists as a venue to “attract” the lost through dynamic programs, performances and events-the more dynamic the better. What one pastor friend of mine referred to as “theo-tainment.” The problem with emphasizing this approach exclusively is that a disproportionate amount of the church’s time and resources go into these efforts at the expense of discipleship and training the already saved. The result is the proverbial church that “is a mile wide and inch deep.” Yes, the local church may grow in numbers but rarely in spiritual maturity and the witness of the Church is often rendered lackluster.

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Throughout the first decade of the new millennium, multiple studies-revealing a crisis among youth in the church-seemed to appear almost every year and now in 2011, the research still shows no improvement. It is astonishing to note that despite the continued evidence demonstrating the American church’s failure to adequately and holistically disciple the faithful into maturity; the leadership in so many of our churches continue to do the same thing, employing the same paradigm that emphasizes programmatic evangelism rather than making disciples. Where are the courageous men and women who will raise their voices in the church to lead our congregations back to truly fulfilling the Great Commission?

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Although this article is written from a "Christian" perspective, there is much for Urantia Book reader/belivers to think about in this regard.

Urantia Book (and Jesus' teachings) about "discipleship:"

180:1.1 After a few moments of informal conversation, Jesus stood up and said: “When I enacted for you a parable indicating how you should be willing to serve one another. I said that I desired to give you a new commandment; and I would do this now as I am about to leave you. You well know the commandment which directs that you love one another; that you love your neighbor even as yourself. But I am not wholly satisfied with even that sincere devotion on the part of my children. I would have you perform still greater acts of love in the kingdom of the believing brotherhood. And so I give you this new commandment: That you love one another even as I have loved you. And by this will all men know that you are my disciples if you thus love one another.

194:3.11 Pentecost, with its spiritual endowment, was designed forever to loose the religion of the Master from all dependence upon physical force; the teachers of this new religion are now equipped with spiritual weapons. They are to go out to conquer the world with unfailing forgiveness, matchless good will, and abounding love. They are equipped to overcome evil with good, to vanquish hate by love, to destroy fear with a courageous and living faith in truth. Jesus had already taught his followers that his religion was never passive; always were his disciples to be active and positive in their ministry of mercy and in their manifestations of love

195:10.1 Christianity has indeed done a great service for this world, but what is now most needed is Jesus. The world needs to see Jesus living again on earth in the experience of spirit-born mortals who effectively reveal the Master to all men. It is futile to talk about a revival of primitive Christianity; you must go forward from where you find yourselves. Modern culture must become spiritually baptized with a new revelation of Jesus’ life and illuminated with a new understanding of his gospel of eternal salvation. And when Jesus becomes thus lifted up, he will draw all men to himself. Jesus’ disciples should be more than conquerors, even overflowing sources of inspiration and enhanced living to all men. Religion is only an exalted humanism until it is made divine by the discovery of the reality of the presence of God in personal experience.

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