Seven Paradigm Shifts in Twenty-First Century Discipling (1 of 3)

by Edmund Chan

A widely influential Singaporean pastor and author, in 1995 Edmund launched the Intentional Disciple-Making Church (IDMC) Conference. Started as a seminar with 320 participants, it has become a sold-out conference teaching disciple-making to 2,500 participants from 20 countries.

The church is losing ground.  Sure, in some quarters, she is gaining ground.  But in radical discipleship and in spiritual depth, she is losing massive grounds. It is almost proverbial that the church in many places is “a mile wide but an inch deep.” Worse still, many so-called Christians are no different from the world in their core values and moral choices!

Unless we reverse the tide, we lose our sense of identity and destiny. Unless we come back to the fundamentals of a radical New Testament discipleship to Jesus (cf. Luke 9:23; Luke 14:25-33) we lose sight of the authentic key to true revival and world evangelization!

The problem lies not in the Great Commission. Church history indicates that it is a commission destined to flourish, not one doomed to fail! The problem lies not in the massive needs of the mission field. The fundamental need of humanity is spiritual; and this has not changed one bit! The problem lies not in the ability of God to empower his Church to fulfil His commission. The power of God is the same yesterday, today and forever!

So wherein lies the problem? Why is intentional disciplemaking so difficult in the contemporary world?

In any generation, the fundamental principles of disciplemaking remain unchanged. The focus of the Church must radically shift from merely making converts to that of making disciples! Disciplemaking is the process of bringing people into right relationship with God; and developing them to full maturity in Christ through intentional growth strategies, that they might multiply the entire process in others also.

Nonetheless, the post-modern world presents a new set of challenges to the call of making disciples today. To be effective, each generation must understand its own mind-set, meaningfully exegete its own culture, and masterfully adjust our approach to be relevant and effective in disciplemaking.

There are at least seven major paradigm shifts we must make for effective discipling in the twenty-first century. The term “paradigm shift” was first used by Thomas Kuhn in his influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). It has since come to denote a radical change in the basic assumptions or belief systems, replacing former ways of thinking with a radically different way of thinking. Here then are the radical shifts in thinking we must make on discipling the next generation.

1.  From Spiritual Exhortation to Spiritual Direction

Discipling without spiritual direction is a contradiction of terms. Yet the missing link in discipling today is spiritual direction. In his book Working The Angles, Eugene Peterson calls the ministry of the Word, prayer and spiritual direction the “trigonometry of pastoral ministry”. These fundamentals apply to discipling as well. What is true of pastoring is true of disciplemaking.

The art of spiritual direction is the ability to point a disciple of Christ towards God; and in Him, towards the right direction of life. Spiritual direction thus presents discipleship, not as a program, but as a way of life.

A lot of mentoring today is centred merely upon spiritual exhortation and not on spiritual direction. Pious exhortations like, “you must do your Quite Time” or “you must have (more) faith” abounds. But few are instructed on how to do it, nor inspired to do so!

People know what they ought to do. The regimental do-lists abound. But the problem is getting it done; and getting it done in a manner which pleases God.

Two generations ago, when people came to be discipled, they were ready for the “serious stuff”. The modern generation is not. They come with too much baggage. Wise spiritual direction is much needed in contemporary discipleship!

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