Seven Paradigm Shifts in Twenty-First Century Discipling (2 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.

2.  From Single-Level Discipling to Multi-Level Discipling

Surely there is a difference (at least in time commitment if nothing else) between discipling a college student who is single and discipling a mother of three young children. As such, to cater to the varying needs in the life of the church, there is a movement from single-level discipling to multi-level discipling.

In the past, discipling was done primarily outside the church, through the para-church organisations, and it was more or less homogeneous in nature. Today, there is an emergence of church-based discipling, which is broader in scope and commitment levels. Unlike homogeneous units, disciples now come in all shapes and sizes, from different walks of life, with different levels of commitment, and different depths of spiritual maturity.

In such a context, many are also discovering the cell group as a great discipling vehicle. It builds a discipleship community.  It is also an effective platform for grooming emerging leaders. A cell group is thus an excellent vehicle for the multi-level discipling as it builds not on individuals but on community. We must build discipleship cell-groups!

3. From Program-Oriented Discipling to Person-Oriented Discipling

The focus must shift from valuing successful programs to valuing spiritual maturity. Effective discipling in the twenty-first century starts with the question “who are you” rather than “what is to be covered”.

The discipleship syllabus is dependent on the disciple’s needs – both felt and real needs. There is a growing appreciation that each person is different. Thus, the discipling process is not to be merely centred upon a particular program. This calls us to major on the major. It is not enough to disciple someone by just completing some pre-set materials. There is a need to know and apply basic life principles in all arenas of life!

The shift from program-based discipling to person-based discipling is congruent with the quest of identity in the urban world. As a guide for such person-centred discipling, the younger the disciple is, the more structured the discipling program. Conversely, the more mature the disciple is, the less structured the discipling program. In any case, the focus is on the needs of the person, not the dictates of the program!

4. From Classroom-Discipling to Real-World Discipling

People tend to compartmentalise their lives because of the “privatisation” of religion. So what is taught in the classroom remains in the classroom. What is taught in the church remains in the church. Unless there is a deliberate attempt to integrate what is learnt into the real world, nothing significant happens in the discipleship journey!

Things are not just to be taught in a classroom setting. They must be integrated into all arenas of life. One example of real-world discipling is to train the disciple to learn how to master life’s transitions. It develops the disciple to be holistically effective in the school or workplace, in the home and in Christian ministry. There is a critical need for holistic discipling that is relevant to the “real world”.

The “With Him” principle, popularised by the Navigators, is helpful. It moves discipling from the classroom into the real world. Real-world discipling resonates with the emergence of integration in the contemporary world. Knowledge is not isolated from life but integrated to it. The focus must thus shift from making disciples in the church to making disciples in the church, family and workplace. This is where the rubber meets the road!

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