By Dr. David Bjork
After thirty years of missionary service in France, Dr Bjork and his wife are now ministering in Cameroon, Africa. Dr Bjork who holds Masters degrees in Missiology, Pastoral Theology, and History of religions, and Doctorate degrees in Religious Science and Theology, is professor of Religious Science at the state university of Yaoundé.
Discipleship and disciple-making are buzzwords today in all kinds of Christian circles.[i] Unfortunately, on its journey to fame, someone forgot to ask if we are in fact making disciples. There are good reasons to doubt that we are! If truth be told, a quick glance at the state of the Church around the world leads me to think that we have somehow emptied the Great Commission of its essence. Three places where I have lived and ministered: the United States, France, and Cameroon illustrate what I mean.
According to a study done in 2009 by the Barna Group, although most Americans consider themselves to be Christian and say they know the content of the Bible, less than one out of ten Americans demonstrate such knowledge through their actions.[ii] Given this fact, it is not surprising that the Evangelicals of the United States – in spite of their mega-churches, material resources, and church growth strategies – are among the slowest growing in the world.[iii]
In reality American Christians are silently slipping out of church to the extent that the unchurched are becoming the common religious component of American society.[iv] Even the many student ministries have been unable to stop the hemorrhage of Christians who “fall away” during their college years.
In France, where I ministered for thirty years, the religious scene illustrates the evolution that has taken place all over Western Europe in recent years. In 1986 eighty one percent of the French who were 15 years of age or older considered themselves to be “Catholic”. That number had dropped to 69 percent in 2001.[v] In 2002 only seven percent of French adults (18 yrs of age and older) regularly practiced their faith and 44 percent of French adults who identified themselves as Catholics stated that they never attend church services.
In a study done in 2003 which asked the same questions of the French that had been asked ten years earlier, all of the indicators of Christian belief had dropped[vi]. That survey revealed that fewer of the French believe in the existence of God and in the primary Christian beliefs than was formerly the case. They attend church services less, pray less, and fewer of them claim that Christian faith plays an important role in their lives than was true ten years earlier.
Today, I find myself in the African country of Cameroon where, although recent decades have witnessed rapid growth of the churches, observers say that nominal Christianity is a bigger problem than in most of Africa. Much of the Church leadership in this country has been described as proud, domineering, often immoral and greedy. The lay believers are often shallow, biblically ignorant, syncretistic, tribally biased and missionally insensitive.
In short, they reflect the same kinds of imperfections that we find in the churches of the West that mothered them.
These rapid portraits of the church in the USA, in France and in Cameroon reveal symptoms of an illness that has reached pandemic proportions. We have obeyed Christ’s commission to go into all the world, but we have been ineffective in making disciples.
We have evangelized and made converts. We have baptized and made church members. We have established schools and seminaries and produced pastors. We have founded hospitals and orphanages and cared for the needy. We have trained missionaries and fashioned church planters. But when all is said and done, the bottom line is: Where are the disciples? If we were effectively making disciples would the Church look like it does in the USA, in France, and in Cameroon?
[i] A Google search on the word « discipling » produced 137 000 results, « disciplemakers » produced 78 800 results, and the term discipleship produced an overwhelming 10 400 000 results (Dec 16,2011).
[ii] http://www.barna.org/transformation-articles/252-barna-survey-examines-changes-in-worldview-among-christians-over-the-past-13-years, consulted on December 17, 2011.
[iii] Jason Mandryk, Operation World (Colorado Springs, CO : Biblica Publishing, 2010), p. 916.
[iv] Ron D. Dempsey, Faith Outside the Walls : Why People Don’t Come and Why the Church Must Listen (Macon: GA: Smyth & Helwys, 1997).
[v] Gérard Mermet, Pour comprendre les Français: Francoscopie (Paris : Larousse ),p. 280).
[vi] According to a telephone survey of a representative group of 1000 French adults done by CSA on the 21st of March 2003 the results of which were published in an article which appeared in “Le Monde”, on the 17th of April 2003, signed Xavier Ternisien.