What will the world look like in 100 years? Or more specifically—what will Christianity look like in 100 years? In a 1,000 years? In 10,000 years?1 This might be very hard for us to fathom. Thinking about the distant future is not something that we practice naturally. It takes intentional effort to think about the deep future. And here’s the thing about it: once we truly contemplate on what the world may or may not look like, we will recognize that the landscape in which we currently conduct our discipleship ministries will look nothing like the world inhabited by our future ancestors. Just think about the difference 50 years makes. Compare 1964 to 2014. Think about how the discipleship playing field has changed. Just think about the different strategies that Christians have implemented over the course of the past 50 years. Culture is always shifting. People are always changing. Christianity, to a degree, even changes. So how should this affect our discipleship-making? What can the Christian church do today to ensure that it leaves a lasting mark for the next generations of Christians? The Christian message might not need to evolve, but perhaps its discipleship-method does.
Cue Transformative Discipleship
Transformative Discipleship can be defined as a method of discipleship-making that is willing to change its form, appearance, and structure to effectively engage current culture with the gospel message of Jesus Christ.
What might this look like? In Center Church, Pastor Tim Keller helps us out:
Paul himself presented the gospel content in different ways — using different orders, arguments, levels of emphasis, and so on — to different cultures. And we should too. The gospel is so rich that it can be communicated in a form that fits every situation.
He goes on to expound upon this idea of gospel contextualization:
A contextualized gospel is marked by clarity and attractiveness, and yet it still challenges sinners’ self-sufficiency and calls them to repentance. It adapts and connects to the culture, yet at the same time challenges and confronts it.
Now what Keller calls gospel contextualization, I call transformative discipleship. The reason that I prefer this term is because transformative discipleship calls us to look at how discipleship-making methods have shifted throughout history. What this means is that we should be willing to look into the deep past and evaluate the positives and negatives of our ancestors’ discipleship-making methods. This would call us to analyze past mistakes and construct better present-day discipleship-making methods. Practically, here is what this model would emphasize:
1. Transformative Discipleship is historical.
Christians using the Transformative discipleship method would be willing to learn from 2,000 years of church history. The positives and negatives would be discussed openly, and gleaning wisdom from the Christian church’s past would be promoted.
2. Transformative Discipleship is culturally-centered.
Every culture places value on different things. That is why a versatile discipleship method is needed. The Transformative discipleship model challenges Christians to focus on the culture that they inhabit, engage with society, and learn how to best infiltrate the culture with the gospel message.
3. Transformative Discipleship is evolutionary.
This model emphasizes the importance of changing and molding the way current discipleship methods are being used within the church if necessary. As culture shifts and changes, the Christian church must practically “evolve” the ways that the gospel message is presented. This might seem commonsensical, but far too often the Christian church has not been willing to adapt its practices to fit its patrons. However, a flexible model is what Transformative discipleship is all about.
4. Transformative Discipleship is multi-faceted.
One of the key aspects of Transformative discipleship is its willingness to promote a vast variety of discipleship techniques. This mindset will promote to Christians the importance of going out into their surrounding communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ. This may look like door-to-door evangelism or perhaps simply having home groups scattered throughout the city. The transformative discipleship model is open to a number of different discipleship methods and approaches.
infiltrate culture with the gospel for the Future
If you think that there is a possibility of Christians living on this earth even for the next 500 years, than perhaps teaching the transformative discipleship method would be beneficial to implement. Instructing present-day Christians the transformative discipleship method would hopefully begin to shift our focus to how this generation and the next generations can infiltrate culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Our teaching would shift from teaching “one-size-fits-all” discipleship methods, to teaching a transformative model that emphasizes molding the message of the gospel to fit the audience that one is witnessing too. This is what Keller has in mind when he specifically talks about gospel contextualization. I just am taking it one step further and calling the church to consider the distant past and even the far off future when teaching discipleship techniques to today’s next generation of Christians.
Again the gospel message does not change, but the methods in which we teach the gospel is always transforming and molding. Specifically, our gospel-proclaiming techniques shift and change to best fit the people groups that we are ministering too. This aligns very well with what the Apostle Paul taught:
“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” —I Corinthians 9:19-23
I have simply introduced a few of the ideas that a transformative discipleship method would entail. There is no doubt that these ideas would benefit from being developed more thoroughly. However, at this point, it suffices to say that the transformative discipleship model is a method that I believe should be adopted by most Christians and churches simply because it teaches current believers to look into the past, live in the present, and expectantly look to the future when discussing various facets of Christian discipleship.
1. J.L. Schellenberg’s book, Evolutionary Religion, has influenced me a lot when writing this article. His ideas of thinking about the past, present, and future have proven extremely useful when writing about Transformative Discipleship. I am in debt to his wonderful writing. ↩
Matt Manry is the Director of Discipleship at Life Bible Church in Canton, Georgia. He is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. He also works on the editorial team for Credo Magazine and Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He blogs regularly at gospelglory.net.