Two years ago the Chicago Tribune reported the story of a mother who let her nine children, aged 8 months to 11 years, fend for themselves in a gritty apartment filled with trash and excrement. Public officials, responding to a neighbor's call, entered the apartment at 2 A.M. and took the children into custody. The mother, said the owner of the apartment building, was more interested in partying late than in caring for her children. The public was (rightly) outraged by this maternal malfeasance.
Evangelical Christians commit the moral equivalent of such child abuse when they pour all their energies into evangelistic programs and fail to make sure that spiritual newborns are given the nurture they need to grow into healthy, mature followers of Jesus. Each young believer needs a mature disciple who has walked this way before and who can, in a transparent relationship, help the newer Christian toward the dual knowledge of God and self. Such relationships are not efficient, but they are essential to our growing in grace.
At the First International Consultation on Discipleship, held last month on England's scenic South Coast, John R. W. Stott called attention to the "strange and disturbing paradox" of the contemporary Christian situation: We have experienced enormous statistical growth, he said, without corresponding growth in discipleship. "God is not pleased," warned Stott, "with superficial discipleship." Theologian Tokunboh Adeyemo called attention to this same paradox on his continent, where the phenomenal numerical growth of Christianity is matched only by the mind-boggling butchery of Christians engaging in the horrors of ethnic cleansing. "The church in Africa," said Adeyemo, "is one mile long, but only one inch deep."
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