Contemporary Problems in Discipleship (Part 1)

Discipleship is simply this: Christians helping others grow into Christlikeness. It involves our commitment to grow in our head, heart, and hands. How we think changes, what and how we love changes, and what we do changes. We grow and we help others grow with us. Every Christian is called to be a disciple and to make disciples.
But discipleship in our day brings with it some unique problems that aren’t often addressed. In a series of posts, I want to address some contemporary problems in discipleship and offer some potential solutions to the problems.

THE FIRST CONTEMPORARY PROBLEM IN DISCIPLESHIP: WE DON’T READ

Every day, the average American
watches about 5½ hours of TV,
spends just over 2 hours on the internet,
and listens to the radio for just under 3 hours.
But according to the Bureau of Labor, the average American only spends 19 minutes a day reading.
Americans now read at a 7th grade level. But most books are not even written at that level. Most fiction is 7th grade and below. Most Stephen King books are written at a 6th grade level. Cormac McCarthy books are written at a 5th grade level. Tolkien books are written at a 6th grade level.
In fact, 50% of adults cannot read a book written at an 8th grade level. 45 million adults read under a 5th grade level.
There is nothing wrong with simple writing. In fact, in a world flooded with information, it makes sense to write simply in order to help people read more efficiently. However, the lack of reading, coupled with the difficultly comprehending what we read, has implications for Christianity in general and discipleship in particular.

WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS FOR CHRISTIANS

The decline in reading has specific implications for Christian discipleship. This is something we need to consider as we reach out to help people grow in their faith.

1. Disciplemakers should recognize reading levels make Bible reading difficult

What many churches fail to understand is that most Bibles are written at an 8th to 11th grade level. Very few Bibles, and almost none of the most common Bibles, are written at a level that is easy to grasp.
KJV and RSV are both at 12th grade level.
NRSV and NAS are both 11th grade level.
NIV – 7th to 8th grade level.
This means that, for the most part, the people who read the Bible during the week are struggling to understand what they are reading.
In light of the reading level issues, it shouldn’t be a surprise that 45% of people who regularly attend church do not regularly read their Bible, and 20% never read the Bible.

Keep in mind, 60% of American households did not buy a single book this year. 44% did not read a book this year. So, reading in general is down. If someone does not understand what they are reading, they are much less likely to continue to read even if it will change them.

Therefore, to tell someone to read your Bible every day might make us feel like we are helping others. We might even check with people and ask them if they are reading. When we just tell people to read their Bibles we haven’t done our job in making disciples. Telling people to read their Bible and giving them no guidance is like telling a toddler to feed themselves and refusing to make the food for them.
My daughter Emma is 16 and an excellent baker. She runs a little side business because her baked treats are that good. But she didn’t start out as a skilled baker. She had to learn. We had to walk her through, step by step, instructing her what to do and what not to do.
Discipleship is the same way. Step by step, we need to come along side people and help them become better at regular Bible reading.

2. Disciplemakers should ask the right questions

As a result of the rising inability to read at a high level, as well as a lack of desire to read, those who are serious about discipleship need to help people become better readers. If you are going to grow, and help others grow, in Christ you must increase your ability to hear and understand what you read.
How can you help others grow in their understanding of the Bible? Ask the right questions. Do not ask someone, ‘Did you read your Bible?’ Instead, ask the following questions:
Did you understand what you read?
What did you get out of your reading?
How are you going to apply it to your real life?
In Acts 8, Philip asked the Ethiopian a simple question, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
The Ethiopian responded, “How can I unless someone guides me?”

We need to see discipleship as guiding people into greater understanding of the Scripture and then help them apply the teachings to their real life. All true discipleship revolves around hearing and acting on what you hear.
If you are frustrated with the Bible because you do not know what it says, don’t give up. Find someone who understands and let them guide you to understand.
If you understand what the Bible says, share it. Everything you learn – share it. Guide people into truth.
Ask someone questions about what they are reading and how they are applying it to their lives.

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