These past few weeks, I’ve had talks with a number of youth and young adult leaders and some pastors, too. The result of talking with a number of youth, young adults and church workers. It was nothing formal.I simply asked them about their insights into the ins and outs of the Church, particularly the way that young people’s ministries are being conducted. Here are some of the insights from my talks with a number of Methodists, both young and old.
Lack of discipleship.
This is a glaring lack in the United Methodist Church in the Philippines. Nope, we’re not talking about good ol’ Sunday School, which is still present in a number of churches. We’re talking about the way the church initiates its members to a deeper relationship with Christ. A lot of Methodists simply go to church on Sundays, mumble through the hymns, read through the liturgy and sit lazily through the sermon. No deeper involvement. No deeper interaction. No deeper commitment. So when they find some other groups (Christian Fellowships and other churches) that initiates them to the wonderful side of Christianity, they learn that discipleship does not need to be boring.
Lack of strong Christian fellowship.
One of the consequences of a lack of discipleship (which can also be called as a means to connect with God) is the lack of Christian fellowship. Yes, we have lots of Fellowship in the district level or in the local church level. But how about getting real about our struggles and our difficulties to each other? One of the young adults I talked to felt that a lot of times, he felt like he’s wearing a mask whenever he goes to Methodist youth activities. Hmm…
Too much focus on events and activities.
We have too many conferences, trainings, seminars and all sorts of stuff that will look good on paper reports. There is nothing wrong with events (such as Christmas Institutes and Conferences) but if those are all that we ever did, aren’t we missing a lot of things? Take the Christmas Institute as an example. It is a great event for youth to experience fellowship with each other and have an encounter with God. In fact, a lot of our pastors and deaconesses point to the Christmas Institute as crucial to their decision to enter full time ministry.
Here’s the catch, after the Christmas Institute, there is virtually no discipleship program (or any program at all) that will help young people continue their faith journey in the local church level. What happens then? They end up becoming fiery Christians in January and February. But in March, they start reverting to their previous habits. Why? Because there is no way for them to nurture the fire they got from Christmas Institute. When they find a group where the fires of their faith can be nurtured, Methodist young people will then decide to leave the church in favor of the church that nurtured them.
The clear and urgent need for discipleship!
John Wesley instituted one of the most effective discipleship models in the history of the Christian church. Long before “Cell Groups” became popular, he already instituted it with his bands, classes and societies! While all other churches, Christian fellowships and parachurches are using the very same discipleship model John Wesley used, we Methodists have been lagging behind.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:
“Discipleship means adherence to Christ, and, because Christ is the object of that adherence, it must take the form of discipleship…. Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. It remains an abstract idea, a myth that has a place for the Fatherhood of God, but omits Christ as the living Son. A Christianity of that kind is nothing more or less than the end of discipleship.”
There’s no question about it: the United Methodist Church needs discipleship. But in our contemporary times, the question we need to answer is how to put Christian discipleship back into our churches.