About This Blog

Thursday, May 9, 2019

"Discipling in a Multicultural World" (Ajith Fernando)

TITLE: Discipling in a Multicultural World
AUTHOR: Ajith Fernando
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2019, (288 pages).

Discipleship is more often talked about than walked. It is also seen more like a program rather than a lifestyle. It is more like a one-off activity instead of a continuing parenting relationship. These observations kick off a mind-blowing treatise on what it means to disciple people in an increasingly pluralistic and multicultural environment. At the heart of this book's message is spiritual parenting. Author Ajith Fernando asserts that discipleship is essentially helping "born again" believers to grow and mature into spiritual adulthood. The discipler looks after the disciple. This is a caring relationship rather than several one-off programs. Fernando recognizes early on from the experiences of some of the so-called discipleship programs in the past. One of them was the realization of a lack of knowledge over what happened to people who had finished the programs earlier. He was a beneficiary of Sam Sheppard's decision to nurture a group of leaders before embarking on any new Church programs. The driving force for change should be people rather than programs. I sense that one of the biggest threats to discipleship in the Church might very well be discipleship programs that substitute short-term curriculum for long-term cultivation of relationships. Care, conviction, and commitment are keys to ensuring that spiritual parenting is sustained over the long haul. The goal is not a certificate of attendance or a degree earned. The goal has to be Col 1:28 to present everyone mature in Christ. That is why discipling is a spiritual exercise. In fact, one of the main reasons why discipleship is not popular is not because it is not taught but because of the price of commitment. People give up after a while for different reasons.

There are many gems to keep in this book.
  • Major cause for burnout is due to insecurity in leaders. This is intimately related to the lack of relationship with God. (speaking out at using insecurity as a reason for doing discipleship)
  • "We must not ruin our health by having insufficient sleep" (speaking against restlessness)
  • "Discipling looks like an inefficient use of time" (speaking against the culture of efficiency and quick measurements of success)
  • "They openly share about themselves, but often in superficial relationships with people unwilling to pay the price of costly commitment to them." (speaking out against the fear of cultivating relationships)
  • "we evangelicals may have gone beyond that to view salvation as something individualistic." (speaking out against individualism that pushes against true discipleship)
  • "The comfort of friends is one of the great antidotes to bitterness." (speaking about support and not some self-service exercise)
  • "Christianity, then, is a religion of postponed honor." (speaking about the cost of discipleship)

My Thoughts
A key point is about the discipler's inner life and his relationship within his family. Like a well-experienced discipler, he notes that many full-time ministers spend more time caring for others that he neglects his own family's spiritual needs. We need to know our limits and not to over-commit ourselves to the detriment of the family. At the same time, knowing our own weaknesses prevents us form falling into the spiritual potholes that damage not just ourselves but the very community we claim to love. I applaud Fernando's keen observation about the nature of superficiality and insecurity that impacts the way we do ministry, even discipling. Insecurity in us breeds the hunger to keep doing things to attract attention and to gain recognition. If these fall outside of God's will, we are in danger of operating outside of our calling. Rights are less important than responsibility. Insecurity is the biggest culprit in the failure of cultivating spirituality in others. It is the cause of burnout. It hurts relationships. It even manipulates others for the sake of self. It breads even deeper levels of insecurity.

Second, Fernando redefines commonly used Christian terms with a relational perspective. "Discipling" is about investing in people, especially younger believers. "Mentoring" is for investment in more mature believers. Such a distinction is vital to put a distance between common church-run programs with a focus on investment and care. He applies the ten commandments by pointing out the dual nature of our relationships: with earthly family and our spiritual family. Discipleship means teaching disciples to build good relationships with their families. Show them how to be good members instead of expecting their families to behave in a particular way. Encourage youths in their studies. When he starts sharing about relationships with believing children and their non-Christian parents, I recognize that he speaks from personal encounters. After all, Sri Lanka is very much a non-Christian country and tensions do arise when family members change their faith beliefs. This is where the "multicultural world" context comes in. Fernando writes about suffering, persecution, and "loss of honor," something unique to the South Asian culture. Discipleship is also about teaching one another the real possibility of suffering and pain. Perseverance and hope are crucial to faithfulness. Fernando shares quite a lot from the book of Acts, understandably so since he had previously written an entire commentary on Acts. That commentary remains one of my favourite commentaries.

Finally, I appreciate the way Fernando takes discipleship to a whole new level and applies them directly to relationships. That is exactly what discipleship is about. Jesus had told us to "make disciples of all nations," and it is all about working with people instead of anything else. We don't have to be in a third-world country in order to experience what multiculturalism is about. Many of us living in the West are already experiencing that. Multiculturalism have arrived at our shores in the Western world. Though Fernando writes from a Sri Lanka point of view, there are so many ideas that we could apply to our modern world in the West. He touches on many relationship matters such as prayer and intercession; guilt and forgiveness; honour and shame; friendship and community; joy and healing; etc. While the topic seems to be on discipleship, we learn that it is essentially about the gospel where Christ came for us in spite of who we are, that we might become the people we were meant to be. Discipleship is that relational curriculum of faith to do just that. May more people learn about spiritual parenting and to teach others to do the same.

Ajith Fernando has been the National Director for Youth For Christ in Sri Lanka for over 35 years. He is now a teaching director there. He lives in Colombo with his wife Nelun where both actively serve the urban poor as well as mentoring younger staff and pastors. Ajith is also a prolific author, writing compelling articles, books, and commentaries on top of his busy ministry work. The author has been blessed with a generous six-month sabbatical package from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to write his book. He is a graduate of Asbury and Fuller Theological Seminary.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Crossway Publishers and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

No comments:

Post a Comment