It has been more than two decades since church growth leaders and researchers sounded the alert that the church is in rapid decline. Some blame it on society and question whether the church is relevant. Many have turned inward to ride out the storm. Few blame it on our discipleship efforts.
This decline, like most downturns in society, impacts women, children, and the most venerable. Women’s organizations and ministries (Women of the ELCA included) in mainline denominations have suffered from the inside out around issues of structure, membership, leadership, financial support, and generational divide.
Now that the decline is glaring, we should look at what has and will give us life.
After my morning devotions, I recite Women of the ELCA’s purpose statement: As a community of women created in the image of God, called to discipleship in Jesus Christ…. It grounds my tasks and work’s purpose for the day. It keeps me from getting too deep in the weeds of life.
We are called to discipleship in Jesus Christ, and the call has not expired. Neither has our organization or the church. The call, the purpose, and the mission are not optional. We need not focus on why the decline in church attendance is happening. Those are weeds.
The cost of nondiscipleship
A recent article in Living Lutheran, “The cost of nondiscipleship” by William Flippin Jr., helps disciples shift focus. Several takeaways from Flippin’s article:
Discipleship is not easy. “In his many temple talks, Jesus undoubtedly rubbed his listeners the wrong way,” Flippin writes. “He didn’t sugarcoat the terrors, torments, or trials of discipleship. But he also encouraged them not to crumble when persecuted for his sake because God sees their hearts.”
Discipleship is a practice—a way of life. When we get off course, we replace our discipleship practice with nondiscipleship. He writes, “Nondiscipleship is a practice that costs us abundant life, as Jesus pointed out when he revealed that ‘those who want to save their life will lose it.'”
Disciples cannot be afraid to carry out our call and purpose for the mission. “The best missional strategy is to make disciples and deploy them,” Flippin writes.
Discipleship is not optional!
Valora K Starr is director for discipleship for Women of the ELCA. She recommends two resources that you can download for free: “Lessons for Today’s Disciples” and “Gifts for you: Opening your spiritual gifts.”