Discipling others ought to have always been a priority of the church because it was a priority of Jesus, tragically, however, the evidence is that this relationally rich modelling and teaching of the gospel has been largely neglected in the UK in past generations. But we need more than ever to invest in it now because:
1. Looming leadership crisis - 65% of pastors in free churches are over 55, which means that in the next 10-15 65% of pastors will be retiring. That is before you take into account those who will leave because of stress or burnout. And there are not the leaders in bible colleges to replace those men leaving, let alone to try to fill the significant number of pastoral vacancies we already have in the UK. The UK church faces a leadership crisis, specifically because there seems to be a missing generation, there are pastors in their 50s, there are young men in training in their twenties, but there seem to be relatively few in their 30 and 40s. Why? I think it is simply because we have neglected discipleship. and that in turn has meant few have been invested in significantly and caught a passion for the gospel and gospel ministry.
2. Loss of Men from Churches - put simply men need other men. Men need fight clubs where they can combat sin in each other, men need a band of brothers who will go the hard yards with one another. But because we have neglected these meaningful gospel rich relationships men feel disengaged from church. We need to recover and rebuild these relationships with men, investing significantly in them.
3. Crisis in Marriage - Marriage in the church in the UK is under the same pressures as outside the church - we come to it hardwired for independence, we come to it with false expectations, and we come to it without knowing how to really build a gospel rich marriage. We need discipling by godly married men and women where we can see the fruit of the gospel after 30, 40, 50 years of marriage.
4. Fringe/pew filling believers - You can't be a disciple and be a consumer or a spectator and yet our churches are often filled with those who have lost their passion for the gospel. Relational discipling which invests in both the individual and the gospel is the way to rekindle the flame.
5. Longing for relationships - Even in our churches people are desperately lonely, we can text, tweet, post and so on but it does not replace meaningful committed relationships. And people are hardwired to want those relationships, thought they are increasingly finding the mess of real relationships a challenge.
6. Lack of biblical background - The UK is clearly post-Christian, you could even argue it is post, post-Christian. That means that people who are saved have no or little biblical background. They will not know the big story of the bible, they will not know the distinctives of a Christian marriage, or of Christian parenting. We cannot assume they will just pick these things up. We must be a discipling church so that the gospel is seen modelled and lived out as it is taught.