Discipling in a Multicultural World | Book Review


The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16–20) commands Christ’s followers to “make disciples of all nations.” That discipleship has at least two basic components:conversion, symbolized by baptism, and change, realized through ever-increasing obedience to Christ’s commandments. Notice also its multicultural shape. Christ commands His followers to disciple “all nations,” which means “people groups,” not “nation-states.”

In Discipling in a Multicultural World, Ajith Fernando outlines “biblical principles about discipling” and presents “examples about how they apply in daily life and ministry.” Fernando is the former national director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka, which he now continues to serve as teaching director, and the author of seventeen books. This book is the fruit of mature biblical reflection and decades of practical ministry experience.

Fernando divides the book into two parts: “Introducing Spiritual Parenthood” and “How People Change.”

Part 1 uses the metaphor of spiritual parenting to describe discipleship, which he defines as “an affectionate relationship of caring between people who see themselves as having a parent-child relationship.”

Part of the genius of this metaphor is that it’s multiplicative. Consider what Paul wrote to Timothy: “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). As Fernando notes, “Four generations of Christians are mentioned here”: Paul, Timothy, reliable people, and others.

“Disciplers are servants of disciplees, doing all we can to help them grow and be fruitful.” –Ajith Fernando

The parenting metaphor also jibes well with the New Testament understanding of the community of believers as a spiritual family. This understanding cuts against the grain of both Western individualism and the familism of the developing World. “Many church communities [in the West] have diluted the biblical idea of the solidarity of the community and its importance in the life of a Christian,” Fernando writes. The challenge of discipleship in Western contexts involves, in part, incorporating individuals into the body of Christ.

By the same token, however, the familism pervasive in most traditional cultures, including that of the Bible, presents a different challenge. For many converts in Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim contexts especially, to become a Christian is a lonely experience because one is immediately cut off from one’s family and extended community. Fernando wisely notes that converts belong to “two families—their earthly family and the family of God.” Discipleship in such contexts requires a delicate balance between honoring one’s earthly family and ongoing membership in one’s spiritual family. Disciples in these contexts often experience suffering, persecution, and loss of honor — a pattern we also see in the New Testament. Fernando offers wise advice about how disciplers can help disciples navigate these negative experiences.

Drawing on the work of missiologist Paul Hiebert, Fernando identifies three kinds of transformation in Part 2, “How People Change”:

  1. cognitive transformation, where a person’s belief system changes;
  2. affective transformation, where we personally experience God; and
  3. evaluative transformation, where we evaluate the beliefs and practices of the prevailing culture.

He devotes the bulk of this part of the book to describing what the Bible says about these three kinds of transformation, highlighting the role of Scripture, prayer, the discernment of  right and wrong, and the experience of healing in the discipleship process.

Three chapters — 10, 11, and 12 — focus on right and wrong. “In the Bible and in today’s culture,” Fernando writes, “people respond to issues of right and wrong along three lines: (1) guilt and forgiveness, (2) honor and shame, and (3) fear/bondage and power/liberation. Although all three lines are present in every culture to a degree, Western culture typically follows the guilt/forgiveness line, while traditional cultures follow the other two.

In a multicultural world, disciplers must understand all three so they can help disciples make sense of Christian faith and practice in culturally adequate ways. While the entire book contains mature biblical reflection seasoned with practical ministry experience, these three chapters are the best part, in my opinion.

I close this review with two sentences from Fernando’s concluding paragraph. First, “Disciplers are servants of disciplees, doing all we can to help them grow and be fruitful.” This mindset is crucial, both to avoid authoritarian forms of discipling and to count discipling’s costs. Spiritual parenting, like parenting, isn’t easy.

Second, in light of that cost, Fernando prays: “In this busy world, may many Christians rise to pay the price of investing in people in this comprehensive way.”

Amen to that!

Book Reviewed
Ajith Fernando, Discipling in a Multicultural World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

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You Found Me | Book Review


When it comes to American churches, I have bad news, and I have good news.

Bad news first: Most churches in America are plateaued or declining, and fewer Americans self-identify as Christians. If you’re a pastor or church leader, you probably don’t need me to tell you these things, since the majority of you see it with your own eyes in your own churches and communities.

Now that you’re depressed, let me tell you the good news. The things happening inside your church and outside your church don’t have to remain that way. Plateau and decline are reversible, and people are winnable. The question pastors and other church leaders need to ask themselves is how these things can happen in their churches.

Rick Richardson’s You Found Me is a good place to start. Richardson is director of the Billy Graham Center Institute, the research arm of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College (Illinois), where he also serves as a professor of evangelism and leadership in the graduate school. His book draws on surveys of 2,000 unchurched people and 4,500 Christian congregations (including 1,500 churches with fewer than 250 in attendance) that BGCI conducted, as well as several smaller research projects.

Richardson divides You Found Me into three parts. In Part 1, “Recovering a Missional Imagination for the Unchurched in America,” he debunks common myths about unchurched America and shows “how unchurched nones, millennials, and irreligious are surprisingly open to Christian faith,” in the words of the book’s subtitle. To reach these people, a church needs to become a “conversion community,” that is, “a congregation that is seeing changed lives and growing primarily through reaching new people rather than by adding already churched people from some other congregation.”

In the BGCI surveys of American congregations, 10 percent are conversion communities. Richardson takes a close look at what sets those churches apart from others and articulates what he calls the Conversion Community Equation:

Missional Leaders + Missional Congregation = Conversion Community.

Part 2, “Developing Missional Leaders,” identifies what the pastor and other church leaders must do to help their churches become conversion communities. Essentially, it involves modeling evangelism in a way that others can imitate. This modeling is multiplicative, however. A pastor models evangelism to others, who in turn model it to still others, and so on.

Part 3, “Cultivating a Missional Congregation,” outlines a four-step process that characterizes conversion community churches. Such a church, Richardson writes, “clearly understood that it belonged to a specific community, which it blessed through service and outreach with the ultimate aim of bringing those in their community into the congregation as beloved children of God.” In other words: (1) belong, (2) bless, (3) bring, and (4) beloved. Interestingly, the “top predictive factor [research showed] was hospitality to the unchurched.” Richardson comments, “If there is a silver bullet, this is it.”

You Found Me is a hopeful, helpful book. It is hopeful because it paints a beautiful portrait of what churches in America could be. It is helpful because it shows the specific brushstrokes that make such a portrait possible. I encourage senior pastors, board members and leading volunteers to read this book. It includes questions at the end of each chapter to facilitate discussion. Additional downloadable resources are available at the publisher’s website here.

Book Reviewed
Rick Richardson, You Found Me: New Research on How Unchurched Nones, Millennials, and Irreligious Are Surprisingly Open to Christian Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com and is cross-posted here with permission.

How the Church Can Serve the City | Influence Podcast


On the Day of Pentecost, the first Christians preached the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Soon after, they also organized ministries to help the poor. This combination of evangelism and compassion is a biblical hallmark of Spirit-filled ministry. It’s also a template for action today.

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, George P. Wood, executive editor of Influencemagazine, interviews Dave Donaldson and Wendell Vinson about how the local church can serve the city through compassionate ministry.

Dave Donaldson and Wendell Vinson are editors of CityServe: Your Guide to Church-Based Compassion, just published by Salubris Resources. Donaldson is co-founder and chairman for CityServe International, whose visionis “to see the local church fulfill its calling to be a stronger catalyst for healthier communities and the restoration of broken lives.” Vinson is also co-founder of CityServe and pastor of Canyon Hills Church in Bakersfield, California.

Them | Book Review


Ben Sasse opens Them with a long epigraph from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America: “Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations.” Those associations were voluntary and pursued any number of ends, “religious, moral serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive,” among many others.

This tendency to associate was, according to Tocqueville, the genius of the American nation: “From that moment they [i.e., Americans] are no longer isolated men, but a power seen from afar.” Over the past few decades, however, this tendency has declined, leaving an epidemic of loneliness in its wake.

Part 1 of Sasse’s book details “the collapse of the local tribes that give us true, meaningful identity—family, workplace, and neighborhood.” Because people are social beings, they seek out connections with others. If no good options are available, they may turn to bad ones.

Part 2 examines the rise of what Sasse calls “anti-tribes,” in which “people are finding a perverse bond in at least sharing a common enemy.” These anti-tribes are characterized more by patterns of “news consumption” than by “political activism.” Expressed as an equation, Sasse’s argument is:

Loneliness + news cycle and social media = the mess we are in.

In Part 3, outlines a proposal for cleaning up our mess. Sasse is a conservative Republican senator from Nebraska, but his book is not about policy. It is, instead, about the habits of the heart needed to restore the healthy communities that give individual lives meaning. “Our world is nudging us toward rootlessness, when only a recovery of rootedness can heal us.”

In a time where politicians thrive on galvanizing the “base” to destroy the “other side,” Sasse’s call for less divisiveness and more unity is a welcome relief. To quote the final sentence of that Tocqueville epigraph: “If men are to remain civilized or to become so, the art of associating together must grow and improve.” Count Them as a step toward growth and improvement.

Book Reviewed
Ben Sasse, Them: Why We Hate Each Other—and How to Heal (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018).

P.S. If you liked my review, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon review page.

What Does Communion Look Like to You? (1 Corinthians 10:14-17)


In 1 Corinthians 10:14–22, Paul argues that Christians cannot participate in the Lord’s Supper and eat idol-food at religious feasts in pagan temples. Why? Because the former is “a participation in the blood [and body] of Christ,” while the latter makes the eaters “participants with demons.” This devotional will focus on the former. The next devotional will focus on the latter.

Regarding the Lord’s Supper, Paul writes:

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf (1 Corinthians 10:14–22)

What does the Lord’s Supper look like to you? If you have a Roman Catholic background, it looks like going forward to the altar and receiving a wafer and a sip of wine from a priest. If you have an evangelical Protestant or Pentecostal background, it looks like taking a cracker and a small plastic cup of grape juice from an aluminum tray that is being handed down the row. In both cases, the Lord’s Supper involves very little food and is a highly individualized act.

For Paul and the Corinthians, however, the Lord’s Supper is an entire meal shared by people around tables. The first Lord’s Supper was a Passover Jesus shared with his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion (Matthew 26:17–30, Mark 14:12–26, Luke 22:7–23). In 1 Corinthians 11:17–34, Paul chides the wealthy Corinthians for consuming the food before the poor Corinthians arrive at the meal. Their actions constitute “sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” The Lord’s Supper was one part of the rich common life of the early church

In Greek, the word for this common life is koinonia, which is variously translated as “fellowship” (Acts 2:42), “participation” (1 Corinthians 10:16), and “sharing in” (2 Corinthians 8:4). What is the basis of the Christian common life? Not family ties, for a person is Christian by conversion not birth. Not gender, ethnicity, or social class, for Christians are men and women, Jews and Gentiles, free people and slaves (Galatians 3:28). Not nationality and citizenship, for Christians have fellowship with one another across language and political barriers. Rather, the basis of the Christian common life is Jesus Christ himself. We are united “in the blood of Christ” and “in the body of Christ.” What unites Christians, in other words, is a common experience of salvation through that death of Jesus Christ that manifests itself in a koinonia of faith, crossing all boundary lines that divide people from one another—one in which the wealthy share their resources with the poor so that there may be no need among them.

Today, our practice of communion—the Lord’s Supper—is a pale reflection of the vibrant reality the New Testament church practiced. We eat our little cracker and drink our little grape juice and don’t interact with the needier members of our community, let alone share our resources with them.

Our practice of the Lord’s Supper isn’t a meal. It’s not even an appetizer. It could be so much more.

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