The Gospel is Boring

New City Catechism

From my experience with my local church as well as the prevailing sentiment from others I have spoken to, a big challenge that the Universal Church (or at the very least, protestants) faces right now is how to disciple people. Efforts tend to be intermittent or even haphazard as individual believers attempt to take seriously Jesus’ final commission to make disciples of all nations. When it comes to discipleship I’ve experienced a wide variety of definitions, opinions, and priorities over time. In my days with Cru (the US branch of Campus Crusade for Christ International) discipleship was largely seen as one-on-one mentoring with content that depended upon who was being discipled and who was discipling.

I spent a summer in Virginia Beach, VA where discipleship was a weekly, 2-hour meeting between myself and my mentor. The first hour he helped me think and pray through my own sin and sanctification while the second hour was spent walking the boardwalk sharing our faith with strangers. To others discipleship was functionally identical to a Bible study, wherein a leader led a group of 2-3 people through a Bible passage, culminating in some sort of personal application. “Discipleship is an umbrella term,” others have argued, “over Sunday worship services, Sunday School classes, small-group or one-on-one mentoring, and really anything in which people grow in their knowledge of the gospel.”  Discipleship is only for recent converts to “bootstrap” their knowledge of the Christian faith. Discipleship is not only for recent converts, but for each Christian for their whole lives.

So… what exactly is discipleship? One thing is for certain: it’s a pretty unsettled idea. For much of church history, however, it wasn’t so ambiguous (at least in my understanding). Discipleship meant participating in catechesis until confirmation when you had learned all that it meant to be a Christian. That made you a fully mature disciple, ready to participate in the church sacraments and take on the world for Jesus. To us Baptists, that much structure sounds positively stifling (“structure is fine for some people, but we like to be Spirit-led”). And to be fair I have met very few people who have been through a catechetical curriculum that have described it as fun or interesting. Usual descriptors include “boring,” “dry,” or “deadening.” The heart of catechism is a beautiful thing, namely that someone who comes to know Christ is privy to a systematic education of their new life in Christ. The reality of the beast is that it tends to be lifeless and meaningless to all but the most philosophical and abstract thinkers.

To be fully disclosed, I don’t come from a background in which catechism was used. I’ve only recently learned of it and begun exploring it after hearing of Tim Keller’s New City Catechism. I’ve wondered if this is something that might lend direction to our otherwise willy-nilly discipleship process, but I don’t feel like I really have an answer to the question of motivation. How am I supposed to convince a bunch of people that memorizing a bunch of theological questions and answers is worth their time? It would be interesting and engaging to those who already think theologically, but they’re not really the people who need it the most.

A month-long survey of friends, family, and Google revealed precious little about how to make the process engaging other than putting the questions and answers to music and singing them, largely because catechesis is seen as something for kids. For some reason I can’t really picture a group of college students digging that idea. The New City Catechism tries to be engaging by being hip. “You can download our iPad app! We’ve got HD videos on vimeo from big name people, prayers, scripture, and commentary supplements!” Some of that is definitely helpful and useful, but it all tends toward solitary use. I want to lead a group of adults through this. How are we going to do this together?

So if you’ve read this far, do you have any resources that I might benefit from? How do you do catechism well? How do we help people grow in Christ in such a way that they are enthralled and intrigued evermore by God rather than being bored out of their wits?

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