The Biggest Spiritual Need – Discipleship
If you missed the last blog, please click here and read it first. The last blog sets the tone for this one and the one to follow.
I want to start out with what I feel like is the biggest spiritual need in our area of Haiti. I know that some people will disagree with me, and that is ok because there is a good chance that I am wrong, but I do want to open up the conversation. In my opinion, the biggest spiritual need in our area of Haiti is DISCIPLESHIP. This may not be a huge shock because this is probably the biggest spiritual need in America and probably the second biggest around the world. However, I do feel like this need is exacerbated here for a variety of reasons and I will explain them in this blog. I also want to talk about some of the other spiritual needs that are here and why I believe that the need for discipleship outweighs each of these.
I will talk a little about what discipleship is and is not based on some things I have seen and done here in Haiti and in America. Before I do that, I want to make sure that it does not come across like I am bashing any of these things in and of themselves. In fact, each of these things are great supplements to a local church that is doing discipleship well in any country and in any context. The key principle for this post is this:
Discipleship has to be done on the local level by people who live and breathe the culture to be truly effective and sustainable!
The reason that I want to say this upfront is because I do not want to offend anyone who has done any of the things under the heading “Discipleship is not” because I believe each of these things can be incredible tools for local leadership. As we know, however, they are not discipleship. Discipleship is difficult, demands consistency, and must be accomplished in years rather than days, weeks, or months. With that said:
Discipleship is not:
- A gifted pastor who preaches well and has a lot of people who come to hear his sermon every Sunday. (this is more of an American trait than a Haitian trait, but it transcends culture to an extent)
- A packet of materials.
- A week-long conference.
- A kids’ club or VBS.
- A women’s seminar, men’s seminar, marriage seminar, or any other seminar.
I do not think any of us have confused these things for true discipleship, and the truth is, if you have done 1 or more of those things here in Haiti, they can be very useful in the right context. If any of you have been Christians for a long time, I am sure you have a story of that one camp or conference or seminar that was life changing and helped you to develop your relationship with Christ in a very meaningful way. I am sure Haitians have those stories too and I am sure many short-term teams have been used by GOD to be a part of these stories. However, we all know that these things are not the same as discipleship and this is not the correct formula for a follower of Christ to learn how to follow Christ for the long run. Each of these things are wonderful as a supplement to a local church or body of believers who are teaching their members what it means to be a Christian but discipleship is deeper than that and Discipleship has to be present for spiritual growth to take place!
Before I move forward by discussing what discipleship could and should be in our environment and culture (really any environment or culture to an extent), let me take some time to tell you why I believe discipleship is the greatest need in Haiti over some of the other contenders:
- Evangelism. While evangelism is a great need in many areas of the world, and is probably the greatest need for Christianity worldwide, in our context it is not even a close 5th! Haiti has been evangelized many times over. In fact, I would venture to guess that in the area that we live many people have “accepted Christ” on numerous occasions and just never knew what they were supposed to do next. In a country that is open to the Gospel, has more churches per capita than America, and has thousands of long-term and short-term missionaries in and out of the country on a monthly basis evangelism is not the problem. This does not mean that evangelism should stop, it does not mean that short term missions teams should stop evangelizing, and it does not mean that everyone in Haiti is a Christian. In fact, I know of many Haitian churches that do a wonderful job of evangelizing their own community and I know of many short term teams that have led people to Christ. But evangelism is definitely not Haiti’s biggest spiritual need.
Biblical Knowledge. From my experience and in my area of Haiti, this was a close second. I have heard many sermons, attended many churches, and sat in on a few Bible studies, and this is an area of true need. Biblical knowledge IS NOT the same as discipleship! I want to make that clear. To disciple someone, Biblical knowledge is necessary and Biblical teaching is a part of discipleship, but they are not the same thing. These are 4 of the major problems I have seen in regards to Biblical knowledge:
- The lack of formal education in general and specifically in theology for pastors.
- The fact that so many teams of people come down to teach Haitians different things about the Word of GOD that it is hard to tell what is right and what is not.
- The idea that, from my perspective, almost anyone can call themselves a pastor and this has led to there being more “pastors” in Haiti than any other profession.
- Commentaries and other Biblical study helpers are not readily available in Creole and are certainly not available like they are to us in the states.
The reason that Biblical knowledge is second instead of first, in my opinion, is because discipleship can and should lead to and help with Biblical knowledge.
- Worship. Most Haitian Christians know how to worship, end of story. In fact, it would probably be beneficial for a lot of our teams to have a Haitian lead a conference for them called, “How to Worship.”
- Church Growth. I feel like many of the Haitian church leaders I know have a healthy understanding of what church growth should be. They think about it and want their church to grow but the do not overemphasize it like many Americans have the tendency to do.
- Denominational Differences. I know that this is not completely correct and that there are definite denominational differences, but in my opinion denominations are not the same here as they are in America. Churches and leaders seem much more willing to work together and help each other cross-denominationally than I have ever seen in America.
With that said, I truly believe this is our biggest spiritual need, and since we have already talked about “what discipleship is not,” let me finish by stating what discipleship should be. It should be a small group of people who live in close proximity, deeply care about their own relationship with Christ, and commit to each other to take whatever steps necessary to grow in that relationship and to help each other do the same. There should be one leader of the group who has been discipled and has basic Biblical knowledge and a desire to see the other people in their group grow. As discipleship takes place, on a weekly basis, there should be a desire in the hearts of those involved to begin discipling other believers as well. This is one of the great things about discipleship in its purist form…it multiplies.
I understand that this is not a definition or true description of discipleship, just an outline of how it should happen. I also understand that what I am saying is that discipleship cannot be “farmed” out to short-term mission teams or entrusted to people who tend to move from one thing to the next without finishing what they started. I also understand that what I am describing will need to be carried out primarily by Haitians and will need to start at the pastoral level for it to really work. I also do not yet have a plan or really an idea of how All Things New will get involved in this aspect of life in Gressier, just a conviction that this is a great spiritual need and something that I believe GOD is calling us to. Here are some things that I believe have to be present to begin a discipleship movement:
- A spiritual leader who is respected in the community that can help get this movement started.
- Buy-in from local pastors and church leaders.
- Powerful and well-thought-out communication and teaching about why discipleship is important.
- A group of people who are willing to be discipled and in turn they commit to disciple others when they are ready.
With that said, if anyone has any wisdom, interest, or specific skill in this area, we would be happy to listen to your advice and expertise. Additionally, if you live in Haiti, are Haitian, or have spent significant time down here, I would be curious to hear your take on this. Like I said before, I could be completely wrong about what the biggest spiritual need is here and I would not mind hearing that. I just want to make sure that All Things New moves forward in areas where there are real needs and in areas where we can really help. I am not making these observations in a cavalier manner and I hope it does not come across like I know what discipleship should look like better than others. I have been thinking about these things and praying about them for quite a while and I believe that we will be read to try to help with this need in the near future.
Be sure to look for our next blog where I will describe what we feel like is the biggest physical need in our area of Haiti and some of the ways we are trying to help out!