“While many Christians say they want to become more like Jesus, the Jesus they’re imagining is largely a modern […] religious and cultural construct.”
Preston Sprinkle doesn’t pull any punches in his latest book, Go: Returning Discipleship to the Front Lines of Faith. In a short book that is partly a review of a study by the Navigators into the state of American discipleship, and partly his thoughts on how the church can disciple people more effectively, Preston Sprinkle addresses a topic that Jesus made a central concern of the Christian faith in the Great Commission of Matthew 28.
I made notes on all nine chapters of Go because with every new page I was struck by something that challenged me, encouraged me, rebuked me, or made me pause for thought. I got on well with Preson’s evidence-based, direct approach as he drew on the results of the study and the pages of the Bible to add substance to what he was saying about Christian life.
The book starts off strongly, with a chapter on grace following the introduction. Preston goes so far as to say that it’s “fruitless to talk about discipleship without first talking about grace”, because otherwise we will get so caught up in our “fragile pursuit of God” that we will miss God’s “relentless pursuit” of us.
Following the opening chapter on grace, the other chapters focus on a range of discipleship-related issues such as the need for real relationships in the church, the importance of mission, the need for diversity in the body of Christ, and the complexity of the machine that we call church in the Western world.
Each of those chapters could probably be fleshed out into a book all on its own, and if I have to criticise something in the book, I guess I could say that, for those who are really challenged by what Preston is saying or find themselves disagreeing, they may find that some more exploration of the different topics useful.
For me, I’ve grown familiar with Preston’s thoughts on some of these topics recently through listening to his daily podcast, Theology in the Raw, so I was prepared for some of his more controversial arguments. I say controversial, because he’s not afraid to speak out against things that might be holding the Church back from real discipleship, even if they’re things that most of us would take for granted.
One of his main points of contention is that the Western world (he was talking about America, but I think this applies to some extent in the UK as well) has turned church into something that costs a lot of money to run. From professional sound systems to expensive buildings, he argues that the church spends a lot of money on ‘stuff’, rather than on the needs of the community around it, which is where the money goes in the New Testament.
As a small group leader in a big church (by UK standards), I’m in no position to do anything on a church-wide scale, but I can make a difference in the group that I lead. For me, this means that the chapters on relationship and community took on particular significance. I saw how important it is to realise that church isn’t just the Sunday service, or even just the service and the midweek small group – it’s also the natural friendships that Christians form with one another. Discipleship can happen just as much in a group of friends sharing a meal and talking openly about life as it can in a small group Bible study. In fact, we need those relationships or the organised stuff is going to feel hollow.
Go has something for everyone, whether you’re leading a church or you’ve only been a Christian a short time. The Western church is crying out for authentic discipleship to start taking it by storm, and I believe that it’s people like Preston who speak up about it that are going to encourage us to get up and go and make disciples.