I preach 30-40 minutes every Sunday. I spend large swaths of my week preparing sermons that require mental focus for an extended period of time and I do not apologize. Over and over I find that people are able to engage for an extended sermon time so long as the message is passionate and engaging just like the Bible is.
Nevertheless, we know that attention spans are shortening. We can decry this and shake our fists at the things in our culture that are creating this reality (both of which I have done), but we cannot ignore the reality. People are increasingly less focused and more distracted, and yet the task to make disciples is as real today as it was when Jesus gave the Great Commission nearly 2000 years ago.
For that reason, we must work to do more with our discipleship than sit people down for an hour or two at a time and force-feed biblical application. If we are going to make disciples, we have to meet people where they are with content they can digest. We have to approach discipleship with a long-term approach and make it more snackable and stackable.
Snackable discipleship is that which can be consumed regularly in short bite-sized intervals. If we think of discipleship as information transfer and life-change, then how we get there to some degree should be of little concern. My wife makes a fantastic pound cake (though she doesn’t make it nearly often enough). When she makes it, I have intention of eating the whole thing, but I never do it in one sitting. The great thing about pound cake is it is good anytime. I eat it for a snack after dinner, I grab a small piece as I walk through the kitchen, or I heat it up and scramble eggs and make it my breakfast.
Same cake, lots of ways. In each of the scenarios above I spend different amounts of time with the cake. When I heat my poundcake, I don’t do it in a microwave. I brown it in a skillet with butter (that’s right, I fry poundcake the same way they do in heaven). It takes time, I’m careful with it and I’m intentional. When I grab it going through the kitchen I wrap it in a paper towel and eat it driving down the road. For dessert it’s usually a communal affair with the family.
No matter how I eat it, the cake has the same number of calories, I get the same nutritional value (or lack thereof). We need to create discipleship models that are snackable. Our culture increasingly consumes information this way–one click, one tweet, one snap at a time. If we are going to go into our culture and make disciples, we’ve got to speak their language. We have to create discipleship plans that allow people to snack on them in a variety of ways through personal relationships, technology, and the physical church building.
In addition to snackable, discipleship needs to be stackable. Rather than a random hodgepodge of content and options, discipleship models need to be created with content that works together, carefully constructing discipled followers of Jesus.
Often our churches approach discipleship with a shotgun approach and very few intentional goals. We offer a variety of classes and trainings with little thought as to how they all fit together to create a wholly discipled follower of Jesus. We must create discipleship plans for the twenty-first century that can be stacked together to create disciples, not just notches in a discipleship training belt.
The proof of a growing and maturing follower of Jesus is not notebook filled with completion certificates or diplomas on the wall. Evidence of one’s spiritual maturity is the life she lives. Growth in Christ must be measured in days and weeks, in actions and ministry rather than in classes and completed study guides.
How does the discipleship culture in your church encourage believers to participate in steps that help them to grow toward Christian maturity? How do you look at the whole person and design discipleship strategies that help people to develop into wholly discipled believers? Do you focus on the heart, mind and soul or just the mind? Do your discipleship strategies stack together so that the discipled mind is given opportunities to become a mobilized missionary or an intentional evangelist?
I like snacks that I can stack. Nilla wafers are good, but they are better with peanut butter. Peach cobbler is good, but better with vanilla ice cream. Even healthy snacks work this way. Celery with ranch please. You get the picture. We need discipleship that works the same way.
The times they are a changing, and we must change as well. Our goal is and always has been to honor Christ fully, but the ways that we will do that must change to fit our current cultural moment. Create opportunities for people to snack on discipleship–to consume it in smaller bites more regularly–and to stack up their discipleship so that they can grow as teachers, evangelists, parents, and pastors…
Jesus spent three years with his disciples. Sometimes his teaching was long and intense like the Sermon on the Mount. Other times, Jesus made use of quick object lessons. The apostles were constantly grazing over Jesus’s teaching (like a teenage boy in your kitchen), but Jesus was also intentionally stacking together his teaching and mentoring to make them into the catalytic leaders who would launch his church. At our church, we still have a ton of work to do to get our discipleship strategies more stackable and stackable, but we must be moving in this direction.