http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=23749 Urgency of discipleship underscored at Ridgecrest By Andrea Higgins Aug 7, 2006 RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)--A "radical revolution" in discipleship training is needed, Avery Willis, creator of the “MasterLife” discipleship resources, said during the 2006 National Discipleship Conference. Discipleship is a relationship with God through Christ and a relationship with other people, said Willis, one of the featured speakers during the July 3-7 sessions at Ridgecrest LifeWay Conference Center in North Carolina. "If you just see it as a program or a course, then you don’t have real discipleship," said Willis, who retired in 2004 from the International Mission Board as senior vice president for overseas operations. "No wonder our churches, being led by undiscipled people, become stagnated and dead -- because they’ve never been introduced to discipleship, where the walk and the talk would match up," Willis said. “We’ve got to go back to the Bible and describe what a disciple is and not just ask folks to come make decisions or be baptized or become a member of a church, but to follow Christ,” he also said. “And then to say that means ‘deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow Me.’ “It must become a priority of the leadership of the church. It must become a priority of the church. The church is to make disciples. If your church were a factory what do you produce? You should be producing disciples. If you measure the disciples, you measure how good a factory you are. Or, are you going out of business?” Willis asked. Discipleship is on the decline, and many churches have just given up on a generation that doesn’t want to hear the "revolutionary message of Jesus Christ," Willis said, citing research indicating that the predominance of Christians are "babes in Christ." There is an encouraging side to that statistic, said Claude King, editor in chief of leadership and adult publishing at LifeWay Christian Resources. "Babes in Christ can be the most effective witnesses," said King, who authored LifeWay’s newest discipleship resource, “The Call to Follow Christ,” a seven-week study that outlines the six disciplines for new and growing believers. In Matthew 28, Jesus commissioned all disciples to reproduce themselves, said Jay Johnston, LifeWay director of FAITH/evangelism and discipleship. It is important to remember that Jesus never separated evangelism and discipleship, Johnston said. "I think the greatest failure we have in our churches is that we do not begin discipling when a person is saved," said Roy Edgemon, a former missionary and director of discipleship training for LifeWay. "They live without knowing their birthright. And their birthright is what they are in Christ," Edgemon said. "I believe when they begin to know Him and love Him ... everything else changes in their lives. But it begins with that new Christian." Bible scholar T.W. Hunt, author of “The Mind of Christ” discipleship resources, acknowledged that there is nothing easy about discipleship. "Discipleship takes time," Hunt said. "It’s not an easy road. It takes humility, self-sacrifice, placing the other person first. You will not become a disciple in one week." The original 12 disciples had trouble getting the most basic message Jesus taught, Hunt said. "They completely missed the point over and over again," but eventually understood, he said. "Our culture has become more and more self-centered. Our culture swamps us with personal desire," Hunt said. "This is why discipleship is failing. What matters is what position in the church I get, how big is my house or bank account." Reflecting the “desperate need of discipleship in our churches” are young people who see Christianity as "trendy," who are "spiritually passionate and biblically illiterate," said Ergun Caner, president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Va. "I think we’ve made a serious mistake in Christian discipleship in that we are assuming the stupidity of the members in our churches," Caner said. "We assume that the kids can’t study theology. If they can sing the doxology, they can learn theology. If they can memorize the words to 7,000 songs on their iPods, then certainly they can understand concepts that are far deeper than what we challenge them with." DON’T FUEL THE FIRE Conference instructors Steve and Diana Davis gave the "challenge of the buckets" in one of their seminars geared toward deacons. Deacons were required to carry two empty buckets -- one symbolizing inflammatory gasoline and the other soothing, fire-quenching water -- as a tangible reminder of their role in the church. "Their role is to preserve harmony and free the pastor up for problem-solving, not to add fuel to the fire," said Steve Davis, executive director of the Indiana Baptist State Convention. Walter Wold, chairman of the deacons at Shoal Creek Baptist Church in Burnsville, N.C., said the exercise, though it first seemed amusing, turned out to be right on target for church life today. "There’s a lot of turmoil because we’re building a new church. People don’t like change," Wold said. "The gas has always been what is prevalent everywhere I’ve been. That’s why I’m taking water back to my church. But I’ve also got firepower to take back with me -- lots of information," he said, hoping to ignite a passion for the Lord and discipleship. "This week has affirmed in my own life that not only as believers but as Southern Baptists we have neglected discipleship," said participant Rodney Lynch, an interim pastor from Danville, Ky. "We’re drawing crowds but we’re not really equipping people."