Customarily a “State of the Union” address does two things:
First, it makes some poignant observations about where we’ve been in the past year. In our context: “Broadly, what did 2012 hold for evangelicalism?”
Second, it gives some ideas and pictures of the future. “What will this next year hold and where might we want to put our time, resources and energy?”
THE YEAR THAT WAS
To me, 2012 felt like an odd year for evangelicals. The phrase that keeps coming to my mind is, “All quiet on the Western front.”
We have come out of several years with quite a bit of public infighting within our tribe. There’s probably no need to highlight what these squabbles were and or the characters that made the most noise. Sufficed to say, they were loud, cantankerous, embarrassing (for us as evangelical Christians) and exhausting. My sense about this past year was that after several years of fighting within the family, many of these people/organizations appear to have collapsed in exhaustion.
Because there have been such vast measures of polarization I think people weren’t sure what to do next. As the dust settled, I have to wonder if people were left asking if anything was truly accomplished for all the contentious rhetoric. Are we more the “people of God” because of it?
Would the Kingdom of God more fully advance if we spent more time serving one another and less time labeling one another? It doesn’t mean that we should challenge ideas or push back ever; it means we probably need to change both the way and the tenor in which we do this. Christian brotherly/sisterly love comes to mind.
In that vein, this year was the slow emergence of a very important topic coming to the forefront: DISCIPLESHIP. Conferences like VERGE and Exponential announced themes that started to drift towards the all-important issue of how to start a discipling movement. Francis Chan and David Platt held a conference and released a book called Multiply (which has gone on to be a top seller). And I have to be honest: This truly excites me.
Because I believe it is the task of every Christian to make disciples who can make disciples. That’s the imperative of the Great Commission. You get a missional movement by starting a discipling movement. For too long we’ve had the missional conversation in lieu of the discipling conversation.
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However, my optimism is tempered by this reality: I think the emphasis on discipleship is only a phase. My observation is that in the evangelical world, there are three areas of focus that we have, settling on one to hang our hat on for a time.