04 Obstacles



All audiences interviewed—Christian adults, church leaders, exemplars and educators—agree on the most significant barrier to spiritual growth: the general “busyness” of life. However, church leaders and Christian adults disagree substantially on the magnitude of this barrier. Specifically, 85 percent of church leaders say busyness is a major obstacle to discipleship, while only 22 percent of practicing Christians say the same. Leaders are also concerned about an overall lack of commitment to discipleship.

None of the barriers presented as options to Christians resonate as a major obstacle with more than one-quarter of respondents. This lack of concern about barriers to spiritual growth mirrors Christians’ overall satisfaction with “the basics”—that is, that attending worship services and spending time in prayer are the most helpful elements of their spiritual growth.

Further evidence of general spiritual apathy is the one in 10 selfidentified Christians who says their spiritual growth is “not too” or “not at all” important. Two-thirds of these say they are comfortable with where they are spiritually. There is simply no drive to prioritize spiritual growth.

Church leaders see a great number of obstacles to healthy discipleship in their churches. Senior pastors and discipleship leaders believe that personal issues such as sinful habits (70%), pride that inhibits teachability (70%) and a lack of supportive relationships (55%) are significant barriers. A lack of qualified and willing discipleship leaders is also a major obstacle (59%).

Exemplars cite similar barriers, which they variously describe as a self focused, consumerist approach to church; impatience, especially on the part of the disciple/younger Christian; and potential leaders feeling ill-equipped.

Few church leaders (18%) and practicing Christians (5%) cite a lack of resources as a major obstacle to spiritual growth. Exemplars go further, saying a process or format that is too prescriptive, or that takes up the time of leaders and members, are common and significant obstacles to effective discipleship.

Obstacles to
One-on-One Discipleship

Evidence of spiritual disengagement emerges again when considering the barriers to individual, one-on-one discipleship. When asked why they are not being discipled by another believer, three in 10 Christian adults say they simply have not thought about it (29%), and one in seven says no one has suggested it (14%). A significant minority has thought about a mentor relationship but do not think they need to be discipled by another person (25%).

On the other hand, among the eight in 10 who do not currently disciple someone else (81%), three in 10 do not feel qualified or equipped (30%). This underscores church leaders’ perceptions of a key barrier to discipleship: lack of qualified and willing “disciplers.” Additional obstacles mirror the disengaged perspective of those not currently discipling someone else: 23 percent have not thought about it and 20 percent say no one has suggested they mentor another person.

Church leaders say the top barriers to mature believers discipling younger believers are “too much busyness in their lives” (65%) and “lack of commitment” (41%). Thirty-nine percent say “feelings of inadequacy” also hinder potential discipleship leaders.

These perspectives confirm that, overall, there are no major structural barriers hindering participation in discipleship in the Church today. Rather, a lack of priority—on the part of Christians and of churches—has produced weak investment in spiritual growth. Aside from potential disciplers feeling ill-equipped—which could be a factor of self confidence or of training, both of which are surmountable—all other reasons for non-participation point to apathy.


The Spiritual Landscape
Has Changed

An Excerpt From So, What’s Your Point
By Fran Sciacca


I am a second-generation American, born of Sicilian immigrants. My grandparents’ names are in the records on Ellis Island a half mile from the Statue of Liberty. Emma Lazarus’s poem on the base of that statue is a historic invitation, especially to those who are poor and broken, that lies beneath our nation’s diversity.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Recently, there has been no end to the rhetoric and dialogue about quotas and qualifications for crossing our borders. But while all the talking was taking place, an amazing shift quietly occurred. America’s religious landscape shifted.

  • The percentage of Americans calling themselves “Christian” has fallen since 1990 from 86 percent to 76 percent.
  • Twenty-five percent of those aged eighteen and older have “no religious affiliation”; this number has doubled since those in this group were children.
  • Only four percent of eighteento twenty-five-year-olds listed “becoming more spiritual” as their most important goal in life.

Mark Silk, professor of religion and public life at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, puts it bluntly: “The real dirty little secret of religiosity in America is that there are so many people for whom spiritual interest, thinking about ultimate questions, is minimal.”

Unfortunately, since the Sixties collapsed, the American church has simultaneously withdrawn from the public square and created a caricature of Christianity that resembles biblical faith less and less. It’s not so much that U.S. Christianity is being secularized. Rather more subtly, Christianity is either degenerating or being displaced.

Without being simplistic, I think one can almost chart our migration from authenticity to paucity by decade.

In the church culture of the 1960s, “Christian” was an assumed synonym for “American.” Christianity and democracy were presumed to be inseparable. Most of us in the counterculture were, I suspect, some threat to the American way of life. But we were no threat to the gospel. I believe the church, as an institution, lost much of its credibility with the rising generation during the 1960s thanks to a perceived (or perhaps real) attitude of self-righteousness.

The 1970s seemed to be a decade of the church’s seeking to regain that lost credibility. It was a season of intense interest in apologetics and the Christian mind. Books by Francis Schaeffer, Os Guinness, Josh McDowell, James Warwick Montgomery, and others began to pour out of Christian publishing houses, demonstrating that a Christian can have a satisfied mind, not just a warm heart. But the decade was also a period of incredible accommodation to culture. There seemed to be a campaign to convince the watching world that they should take us seriously. This was a season when impressing the secular culture became the “point.” We quietly traded a distinct biblical identity as individuals, and corporately as a community of faith, for a subcultural one. We began to see ourselves in contrast to the culture instead of in comparison with Scripture.

It should come as no surprise that the 1980s could be characterized as a decade of Christian narcissism. This intense season of “focus” was, tragically, directed primarily toward ourselves. A 1980s edition of Current Christian Books listed nearly five hundred titles that began with How To. Books promising sexual fulfillment in marriage, foolproof parenting, success in business, and personal happiness were commonplace. Professional Christian counseling services sprang up everywhere, as we sought to find, nurture, and heal our inner selves. The consequences were numerous and significant, but one stands out among the rest: A near complete retreat from cultural influence and concern. But that would soon change, or at least an attempt would be made to do so.

The 1990s became a decade defined by our attempts to retrieve what secular culture had “stolen” from us. Thanks to the rhetoric of several prominent Christian leaders, we wound up being “at war” with the culture. Christian activism was the theme of radio and TV talk shows, conferences, and books. The clarion call was for us to reclaim what had been taken from us as Americans and as Christians.

When you’re wrapped up in yourself, you become a very small package indeed. Jesus said that the strong man’s house couldn’t be plundered unless he was tied up. I suspect that the plundering of “traditional values” happened because we were tied up—with our busyness. We were distracted, worshiping at the shrine of Self, in the name of Christ.

The thing that was relinquished during this period was a sense of mission. Those we found ourselves “at war” with were the very ones to whom we had been sent. The mandate to be ambassadors of Yahweh, committed to reconciling sinners, fell out of our spiritual backpack. In our zeal to heal ourselves, we had become poisoned by distraction. A commitment to issues replaced a burden for individuals. Politics had become more important than people. Leonard Sweet summarized our condition clearly: “The greatest sin of the Church today is not any sin of commission or sin of omission, but the sin of no mission.”

I am deeply encouraged by the rising number of churches planting other churches, and the growing sensitivity to the need to have a reason—a purpose—for existing. And in an America whose spiritual landscape has been reordered by religious diversity and atrophy, learning to think “missionally” might be a good thing. But if it turns out to be the next hot thing for God’s people, then being “missional” might be an attempt to fill a void within, not responding to a call from without.


FRAN SCIACCA is a veteran Bible teacher and author of over 30 books and Bible studies. He currently directs Hands of Hur (hands ofhur.org), a unique Bible teaching ministry whose vision is to revitalize and strengthen the leaders of existing ministries, especially those serving in a collegiate environment

Some content taken from SO, WHAT’S YOUR POINT? by Fran Sciacca.
Copyright © 2015. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved.

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