“I wonder how you would sum up the Christian situation in the world today. For me, it’s a strange, rather tragic, and disturbing paradox. On the one hand, in many parts of the world the church is growing by leaps and bounds. But on the other hand, throughout the church, superficiality is everywhere. That’s the paradox. Growth without depth. No doubt God is not pleased with superficial discipleship. The apostolic writers of the New Testament declare with one voice that God wants us to grow up and grow into maturity in Christ.”
John Stott (1999)
It has been almost 15 years since Randy and I heard John Stott speak those words in his keynote address to the International Consultation on Discipleship in Eastbourne, England. We continue to be gripped by Stott’s call to be a deepening influence in the life of the Church.
One is hard pressed to find a time in history when the Church has gone more places, has activated more efforts, has provided more resources, and has proclaimed the gospel more widely than the Church in North America over the past several decades. Yet there continues to rise from among all this activity a growing realization that we are just skimming across the surface. God’s Spirit is inviting us yet again to hear Paul’s words to that community of saints in Ephesus some two thousand years ago—“We must no longer be children…we must grow up in everyway…into Christ” (Ephesians 4).
What I do recognize now, much more confidently than I did in 1999, is the fundamental connection between depth and community. Genuine depth in the Christian life is never an “isolated” experience. To know and be known well by other men and women who are seeking to follow Jesus is absolutely critical to growing up into Christ. Spiritual friendship is not “a cherry on top of the Christian life,” but it is an essential condition to deepening lives and communities.
So Spirit of God, be generous among us; may our conversations and relationships and efforts together be a meaningful protest and challenge to a superficial and isolated way of life and ministry that pervades so much of our business-as-usual Church life. In Jesus name.