Ruined for consumer Christianity
Discipleship training programs challenge students to examine their role in the Church
This story originally appeared as part of the Discipleship Training Focus section in the May print edition of ChristianWeek. View it here.
As students reflect back after a year in a discipleship training program, it’s easy to see how their experience has been life transforming. Their time spent in community living, surrounded by other believers studying God’s word and exploring His plan for their lives, is often filled with spiritual highs.
But after students graduate, the challenge becomes how to apply what was learned and effectively engage secular Canadian society as disciples of Christ.
“Integration of faith is a subject that comes up a lot,” says David Warkentin, director of the Praxis program at Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, B.C. “It’s about recognizing the role of faith outside your stereotypical spiritual practices, seeing that your career, family and everyday life are just as important a context for your faith to form who you are.”
Warkentin says they joke at the college that discipleship training “ruins you for a normal experience of church.” He explains that as students grow, they learn to recognize the factors impacting secular and Christian cultures and are challenged to not simply be consumers in the Church.
“The experience looks at your role. Rather than what you take from church, what do you give? We’re encouraging them to ask where they belong in a faith community. That’s where they experience some tension, in realizing that it calls for them to connect and get involved.”
Ryan McNamara, graduated from Emmanuel Bible College in 2008, and says his time at Emmanuel helped him place much higher value in engaging his local church.
“Since this program was so influential in my own life, part of my vision is to bring that experience to the local church. No matter what employment context I find myself in, I will always have a close relationship with a local church.”
Jesse Zak found his experience at Praxis caused him to re-evaluate his life goals. Initially he hoped to become an engineer and make money. Now he is looking into careers in counselling and social work.
“Coming into the program, I was more focused on my personal successes and what I wanted to do rather than what God wanted. Praxis taught me to focus on engaging communities around me. I’m hoping I can pursue something in youth work, maybe as a high school counsellor in a secular school. I feel I could connect with the students and be a good support.”
Joshua Wilhelm also found discipleship training pushed him in a new direction. Following the encouragement of one of his professors, Wilhelm is preparing to move across Canada to attend graduate school, and eventually hopes to serve as a pastor.
“My journey through Bible college has been incredibly transformative. I came to Emmanuel very insecure about myself and the Christian faith. Through both my studies and relationships with peers and staff, I have discovered a great deal. I am now graduating confident in who I am in Christ and in the power of the gospel to transform the world.”
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