North American

Discipleship in a Fragmented World

Today, more than ever, believers are looking for ways to hold their fragmented lives together and remain faithful to God. “Our lives are lived piecemeal, not whole,” writes Jonathan R. Wilson. “The disagreements that we have are difficult to resolve because we cannot locate them within some coherent position or community. We do not live in a world filled with competing outlooks; we live in a world that has fallen apart.

Like our culture, the church is also fragmented. According to David Trim, Director of Archives, Statistics, and Research at the General Conference, 1 in 3 members have left the church in the last 50 years. Furthermore, the ratio of people lost versus new converts is 43 per 100. That’s approaching 50%!

If fragmentation is a description of our reality, then something is amiss in our daily experience of the church.

Photo: Pixabay

Why are people opting out? Apparently it has less to do with doctrinal disagreements than with helping people through life’s challenges. Marriages are falling apart; some are struggling to find work or cope with the loss of a loved one. Many are left feeling they lack a community that really cares about them in their everyday lives.

Adventists are good at preaching, baptizing, and teaching all that Jesus commanded as mandated by the Great Commission in Matthew 18. The tremendous worldwide growth of the church from a little group in the United States to a worldwide church of over 18 million members is proof of that. Where there is room for improvement, however, is in placing our preaching, baptizing, and teaching in the context of discipleship. Perhaps this is where part of the fragmentation problem resides: our lack of embodying who we are as disciples of the Lord Jesus, first and foremost.

Curiously, in the New Testament the word “Christian” is only mentioned 3 times, while the word “disciple” occurs over 300 times. A disciple is one whose primary goal is to apply the kingdom of God into every aspect of one’s life to become like Christ and help others. Being disciples overcomes our tendency to partition our days into the sacred and the secular.

If we look to the Gospels for a model of discipleship, we learn that Jesus did the calling and not the other way around. As educators we’re not called to draw a following to ourselves. We are to point people to Jesus through our actions and words. We have the profound opportunity to envelop our students into a community of discipleship, where real problems in real life are addressed together, and where people are treated not as they are but as who they can become as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Additional Resources:
Report on Church Retention
Genuine Discipleship Empowered by Acceptance


Note: Article written and posted in English

Erik Carter

Erik C. Carter, DMin, PhD, is the Chair of Relational Studies and an Assistant Professor of Religion in the Loma Linda University School of Religion.

Latest posts by Erik Carter (see all)


  • | 10 months ago

    Your perspective is appreciated, Erik. Lived faith is foundational. What are possible indicators of a community of discipleship in a Loma Linda class you teach? What words or actions have helped facilitate students perceptions of a teacher who sees students as they might become as a disciple of Christ?

    • | 9 months ago

      Hi Glynis. Thanks for your kind words and more importantly your questions. One indicator of a community of discipleship among students in my classes at Loma Linda University include a growing openness and respect for those different than themselves. By modeling this in my words, body language, and pedagogy I find this has resulted in students being shaped by the ‘other.’ I also try and expose my students to various religious perspectives related to the subject matter through real life interactions with practitioners. Discipleship (and Christian education for that matter) are not just about what you learn, but also about who you learn with.

Leave a Comment

We welcome and encourage constructive, respectful and relevant comments. We reserve the right to approve comments and will not be able to respond to inquiries about deleted comments. By commenting, you agree to our comment guidelines.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *