Simple Discipleship: Grow Your Faith, Transform Your Community, by Dana Allin
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Tyndale Blog Tours. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
For a book with a title like this one, it’s not a very simple book. My own thoughts on this book and its efforts are somewhat mixed. For one, I really detest employee evaluations at work, and this particular book appears to think that adopting this particular mentality in the church for individualized feedback for members in congregations is a good and important way to build disciples. The author appears to be the sort of person who serves as a corporate consultant for churches and wishes churches to copy the behavior of contemporary corporate America. This is likely to be a hard sell among many members, myself included, and the author is wise to recognize this by pushing for it to be accepted by a small group of volunteers rather than being forced on a congregation as a whole. Despite all of this, though, the author is correct in noting that many churches do a poor job at discipling members due to the fact that their efforts are usually in messages or Bible studies aimed at a large audience rather than in individualized efforts.
After some introductory material, the author begins the book in the right place by looking at the essence of a disciple (1) and Jesus Christ as the great disciple maker (2). Obviously, Jesus Christ wasn’t doing 360º feedback with the obligatory self-flagellation for performance reviews that this book would seem to endorse coming from the corporate world. After this the author focuses on Gospel identity as the center of a disciple (3), along with various qualities of the heart and mind that serve as the character (4) and knowledge (5) of a disciple. The author spends a couple of chapters looking at the qualities of the hand in discussing the mission (6) and ministry (7) of a disciple after that before moving on to a discussion about the design of a personal plan for discipleship for each individual member (8). The author closes the main section of the book on discipling as being similar to coaching in the corporate and athletic worlds (9) before providing strategies and environments for discipleship (10). The book then closes with a conclusion, acknowledgements, and three appendices that provide a simple discipleship assessment, resources to aid in designing discipleship efforts, and sample designs for the feedback, as well as an offer to the reader to take the simple discipleship assessment for oneself.
Having taken the book’s assessment, it feels exactly like the sort of practice engaged in in the corporate world, and that is something I feel particularly negatively towards and I suspect many others will feel likewise. If you love your personal evaluation process at work, you will probably like this. Ultimately, this book does the right thing the wrong way. It is easy to see that the book’s approach is something that would be amenable to those who are corporate managers or executives, but it is difficult to feel that anyone who is sensitive to criticism or feels that the contemporary world is already a critical enough place is going to find much value or positivity in what this book has to offer. There is a great need for discipleship efforts to be improved, and this can only be done on an individual or small group effort where there is real trust. However, this book mistakes data that one can gather through answering assessment questions about others for the sort of relationship that can build together through trust, and it is the lack of trust and intimacy within groups and congregations that makes discipleship difficult in the contemporary world, and even more unlikely that the corporate mindset of this book will serve to bridge the gulf that results from the lack of trust between members and each other and members and church leadership, even in the Hellenistic churches this author is aiming this book at.