All Christians are to grow to be like Jesus Christ in every way possible. This will put a heavy emphasis on the Christian formation. What I mean with Christian formation is holistic formation. Many times when people speak of ministry, the talk is basically about spiritual matter, and thus forgetting all other aspects that make human human. When I say “to grow to be like Jesus Christ”, I mean to grow in all aspects of our humanity to be like Jesus Christ in every way possible. The Bible mandates it. Both OT and NT speak of such holistic formation. The discipleship of all nations is particularly mentioned in Jesus’ commission of his apostles and has been handed down for centuries to all the followers of Jesus Christ. This discipling of all nations, in the sense of the holistic Christian formation, in my estimation, has not been done as well as it could be. Many churches are just at the elementary journey toward the fulfillment of this mandate, as commanded by Jesus in Matthew 28. The multi cultural initiative has just begun to be understood in the late twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty first century. However, the tight association with the ancestral ethnic culture is still strong in many churches. Now, the fear of accommodating people from different ethnic cultures is that the church would become impure and thus liberalized (in the sense of liberalism). This fear is not without historical proofs. But what Paul says in Galatians that now no more Greek nor Jew, no more masters nor slaves, males nor females, but all are one in Christ, must be taken into serious consideration in the ministry. I understand the deviation often associated with the Americanization or Postmodernization or whatever it may come later. This is the duty of the church to maintain the integrity of our faith and at the same time transforming the secular culture (to borrow from Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture classic).
For me, to fulfill Christ mandate to disciple all nations, requires all Christians to work very carefully, and keep the integrity of the faith and transformation of culture to work together in harmony. They are not antithesis to each other, but they are complementary to each other to work effectively. If the pendulum swings too much to either side, God’s church is working in disability mode. Maintaining the integrity of the faith without any attempt to transform culture would make God’s church non influential in the world he sent us in, and thus betraying his mandate. Attempting to transform culture by engaging culture very seriously but compromising our faith would in the end let God’s church to be conformed to the pattern of the world. I understand perfectly clear that this is by no means a simple and easy task. This is a very difficult task to do. But this is what we are called to do in his ministry.
In order to fulfill Jesus’ commission, it is important thus for us to strengthen all forts of God’s church with good holistic Christian formation. Practically, each Christian family unit must be prepared and equipped to be the pioneer in the holistic Christian formation. Each family is responsible to raise their children in the Lord as instructed by Paul in Ephesians 6. This family responsibility is practically difficult to keep up in most families, especially in this twenty first century. There are many problems circling this issue, one in particular is economic problem, which many times force both parents to work and thus let their kids to be raised in the daycare center of some sort. Other crucial problem is the growth of single parent family, which worsens the family responsibility in this area. Just by looking at this particular problem would get us a sense that God’s church and ministry needs a holistic approach.
The schooling mentality that has governed many people in the world poses a big challenge to God’s ministry. Christian Smith points out in Soul Searching and Souls in Transition that a lot of church people now treat Christian formation like school, in which one can graduate from it and be done with it. By no means such perspective is correct. Holistic Christian formation is for all Christians, and not only for children. Thus a truly holistic Christian formation curriculum that aims at the holistic growth of all Christians must be carefully designed and planned. If we are to do this, then all three contexts especially must be functioning well. The three contexts are: family, church, and schools. Not only each context must function well in itself, but they also must function well together. Together, the transformation of culture has a better chance of being achieved properly.
There are infinite numbers of practical things that can be done to fulfill Christ’ mandate of discipling all nations. I don’t have the space to discuss all the practical matters here. But every single ministry that we can do must be done effectively and integratively in order to achieve the goal of holistic Christian formation. Both inreach and outreach must be done in harmony for God’s people to obey Jesus’ commission. Proper use of spiritual gifts by God’s people must aim at the purpose set by God himself. The building up of the body of Christ, so God’s church may bring about shalom in his Kingdom, is basically the holistic Christian formation. As we all grow to be like Jesus, we will together live out God’s shalom in the world. When we do this effectively, God reclaims this world through us. This is the transformation of culture. This is the discipleship of all nations. All glory be for our God.