Discipling in a Multicultural World

By A. Fernando
Wheaton, IL: Crossway (2019)

Kindle version, 309 pages


In Discipling in a Multicultural World, Ajith Fernando makes a valuable contribution to the theory and practice of discipleship, rooted in over forty years of multicultural discipleship experience. For 35 years, he served as the national director for Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka, and has since transitioned to being its teaching director. In his preface, Fernando explains that the purpose of this book is “to help nurture Christians to maturity and fruitfulness while taking into account an exciting challenge we face today. Many who come to Christ . . . may have different cultural backgrounds from those who disciple them” (p. 15).

Recognizing that “the exact way in which a person disciples varies according to the personality of the discipler, the personality and maturity of the disciple, and the context in which the discipling takes place,” he seeks “to give biblical principles about discipling and to present examples about how they apply in daily life and ministry” (p. 15). The book is divided into two parts. Part one introduces the concept of spiritual parenthood, which utilizes the biblical metaphor of being born again to explain discipling as “an affectionate relationship of caring between people who see themselves as having a parent-child relationship” (p. 27). Part two examines how Christians change, including three agents of change, three kinds of transformation, and the role of the discipler in the change process.

This book has several strengths worthy of consideration. First, it presents an accurate perspective on biblical discipleship derived from the Bible, instead of perspectives derived from other sources that use the Bible to support preconceived ideas. For example, while other books on discipleship seem to portray the process of discipleship as an end rather than a means to an end, Fernando insightfully identifies the goal of biblical discipling as being able to “present their disciples mature in Christ at . . . the second coming and its accompanying events” (p. 34). Second, it presents a realistic perspective on biblical discipleship. For example, it acknowledges the realities of insecurity, pride, and selfishness for both disciplers and disciples, the cost, consequences, and potential liabilities of commitment, and the spiritual risks involved in confronting demonic powers without adequate preparation. Third, it presents a shared perspective on biblical discipleship, not limited to Fernando’s own experience. He freely quotes from other books on discipleship when their content or manner of communicating an idea fits his topic well.

Fourth, it addresses the broad context of guilt-innocence cultures, shamehonor cultures, and fear-power cultures, and how the power of the Gospel can be sensitively communicated with disciples in each culture.

Through application, this book provides several practical suggestions for ministry, in general, and cross-cultural ministry, in particular. One suggestion is “to pass up what looks like wonderful opportunities for service so that we can have sufficient time for personal ministry” (p. 43). Another suggestion is to ensure that every member in one’s congregation is cared for by training people to share in the load of caring (p. 56). For those working within an honor/shame cultural paradigm, the author suggests contrasting honor lost with honor gained by following Christ. For those working within a power/fear cultural paradigm involving demonic attacks, he suggests alerting others to pray when you need it, spending much time in personal prayer beforehand, and having a dedicated team of people who pray for you regularly (p. 238). Finally, for those working within a guilt/innocence cultural paradigm, he provides a chronological approach to presenting Christian truth that can help disciples develop a Christian worldview (p. 273).

Because we live in an increasingly multicultural world, there are greater challenges when discipling others. Not only does Fernando address many of these challenges in this book, but he does so with a depth of spiritual insight that is enhanced by an Asian perspective on Western culture. Readers will discover the best ways to avoid burnout, the solution to leadership insecurity, and the key to empowering junior leadership. They will better understand the role of community in discipleship, the importance of communicating prophetic vision, and why a place of significance should not be confused with prominence. They will be better enabled to protect, warn, rebuke, and exhort with carefulness and tact. If implemented, the principles conveyed in this book can provide a holistic approach to ministry that can help disciplers and disciples alike. It is a must-read for those struggling to find balance in their personal life, those searching for effective ways of ministering crossculturally, or those who simply want to gain a fresh perspective on discipleship.

JONATHAN CHITWOOD is the pastor of the Window Rock and Kinlichee Seventh-day Adventist Churches and Production Coordinator for Diné Adventist Radio, Window Rock, Arizona, USA.

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