Friday, February 03, 2006

church discipleship 101

The traditional model of church was making disciples but not reaching the lost. This begs the question, “Then was this model of church really ‘making disciples’?” But as long as the doctrine was right and the people were happy, it seemed no one was asking that question.

The baby-boomer model of church reaches the lost, but does not make disciples. This seems to beg the question, “Then is this model of church really ‘reaching’ the lost?” But as long as the numbers continue to grow and the parking lot is full, it seems no one is asking that question.

Is there a better way? it even the church’s job, as an institution, to reach the lost and make disciples? Is it the Christians' job, as individuals, to reach the lost and disciple those in their own lives, and the church’s job to support, teach, encourage, keep accountable, love, and provide a place for fellowship, communion, corporate worship and bible study for the Christians and those they are discipling?

Let me ask it another way: Did Paul and his companions start churches as institutions that ‘reach the lost’? Or did he and his companions reach the lost and then start a church as place of fellowship and community because he knew the Christian life shouldn’t and couldn’t be lived alone? Did he expect those he reached, through his life and message, to reach others through theirs? Or did he plant the church and tell the people, “Here you go. You work and keeping this thing up and running and it will do the work for you. Now, you’ll have to work hard at it and your work will keep you inside these four walls most of the time. But you just keep this thing going like a well-oiled machine and it will reach the lost and make disciples all by itself. If for some reason it doesn’t…don’t waste your time looking at your individual deficiencies, just continue to rework the machine until you get it up and running again.”?

I believe the wanna-be CEO-type pioneers in the baby-boomer church attempted to fix what was actually a deficiency in us, as individual Christians, by fixing the institution. The baby-boomer churches might be ‘reaching the lost’ on some level…but the Christians within them are not. Traditional churches were small and filled with people who didn’t ‘reach the lost’, and now they are big and filled with people who don’t ‘reach the lost’. So what? Am I to believe that just because the number of people who attend a Sunday morning service is bigger, that that church is doing anything right? I am not that naïve. All it really means is that the people in charge are cunning and strategic enough, with their borrowed systems and models, to figure out a way to get the people in their community to come to their church for one hour a week to be entertained, maybe even inspired.

Let’s play this thing out to the best possible scenario given the baby-boomer model. Some one comes to be entertained by the church. Maybe they hear the message of the gospel one week and want to join the church and become a Christian. So they do. Then they are told that the way of growth and deepening your faith is to join this class and then that class and then after that you can choose to either go to this other class or that other class. And maybe...eventually, they choose to join a small group that meets once a week. But through this whole process, no one person discipled them. No one person poured his or her own life into that person and loved them and cared for them. The institution did it all. And now that person has no clue how to disciple others. All they can say to their family and friends is, “you should come to my church.” Meaning: “I want you to become a follower of Jesus, but I have no clue how to help you, so come to my church and maybe they can help.”

Our medium has become their message.

This is horrible, sad, and frankly not biblical. And the way to fix it is not to rework the institutional machine. Let’s do away with the machine. The institution may be effective at putting butts in seats, it may even be effective in converting mass groups of people into the subculture of Christianity and membership within our institution. But at that point, a person’s sole worth becomes his or her ability to play a part in keeping the machine going.

One-on-one discipleship simply does not produce the numbers that the business-leadership books tell our churches we ought to be producing. It doesn’t produce churches that are as “impressive” as the ones we read about or see on T.V. It won’t get the Senior Minister a write-up in Time or People or even Christianity Today. It simply won’t ever be successful by worldly standards. Of course, it is in line with Scripture. It is the way Jesus discipled. It is the way the apostles, and pretty much everyone else we read about in the New Testament, became the men of faith they were. And it is always the way of humility, faithfulness and love. But you can’t put any of those things on a chart or spread sheet, can you? Success in those areas doesn’t impress your colleagues, does it? And you can’t really learn any of those from a book, or a conference, or…or an institution. The only way to really learn those things is through discipleship, through life. Which…by the way…is also the only real way to pass it on.

So... how do we begin to become the types of churches that are focused on true discipleship and not growth charts?

(And please don't say "We'll go start our own church and do things our own way." And then call it "church planting". Please...lets not do that too.)


Anonymous said...

Wow! I really like that. This is so true. I wish more people had your mind set. But what do we do from here? How can we change the direction of our churches without pushing the church planting movement?


Jake said...

I think this is what I've always liked about house churches. It seems to be made up of people, not an organization. So if people are coming to fellowship, it's because they have a relationship with someone in the group, not heard an add on the radio or saw a blurb in the paper. It's interesting that you bring up Jesus and his disciples. This was the SON OF GOD and he only discipled 12 people really. 12. That's it. If you were to ask John Maxwell or Jim Phillips, that probably wasn't enough.

bill said...

that is interesting, jake. only twelve people...huh. and derek, i can't answer that. i'm really asking the same question. i don't know that house churches are the answer. they contain a lot of good aspects, and some bad...just like everything else. all i know is that there has to be a better way.

Anonymous said...

Why don't we try 2 Timothy 2:2? by going out,finding and making disciples? Doesn't that sound familiar? By the way, Paul may have actually discipled less than 12.