This morning, I saw the following on the top of my twitter feed. “Andy Bannister @andygbannister The church needs to be a place that makes disciples and not consumers.” I replied ” That’s a significant challenge, given its design.” I would like to take a moment to explain better, and to offer an alternative.
GotQuestions.org describes disciples as, ” By definition, a disciple is a follower, one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another. A Christian disciple is a person who accepts and assists in the spreading of the good news of Jesus Christ. Christian discipleship is the process by which disciples grow in the Lord Jesus Christ and are equipped by the Holy Spirit, who resides in our hearts, to overcome the pressures and trials of this present life and become more and more Christlike.” Read more here.
My concern for churches attempting to make modern day disciples revolves around the set up used for centuries. The vast majority of churches has a theatre style service where one person gives a lecture, often with entertaining stories, to share with a very silent congregation of hundreds, or even thousands. This mirrors how Jesus preached and shared the good news with the masses.
However, he used an entirely different approach to make disciples.
For that, he chose only a handful of men. He walked with them, talked with them, and lived with them for three years (IIRC). He answered their questions, challenged them in numerous ways, and demonstrated the love and truth of God right in front of them day in and day out. This contrasts with the typical church set up, which we have designed to dispense truth to masses in the most efficient way possible.
While I do not believe Jesus laid out the only method of teaching believers to become disciples, we learn a few things from these two different approaches. First, training to become a true disciple of Christ requires more than head knowledge of the scriptures, typically dispensed from the pulpit. It requires a hands on approach. Working in the ‘field of faith,’ so to speak, requires dirtying one’s hands. Jesus spent years living with the disciples to not just teach, but show them the ways of faith, hope and love.
Second, it requires teachers and followers willing to sacrifice much. Jesus spent three years of His life showing the love of God to His disciples. They gave up their jobs for the same amount of time to walk with him. Ultimately, He died for them on the cross. While I know most older folks could not give up their jobs, what can they give up to really live and show the love and truth of God, demonstrated through their own lives, to the next generation?
Third, those who wish to make disciples, and become disciples, must have a willingness to leave their comfort zone. Jesus and his disciples had no home during his ministry. Eleven of the twelve paid the ultimate price, following the way laid out by their master. To those who receive the high calling to make and become disciples, a high price must often be paid. Are you ready?
Finally, I must note that Jesus challenges us to “go out and make disciples” (Mat 28.19). This goes directly against the traditional approach of constructing a building to attract followers, in order to teach them from a sanctuary of sorts. This ties in somewhat to the point above, but, I do find it interesting that Jesus went out to find his disciples, rather than go to the local place of worship. In walking the streets of other countries, I can attest that a number of people will not even attend a traditional church service. We have to go out, and meet them where they live.
This is hardly an exhaustive list. A quick search on Amazon will reveal dozens of books written about this very subject. However, to return to our original point, I would assert that the traditional church approach might effective preach the truth to the masses, it does not do a great job in making disciples. If the church truly wishes to accept the calling of our Lord to “Go out and make disciples of all nations,” it will have to take a number of steps, and make sacrifices, outside of the traditional approach. I believe if we study the subject that even a cursory examination will reveal that in order for the church to truly disciple believers, it must step outside of its traditional modal, and take some bold, costly steps to engage believers where life and faith collide.