Most of you know I spend a great deal of time reading about “mission,” what with being a Mission Pastor & all. On Mondays, I try to get your thoughts going about stuff I read. Today’s thoughts come from an article on the Verge Network site (January, 2014) by Todd Engstrom titled How Not To Create A Missional Movement
The scene: A fraternity house. My room. Top bunk. Pillow against the wall. Book open.
The reason: An independent-study course called “Readings in Religion.” Everybody else picked C.S. Lewis. I chose Francis Schaeffer in large part because he’d recently passed away and Christian Book Distributors had his complete works on sale for a ridiculously low price. Notwithstanding the guy discipling me was trying to lobby me over to his Presbyterian theology.
The book: True Spirituality
There was an introduction in the book as to why the author decided to undertake such an audacious task as to define what “true spirituality” is and what characteristics define one. The crux of it was that he’d been a pastor for 10 years. He’d observed that the things the Bible clearly said should be true about the spiritual life weren’t true in his own life…
…or in the lives of the people he served.
Show of hands.
How many of you out there have noted the same thing?
You can put your hands down.
I realize it isn’t a new theme. Or even remotely original. I mean, Mark Twain has quotes about it. Eugene Peterson. C.S. Lewis. On and on that list goes. The first time I heard the quote that the “Church in America is a mile-wide and an inch deep” was in seminary when Prof Hendricks threw it out there…that was 25 years ago.
It was a desire to fix this that spurred my ministry. In my way of thinking, what “worked” with me was when people who loved Jesus built into my life, challenged me, pushed me, encouraged me, rebuked me as needed. I did the same thing when I discipled folks. As I see it, the stakes are too high and the rewards are too great to settle for anything less.
And when I looked around, I saw a lot of churches doing what the author of the article said he looked at regarding his own church…and you can hear the echos of all the great writers I listed earlier:
Where We Began
I think the biggest realization was that we were well on our way to repeating the cycle of almost every American church:
But we wanted more, just like you do.
Did you catch it? Immature disciples were the result…but folks want more.
That’s been my experience, too. I was one of the pastors of a growing church. Really growing. And we couldn’t figure out why, frankly. The building was much too small. Drab, even. No space for anything. A pastoral staff that had no real idea of how to run a church but a desire to make disciples so our “programming” was…
…shall we say…
Before I got there, they’d developed a clear vision, and communicated clearly the plan to get there. The idea they’d shaped was simply that every disciple would ultimately become a minister with a servant’s heart. There was an established methodology that everybody knew…and it began with a 16-week discipleship course that met on Tuesday nights for 3 hours each night.
People won’t commit to that in our culture, they said.
It’s too intense, they said.
People are too busy for committing to being a minister, they said.
And all sorts of reasons why it couldn’t be done were given. We were okay with that. This was who God was asking us to be in our community, frankly. Of that, we were certain. There were plenty of other good churches in our area doing what God was asking them. We truly couldn’t have cared less about numeric growth.
Which was weird when we had to establish waiting lists for that 16-week discipleship class. Which was weird when I had to write the curriculum for students and they even had a version of it for our children’s ministry.
Because we felt there was a market for folks that wanted “more.”
And you know, I still believe that. Folks want to have the things that Scripture says should be true in their lives about the abundant life in Christ and all that entails. They want their lives to have meaning and purpose. They may not know what they don’t know about what that will look like, but they know they want an authentic walk with Christ.
And when I was interviewing in 2012 with other churches, every single one of them said their church was two things: First, they all said they were “grace” oriented. Second, they all said they were an “Ephesians 4” church (meaning every member was using their gifts to help the Body mature). I discovered pretty quickly that you’d better get them to define what they meant by those…because I was pretty aware that my definitions of those things and their definitions of those things were often in two very different categories. See, churches have to say those things. It’s like a politician can’t say they’re against low taxes and education reform. It’s what they plan to do that defines precisely what they mean.
So, this is why I resonated with Engstrom’s quote in the article:
A healthy body is fed appropriately,
and challenged consistently.
Maturity and health don’t come from growing quickly. Maturity and health come from discipline incrementally over time.
Part of the way we failed in maturing our body was giving a simple set of exercises that we could stick to beyond church attendance. We had to teach consistently people A WAY TO read their Bibles, we had to teach consistently people A WAY TO repent of sin, and we had to teach people consistently A WAY TO share the gospel with real people.
For a church to be mature, we need to equip the saints in the gospel, yes, but also in simple practices. You can have a vision of being a church that makes Christ known, but without consistent, thoughtful training and discipline, all you have is an unrealized desire.
So, to get your brain engaged today…
…do you think people really do want “more” in regard to their spiritual life?
…do you see the majority of churches with a clear path to help create disciples who fully experience the abundant life?
…what steps do you think churches could do to help you with your growth in Christ?