Chicken Little and the town crier are at it again. One is lamenting, the other celebrating the impending demise of the evangelical church in
Various talking heads, Christian or otherwise, offer their explanations. One will blame the failure of the right to elect a conservative president. The other will say that it’s that very connection to the right that has hurt the church. Maybe it’s our worship styles. Maybe it’s the economy. Spouting theories is easy. Diagnosing and solving the problem isn’t.
That said, we do need to take into consideration one probable cause of our current failure and a certain answer for our future: discipleship.
In an age where the church has been presented with unprecedented tools and models for evangelism, when some churches are pushing the edge and drawing tens of thousands every Sunday, we’re actually failing to evangelize biblically.
The Great Commission demands that Christians go and make disciples. Far too many of us stop there. We witness. They profess. They join. We move on. In my circle, evangelism has become little more than “dunk and done.” We get ’em baptized and then we go get more. That’s not the biblical evangelism. That’s spiritual scalp hunting.
Go back and read Matthew 28:19-20. Our Great Commission is to make disciples, not converts, not church members, but disciples, genuine followers of Christ. According to the rest of the passage that includes baptism but the task remains incomplete, if we fail to teach them all that Christ has commanded. You see, evangelism begins and ends with disciple making. That’s real evangelism.
The making of a disciple starts when we share our faith and they respond. Their response is the first step in the marathon we call Christian living. New converts must be trained – taught. They are to be shown the ropes and given the tools they need to succeed. Most aren’t. That’s our failure.
The statistics vary according to pollster but the conclusions are frighteningly similar. If we don’t disciple new converts intentionally, nearly half will be gone before their first Christian anniversary. In the front door to much celebration. Out the back door to our shame.
Why aren’t we discipling them? Where have we failed in our evangelism? Several factors go a long way toward explaining the problem:
Many in our churches aren’t disciples. Just as there are Monday morning quarterbacks, there are Sunday morning Christians. Get up. Get dressed. Grab the Bible. Do your duty. See you next week. There’s a reason our church rolls are filled with people we rarely, if ever, see. Our church rolls are bloated with non-believers in whom Christianity has never made a difference. We can’t expect them to be making disciples when they aren’t disciples themselves.
Many in our churches aren’t disciplined. It seems as though the vast majority of our church members fall into this category. They’re genuine believers. They love Jesus. They want to see people saved. They want to see the church grow. But, they’ve never grown themselves. They’re like the supposed avid golfer who has the best clubs, has taken all the lessons, and yet never plays the game. He’s not a player. He’s on the sidelines watching others. Far too many Christians haven’t disciplined themselves in the Christian life. They don’t read the Bible. They rarely pray except when they need something. They are spiritually out of shape and in no condition to train someone else.
Many in our churches have never been disciplined. Take an informal survey this coming Sunday. Ask around and find out how many people in your church were mentored or discipled by someone else other than a Sunday School teacher. My guess is that it won’t be many. That’s a problem. The Bible specifically tells us that the older generation should be training the younger. Parents are to be discipling their children. Yet, most aren’t. Our members can’t disciple others because they’ve never been discipled themselves.
Many in our churches need to be disciplined. In spite of the issues raised just now, most churches aren’t lacking qualified human resources to get the job done. Most churches have enough members to complete the task given, if only those so gifted would be obedient to Christ’s command. Instead, they sit back and wait for someone else to do the work. Instead, they stand against the wall and watch others struggle to get the work done. That’s a sin and that needs to be dealt with.
We don’t need to kick people out of church. We need to kick them into gear. We can do that with strong, biblical teaching. We can do that with love and encouragement. There are a lot of ways we can do it, but, whatever route we take, we need to be doing something. We need to be doing it now.
In the end, there’s a lot wrong in the modern church. The list would be long and damning. Yet, our biggest failure seems to be at the most basic level. We’re failing the Great Commission. We might be growing churches, we might be drawing large crowds in some places, but we’re not growing disciples of Christ.
For all of our problems, however, we need to remember there’s something very right in the church as well – we’ve got a Great Savior. That should be motivation enough to get out and do what He’s called us to do.
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About Peter Beck
Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
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