“Go and make disciples of all nations…, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”
This well-known command is one that we all hail with the greatest enthusiasm. We teach it to leaders, we preach it from conference platforms, and we lay on our beds at night and quote it to ourselves to remind us of why we do this insane task of planting and/or leading churches.
But, the question is: How do we do this in a “First World Post Christendom Era?” How do we make disciples in a society where people actually don’t want to know Jesus, and many despise His name, the church, and all that He stands for. How do we reach a society that demands that we change our ways to become more “culturally relevant?” Even what I have written below is not sufficient. We will have to journey this road and find our way as The Holy Spirit leads. There is no “silver bullet”.
Society has become very effective in making disciples for itself. These disciples strongly oppose Jesus and His Kingdom ways. Sadly, many church leaders have agreed to shift their Kingdom stance in a desperate attempt to keep people in attendance. The moment you compromise on one truth, you compromise on others as well; maybe not today, but you soon will.
So we face this challenge in the 21st Century, of planting churches into a first world context with the echoes from the Christendom of the 80’s and 90’s sounding “success = numbers.”
I believe that everything healthy will grow. How fast? Well we don’t know. Tomato plants grow very quickly. Oak trees grow very slowly. Bamboo takes four years to grow the root only, then suddenly shoots up out the ground and within a year it has grown more than two meters. So we really don’t know how fast something will grow; we just know that if its healthy it will grow. Transfer growth is not the best measure, nor is it a true reflection of the leaders capacity. In today’s society people shift around from church to church like they would from coffee shop to coffee shop. If they flooded in because you were the next new thing they will soon flood out when the another new thing comes along.
We do need to realize that God is patient. I believe that in the early years of a church plant God hand picks individuals who will become part of the core of the church, using their gifts to build and serve the local community. I have certainly been blessed to have such people that God has sent us. These folk are ripe for making disciples of. They don’t come packaged, but they do come hungry and teachable. Its these people that we need to pour time into. Too often leaders or church planters will pour endless amounts of time into a Sunday service and the 30min sermon they will present to a crowd (I do believe that we need to prepare well for every message we share. But I also believe that if something is a revelation to us, it will be part of us, and we will be able to share it in any context with great anointing and fruitful outcome). In spending excessive amounts of time preparing for a two our service on a Sunday we leave very little time for “connecting within life” with these prospect disciples that God has trusted us with, and who will become the core of the community into the future.
The days of “build it and they will come” have ended. Let’s face fact here: in the Western World the unsaved people don’t want to come to your service. They don’t see the point. In some contexts, such as Australia, many Christians don’t want to come to your stuff. They have other things that capture their affection. Until a person is a devoted disciple you can expect nothing more. They will come to what they want to come to and when they want to come to it. There is nothing you can do about it, so we need to stop crying and wanting to quit on Monday. We have been placed into a society that is opposed to the gospel; this is why we here. And we have to do something about it.
In the words of Bill Johnson: “A transformed people will transform a city.” Great word Bill. Now as leaders and church planters we need to ask ourselves this serious question: Where are these transformed people who are going to transform cities? The simple answer is: we have to raise them up. We might have one or two, or we might have 12 within our congregation. But however many there are we need to get to the “disciple making” process as quickly as possible. It took Jesus three years to raise up twelve. Do we think we can raise up 60 to 100 in year. Our Sunday attendance might be 60 to 100 in a year, and we could stand back and be pleased with our success, but I can honestly tell you, those are not disciples. There are potential disciples in that crowd, but it’s up to us to develop them alongside Jesus.
Disciples are not made by processing them through a series of church courses or programmes. They are not created through Sunday services. In order to make disciples we need to be “doing life together.” Disciples are not disciples of us nor our churches; They are disciples of Jesus. I don’t want those I am trusted to disciple to wear chino pants with an untucked button up shirt, smart casual shoes, and carry a shoulder bag, with some highlights in their hair. They must not look aesthetically like us. They must look like Jesus. I know we know this stuff, and we will all say we are setting out to make them reflect Jesus; but look in the rows of chairs in your church, listen to the way people talk, and you will be surprised how many are “Sr Leader Disciples.”
It is true that people will model off us. But I want them to model off Jesus in me rather than me, my style and my quirks. If they model off Jesus in me they will retain their own style, gift, charisma, yet they will begin to shine life and light from within them that radiates what we see in the scriptures of who Jesus is.
It is now these disciples who will transform cities. They will go into the spheres of life they are placed in and they will reflect Christ. They will release Kingdom and they will shift atmospheres. Then the amazing will happen: They will draw people to Jesus and begin to make disciples of them. Some will draw many, others will draw one or two. It doesn’t matter how many each can draw in their capacity, as long as they are drawing them to Jesus and making them disciples of Jesus. Each devoted disciple will be one who releases heavens reality into his or her spheres of influence. This is how the church grows, both in number and in influence. This is what I believe Jesus meant when He said “I will build my church.” This model is unstoppable. It does not depend on where you meet, how you meet, when you meet, what your budget is, what your facilities are like, how fancy your pulpit looks, what courses or programmes you run. It is real!
People in the West are looking for something real. Reality TV has the highest ratings. Why? Because people are tired of scripted shows, they are boring and predictable once you reach season two. But reality is exciting, its diverse and its captivating. We, the church, Christians, we have the greatest reality of all. It’s time to show the world what this superior reality is all about.