It is too easy to be a “Christian” these days, but Jesus did not make it look easy for a person to be a disciple. On the other hand, it is very difficult to start a church today, Jesus did not leave many instructions about how churches work. This mistaken set of values in our day is why disciple making has become a lost art.
Let me illustrate with two guys: Bobby and Buddy.
Bobby grew up in church. He sings well, he was a top Bible quizzer, and he can preach—well at least he is good at repeating some sermons he heard at camp meeting. The people love it.
Since he was a child, Bobby has heard people praise him for looking like a little preacher. He has a hankie in his coat pocket that matches his tie. He carries a Thompson Chain Study Bible signed by every preacher he’s ever met.
Bobby struggles to talk to people at work. He’s invited several to church. He has even gone on incognito missions before, leaving the church’s business card on tables in the break room. Other than the Baptist guy who likes to argue with him about one point of doctrine or another, Bobby has only gotten a couple people to visit his church. They never came back.
Buddy, however, is new to the church. He’s a nice guy, but his eyes are a little too close together. He has this thing he does with his neck—kind of a nervous tic thing. Buddy is so new to the faith that he gets confused between Corinthians and Chronicles.
But Buddy has met Jesus. A girl at college sat down and told him about the Lord one day. He wanted to know more. He came to a revival service and got filled with the Spirit. Since then, Buddy has been on fire for Jesus.
Buddy cannot sing. He can’t even clap on beat. On a Wednesday night, he was asked to share his testimony but he got to shaking so badly, he sat down. Crowds scare Buddy. Nobody at church knows who he is really—except maybe the ushers. They have been keeping the second row open for him because he always shows up with 5 or 6 others.
Buddy cannot stop talking about what Jesus did for him. After talking with his roommate for hours, he prayed with him. Buddy’s roommate was filled with the Spirit, speaking in tongues right in their dorm room. He hasn’t come to church yet, but he has pulled a few other friends together to listen to Buddy talk about Jesus.
If you mention to Buddy that he should become a pastor someday, his eyes widen and says “No way!” If you mention to Bobby that he should become a pastor someday, he nods and says, “Yes, I think I will.” And why not? He is engaged to the pastor’s daughter, so the odds are good.
What we value and celebrate
Someone said we are guilty of making Church-disciples rather than Jesus-disciples. We have emphasized certain things so much that we celebrate behaviors and physical image over the actual work of leading people to the Master. If your hair is clean, you smell good, and you arrive on time with a Bible under your arm (or iPad with the Logos app), you will fit in most churches. You’ll get extra points if you sing in harmony and shout “Amen” during the preaching. None of those things build the Kingdom, though.
Buddy has quit smoking. Buddy’s old friends have noticed that he does not go out with them on the weekends. He prayed with one of his teachers who was undergoing treatment for lung cancer. The doctor says they cannot find any trace of it now. Buddy still can’t find the book of Philemon without help. His mom just asked if she could go to his church this week.
Who will probably be the churches next youth pastor? Bobby. Whom would Jesus call a disciple? Buddy. Who will probably become the next pastor of the church? Bobby. Who will have great reward in heaven? Buddy.
Do you see how we have exalted the mechanism rather than the disciple? I have noticed that when I talk to people about going into the ministry or starting a church, it seems like too big of a job for most to comprehend. “I could never plant a new church,” most believers would say. Yet Jesus sent His disciples out into the communities to do just that.
How to regain the right focus
To Jesus “starting a church” was not an elaborate deal that required a sound system, keyboard, carpet, padded chairs, projector, and colored lights. He focused more on “starting disciples.” He said being a disciple of His was not for everyone. Rather than focusing on the institution, He focused on the personnel.
To be a disciple of Jesus required great sacrifice (leaving all), prayer, fasting, strong moral commitment, putting Jesus as the new focus in life, and an unending role of telling others about Him. It seems that many today do not emphasize the challenge of being a disciple. We don’t want to scare anyone away, so we let anyone onboard, so to speak.
Because the Lord trained highly committed disciples who converted others to faith in Him, they went onto reach thousands. We try to attract hundreds of uncommitted church attenders and wonder why it is so hard to get the job done today. The call to make disciples is not a call to fill church buildings. The call to make disciples is not a celebration of those who learn the ropes of a church culture and can fit it.
Disciples are daring. Disciples are committed. Disciples give up everything for the cause. Disciples count the cost before jumping into the mission. Disciples love Jesus more than anything and want to help others know Him, too.
What is your church celebrating? Have you exalted the institution instead of the disciple? Are you making disciples of Jesus or disciples of your church?