Despite the great flurry of activity that marks our local church gatherings, we quite often fail to produce disciples who make disciples. That is, while the heart of the church’s mission is to make disciples (Matt 28:16–20), the work of our churches and the individuals who comprise a local church usually reflect a number of other missions: “good” missions for sure, but not His mission. The problem is that if we are not doing His mission, then we have meandered from being His assembly to being another kind of assembly that places another’s glory above God’s.
In one sense, every church will struggle with this dilemma until the LORD returns. There are no perfect gatherings for Christ now, and there will not be any until the new heavens and the new earth when the whole creation will reflect God’s glory as the waters fill the sea. However, in another sense our current weakness at making disciples ushers in a new opportunity to reveal His unfading strength: to walk by faith and enshrine Jesus as our hero—to borrow David Prince’s phrase. We reveal Jesus as sufficient for today’s problems by obeying His Word to show that even today we trust what Christ has provided for us now and in the last day. It is, more specifically, an opportunity to walk in faith with Christ by quickly and thoroughly reforming our disciple making motives and methods to more biblical models.
Ironically, with the best of intentions our current approaches to disciple making have relied too heavily on programs and past routines that “worked” to make disciples. Churches operated on an assumption of an exterior Christian America that most everyone they discipled already knew the basics, those who did not could be quickly told the basics and that a “normalization” of behaviors probably marked one as a disciple. As long as people who appeared to be Christian by their actions filled our churches, we have usually accepted that they are being discipled in Christ. They gave money, sat in the pews, dressed nicely, said the right things and never complained with the way things were. However, many of them were dying from the inside out. Some were genuinely saved but had no way to grow in Christ. Many of these carried the weight of their failure to behave perfectly, stumbling into human sorrow. Others, however, were not saved at all. Many of these misunderstood the gospel for an emphasis on a list of behaviors that also allowed pride to fill them and to draw them away from life in Christ. That is, the real fruit of being a part of Christ is being discipled so that we might make disciples. And, it is missing.
How should a local church respond to such? We have only one option: we must bring the Word of God to bear on every part of our lives. That’s it, and yet it is so much more than any man or church can bear alone. Bringing God’s Word to bear on everything we are and do is, however, something that any believer and any local church can do in Christ.
This commitment begins with the pastors or elders of a local church. Why must a pastor intensify, multiply and apply his interactions with the Scripture privately and publically? It is because we cannot grow in Christ and position ourselves to make disciples unless we, too, are being discipled to make disciples. Our personal walk in the Word also connects to our public ministry as one of the many applications of a deep, private time with God. The private walk with God “invades” the public walk in the church and in the world.
If the people cannot see the pastor’s public ministry as modeling what it means to wrestle privately with the Scriptures, it will hinder his people from digging deep into the Scriptures. If he won’t do it, why should they? While a pastor can always find an incredible video study with deep insights into the Bible, the pastor is called to let his own study and life with God to be a chief mechanism to prompt his people to follow Jesus by the Word and the Spirit. That is, the people need to see the gospel lived out before their lives by their pastor more than they need a perfect video presentation. If a pastor does not push himself to study the Scriptures deeply, to pray intensely and to share the gospel daily, then he is hindering not only his own spiritual life but also the lives of those in his care. Disciple making depends on real people genuinely pouring themselves on their own into the actual Scriptures. It does not rely on having the latest Bible study video or glossy book series. The people need to be shown what walking in these disciplines look like so that they can put on such in their own lives.
The most central issue for reforming disciple making in my church is, therefore, to recognize that I must be in the constant mode of reforming myself according to the Scriptures by constantly seeking to obey Christ in the most central of spiritual disciplines: prayer, intense Bible reading, and disciple making. As I let Him change me, I prepare the way for Him to change them. I must deepen their dependence on Jesus, not on me. He must become more, and I must become less.
Here is how I how I have begun to reform my own disciple making so that as I am being discipled He may make disciples who make disciples one heart at a time.
- Protect my private time with God in the most central spiritual disciplines: prayer, intense Bible reading, and disciple making (including sharing the gospel to unbelievers).
- Preach, practice and train my wife and children in these spiritual disciplines, especially Bible teaching.
- Preach, practice and train the whole congregation in these spiritual disciplines, especially Bible teaching.
- Mentor another man privately in which I preach, practice and train him in these spiritual disciplines, especially Bible teaching.
- Repeat every day, always seeking to send disciples to make new disciples.
That is, the way to adjust to the changing world is to turn back to God’s unchanging truth. We respond to the troubles and treasures of our time with the timeless disciplines with which God has gifted His church. The Lord will work through the prayer of His people. He will bless the deep study of His Word by humbling us, and our God will not allow His Word to return void when we seek to disciple those whom he places in our lives. As we surrender more of our hearts to being discipled in Christ, we prepare for the making of disciples who make disciples for the glory of God in His Assembly on His mission.