Syndicated columnist Terry Mattingly commented on findings by pollster George Gallup regarding the level of spiritual commitment in the United States. While interest in and verbal assent to belief in God and basic Christian moral principles remain high, genuine commitment to Christian principles is absent. George Barna has also pointed out the discrepancy between profession and practice. His reports show that everyday lifestyles of Christians differ little with those in the rest of society.
Is it simply a matter of practice not matching profession? I don't think so and neither does Mattingly. In his Scripps-Howard article, Mattingly cites Gallup as saying that pastors naively believe church members know and understand core doctrines. In a day when we are constantly reminded that "love unites and doctrine divides" that is not surprising. Today's church leaders are focused on relevance and "sound doctrine" and relevance are perceived to be at cross purposes. Those who feel this way fail to understand that "sound doctrine" provides a solid foundation upon which to base the rest of Christian teaching. How, for example, can you expect individuals to build a biblical marriage when they do not understand the doctrines of grace and forgiveness. The failure to help new believers to build a Christian worldview contributes to the shallow commitment to the church and to biblical principles.
Christian Churches and Churches of Christ have long been highly pragmatic. A swift scan of Restoration History, particularly in the last century, reveals the emphasis on a host of pragmatic programs designed to promote growth. It is no accident that Donald A. McGavran, the father of church growth, was an heir of the Restoration Movement. McGavran emphasized that scientific research would discover the best way to reach out to the lost. In the American culture, that meant providing practical support for those seeking successful marriages, successful careers, positive self-images, and more. Since the inception of the Church Growth Movement, Christian Churches and Churches of Christ have been one of the most successful movements in America. The New York Times reported that the Restoration Movement was the second fastest growing religious movement in the nation over the past decade. The success may be short-lived, however, if church leaders do not recognize that winning converts does not equal "making disciples." It is much easier to market to "consumers" than to "make disciples." The sad fact is that those won to a product leave when they think they've found a better product.
Many leaders believe the answer rests in small groups where members can interact, build relationships, and discuss Scripture. I am a firm believer in small groups, but small groups are not the place to teach foundational or core biblical truths. It is within the circle of a small group that individuals can discuss application, find accountability, and be shepherded. Sound doctrine will not be transmitted through discussion. When new believers discuss doctrinal matters the result is a pooling of ignorance or a synthesis of all they have been taught in the various religious and denominational bodies from which they came. Only those who know and understand sound doctrine should communicate sound doctrine. The Apostle Paul told Timothy, "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will be qualified to teach others" (2 Timothy 2:2).
Therefore, today's church leadership must discover a means to communicate not just a "needs based" message but also devise a method by which new believers may construct a solid biblical and doctrinal foundation.