A: The answer is found in the question. It is possible to be alive and human but fail to develop. It is possible for a person to believe Jesus is Lord but they remain undeveloped and fail to attain their potential. Paul contrasted those who could only take "the milk of the Word" with those "who take the meat." None of us are saved because of our attainment; it is only by God's grace we are saved. At the same time, I must reflect on all of this a bit.
First, James, the brother of our Lord, clearly states that faith without accompanying works is dead (James 2:17). He also points out that even demons believe, but they have no relationship with Jesus. Jesus asks, "Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things I say" (Matthew 7:21). Although discipleship is not a work of merit that earns one God's favor, failure to grow (be a disciple) is a best an indication of a weak and sickly Christian and at worst an indication of unbelief. If, and I am not the judge, a failure to follow Jesus in a discipleship is an indication of unbelief then they may not be saved. You see, we include individuals in fellowship because the profess faith, profess repentance, and go into the baptistery. For all intents and purpose, we consider such people Christians and they enjoy all the blessings and privileges in God's household, the visible church. We cannot, however, see the heart. In the "Parable of the Tares," Jesus contrasted the genuine grain from the weeds that grew within it. A careful reading of that parable reveals that he is talking about the church, not the world. On that Day when he returns, the tares and wheat are separated. I suspect many Christians in name only to be separated from the genuine article. It is also possible that a few pseudo-disciples may join them. Genuine disciples, both mature and infants, will join those gathered around the Throne of God.
Second, our mistake is that we often do not expect nor do we challenge believers to be disciples. As a result, we get what we expect -- shallow believers at best and consumer Christians at worst. All too many congregations are satisfied with reaching but have no means of "teaching them to observe all things." Because rapid growth presents megachurches with a problem, they have sought to disciple through small groups. Small groups are wonderful for building relationships, providing support, and discussing application. George Barna, Gallup, and Robert Wuthnow all agree that small groups are ineffective at teaching content. Contemporary churches trumpet small groups from the pulpit, in brochures and church publications, and in their strategy sessions because such groups are a way to connect new members to the congregation. That's called assimilation, not Christian growth. What passes for the "maturity base path" in most rapidly growing churches is the old saw, "Read your Bible and pray."
What is the answer to this?
- Recognize that immature and stagnant Christians are not what they need to be.
- Present the fullness of the "Great Commission" in outreach recognizing the responsibility to not only "baptize" but "to teach them to observe all things."
- Utilize small groups for assimilation, relationship building, and biblical application.
- Develop, implement, and work a strategy for teaching biblical content and give it equal billing to other programming.
- Reduce the number of commitments members must make so they can focus on family, spiritual growth, and their work (see Randy Frazee's work at www.Pantego.org).
- Consider the development of a (shudder) Bible School. Yes, a Bible School, Sunday School, or other means where content can be taught.
- Start with a group of spiritually hungry people and spend 2-3 years teaching them content, application (both are necessary), and how to do what you are doing. Then send them out to begin growth groups of their own. This is biblical -- see 2 Timothy 2:2.
- Do something! Do something even if it doesn't work. Do something even if it takes time to get the ball rolling. Remember the adage: You will be frustrated by what little you seem to accomplish in one year, but you will be amazed at what you can do in five years. Just do something or admit that you are more interested in dipping than discipleship!