Thursday, September 23, 2004

A Question Answered

Q: Does this mean the Christian who is not a disciple is not saved?

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?

  1. Recognize that immature and stagnant Christians are not what they need to be.
  2. Present the fullness of the "Great Commission" in outreach recognizing the responsibility to not only "baptize" but "to teach them to observe all things."
  3. Utilize small groups for assimilation, relationship building, and biblical application.
  4. Develop, implement, and work a strategy for teaching biblical content and give it equal billing to other programming.
  5. 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
  6. Consider the development of a (shudder) Bible School. Yes, a Bible School, Sunday School, or other means where content can be taught.
  7. 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.
  8. 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!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Jesus Teaching

Discipleship more caught than taught

I once believed that the moment a person emerged from baptismal waters they were a disciple. I now understand that immersion on a profession of faith does not automatically make an individual a disciple. While all disciples are Christians, not all Christians are disciples.

Discipleship is a decision. Becoming a disciple means listening to the Teacher, emulating his life, and knowing and doing what is important to him. It is recognizing Jesus not only as Savior but as Lord.

The process of Discipleship -- and it is a process -- is one of growth in Christlikeness. There is no such thing as a stagnant or nongrowing disciple. Growth may be slow. Progress may falter from time to time, but in spite of setbacks and failures it is ever upward. Each day the disciple should be more transformed into the likeness of the Master.

How does an individual become a disciple? By faith one evidences complete confidence in the Master Teacher by reforming his life, acknowledging (confessing) the Sonship of Jesus, and enrolling in the school through baptism into Christ (Matthew 28:19-20). Arising from the baptismal waters, the disciple's schooling begins. In a university, a student may pay the matriculation fee and submit the necessary documents to enroll, but if he never attends class or fulfills the assignments he can hardly be called a student. A supposed believer who initiates a discipleship relationship with Jesus who refuses to learn and apply the Master's teachings can hardly be called a disciple. As Jesus said, "Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things I say?"

Many there are who enrolled in the school of Christ who refuse to study his text, heed his lessons, and fulfill the assignments.

Having said that, let me point out that when a church's leadership focuses more on methodology and technique than the Teacher and the text, something is wrong. Believers look to their leaders for examples of what it means to be a disciple. Where once ministers and church leaders centered ministry on biblical truth and sound doctrine, they today build on leadership styles and scientific church growth methodology. A desire to fulfill the Great Commission requires more than being seeker friendly and practical preaching. It means registering new students in the school of Christ. It means convincing those new students that it is important to study at the feet of Jesus. Jesus was more than conversant with God's Word, so should a disciple. Jesus not only lived the truth, he was the truth. Disciples need to live the truth as well. Just as the student rises no higher than his teacher, so the average church member becomes no more spiritual than those who lead.

I would call upon those who lead in Christ's body to study God's Word more than their books on leadership. I would challenge them to dig into the text more than they study demographics. I call upon them to preach more expository messages than topical tripe. I plead with them to restore sound doctrine drawn from God's Word than evangelical generalities that skirt biblical truth. I would call all of us back to God's Word rather than what works!