Jul 15, 2013

Why the Church Exists Part 2: Make New Disciples

Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20).

The reason why the church is sent and told to "Go" to the people who need Jesus with the good news of Jesus Christ is so that the church can make new disciples of all nations.

Specifically, we are to baptize new disciples.

So how are our churches doing with the whole making new disciples thing?

If your church is anything like your typical mainline churches, it's not doing too well. Actually, most churches are tanking. In fact, in far too many cases we are burying more people than we are baptizing people. In too many of our churches we have way more funerals than adult baptisms.

Not good.

We can point to lots of busy bodies. Lots of programs. Plenty of facilities. Hundreds of millions of dollars spent. But the end result is still the same. We are failing in Christ's main mandate for the church.

Is the way we're currently doing church the best way, the most effective way to reach non-Christians? Is what we're currently doing the best way to make new disciples?

It doesn't take a seminary degree to figure out that what we're currently doing is not the best way to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. You don't have to be a genius to see that what we're currently doing as a church isn't the only way to do and be church. The numbers speak for themselves.

Here's the million dollar question? If this is not the most effective way to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ, why do we keep doing what we're doing?

Shouldn't we try something else? Shouldn't we try things that might actually produce better results?

With the exception of very few churches, churches that are growing are not growing because they are making new disciples, but most churches that are growing are growing because other churches are declining. Member transfers, church hoppers are the typical ways that churches are growing.

The thing is, when we get to heaven God will ask us, "Did you accomplish the main mission for which I created the church?"

One of our realities is that most of the churches in the United States are absolutely failing in making new disciples.

But here's the good news. We can change. We can start doing things differently.

In the book of Acts, we come across the burgeoning New Testament church. All the first Christians were Jews. When the first Christians said "church" everyone knew what church looked like. It was the gathered people around the word in the synagogue, and everyone who was part of that community was Jewish.

Just as when we say church, most people think about gathered church in the sanctuary and assume that's what a church looks like without even giving it a second thought, this is how the early church thought about church.

Of course church is the gathered Jewish community in the synagogue.

But in Acts 15, the early church did an amazing thing. They discerned that the new emerging gentile Christians did not have to do church in the way they've always done church in order to be a part of Christ's church. The early church leaders refused to force people to become like them in order for gentiles to be Christ-followers.

Could it be that the greatest gift that our church can offer the emerging church is the recognition that the new emerging church does not have to do church the way we've always done church in order to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?

Take a good look at the new testament church before Constantine. It was not clerically centered. It was not tied to a physical property.

They gathered around the word. They prayed. They shared a common meal. They served one another. They served and ministered in their communities.

Acts 15:19-20 says, "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood."

The early church leaders made a critical decision. They were going to do whatever it took, do everything in their power to reach those who are turning to God.

This was not a watering down of the gospel. Standards would not be compromised. But they were totally open to doing whatever it took to incarnate the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

Everything I have been trained to do is to grow and sustain the institutional church. Most of my time is spent to make sure we have a good Sunday experience.

But this Sunday experience has clearly shown that it is no longer helping us to accomplish our main mission of making new disciples.

So why do we keep doing what we're doing even when we know it no longer works?

Let me tell you a secret.

God loves the people around your church who don't know him. God already knows how best to reach them.

Our task is not to figure out best ways. God already knows.

Our primary task is to pray and ask God how he wants the church to love the people God already loves. And then when God tells us, go do that.

Go and make new disciples.

Go and do whatever it takes to make new disciples. 

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