As part of our Renewal process at First St Johns, we have decided to make a concentrated effort in terms of modeling, teaching and living discipleship. One of the big things that we have identified in terms of discipling is that we all have to be much better equipped, we have to be much more outwardly focused and we have to recognize that we are in a very different world. Most of us would agree that we are in a “post-Christian” society. Where before the fundamentals of Christianity, church, worship were assumed to be almost universal, that is not the case in this day and age. I was not raised a Christian and I had to “learn” church as an unchurched person.
We may not like it, but as the church is different from what it was 500 years ago and 2,000 years ago, it will be different in the not too distant future. If anything, it will resemble the Acts Church more than anything we have been familiar with. As the Acts church grew in the midst of pagans and philosophies of all types, we see that all around us now. It has been my experience and I genuinely feel a leading of the Holy Spirit that if anything, the church will become much more liturgical, much more of an anchor in the storm vs what seems to be now at full sail in a storm. When a storm came up a ship’s crew would be desperate to quickly “reef” the sails. Three reasons: It would improve the ships stability, if the ship took a heavy wave midships and wind at the same time it might be enough to push it over. Second, it would be difficult enough to maintain a course or try to maintain a position without the sails, reefing would help the ship to maintain a position. Third if the wind tore up the sails, the ship’s main means of propulsion would be gone.
More and more I hear people saying that the church has to return to its roots, that the storm has been brewing and is about to be upon us. We need to be as solid as possible in the midst of the storm. More and more people are realizing the lack of stability in their lives. Government that can’t live up to its promises. Most people in the younger generations come from broken homes; stability at home is rare and very disabling at so many levels. They are moving into an economy that if you can get a job you are doing well, counting on that job being there too long is not realistic. So even while they are employed they are on the lookout for their next job. They are realizing that the that was focused on “entertainment”, on making people feel comfortable, is not realistic. The mega-churches are seeing that, they’ve focused on the unrealistic and when people encounter the trials and tragedies they realize they are not prepared, when this happens (not if). Who do they blame? Sure their unstable upbringings, their unstable income prospects, the instability of the all sorts of institutions, up to and including the church. There were more Christian martyrs in the twentieth century then in all history combined. Yet the places that are primarily responsible for Christian persecution and martyrdom are the places that have seen the fastest growth in Christianity. Those places are, primarily, Africa and Asia. Latin America has also seen substantial growth, not because of persecution, but much of Latin America still struggles with serious economic hardship as do Africa and Asia. The areas where Christianity has at least plateaued and even declined, significantly, North America and Europe. We are comfortable, we don’t need the church, the church doesn’t deal with the realities of contemporary life, too much of church even at the adult level, is really only advanced Sunday school and when (not if) the trials and tribulations of life come along, the people in the pews aren’t equipped to handle them in a discipling way. Church is seen as heavy on platitudes and pleasure and not as a place that is supposed to instill trust and faith in God’s plan for our lives. We have promises, but it is of some vague ethereal place that when we talk about it is rather boring, there is no promise, hope and faith in Christ. We read the Bible stories, but we really don’t take them seriously, we are Americans, nothing threatens us, until it does and then it’s too late. The church can step in, but is not taken seriously. We as pastors are patronized, endured and then hurriedly sent on our way. Why? We never gave any hope, promise, faith before, how are we supposed to do it in the few hours before a funeral, an operation, a difficult childbirth, job loss, home loss, on and on.
This is where discipleship comes in. We are finishing a Bible study on the Book of Judges. When was the last time you did a study on Judges? There are a lot of creepy, gritty, nasty books in the Bible, but Judges has to rank at or near the top. (Always cracks me up when people say they don’t read the Bible because it’s boring. Just another example of the failure of the church.) That’s not a bad thing, the Bible is describing real life. Remember the repeated line in Judges: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17 and again in 21) The whole point to the book of Judges was how Israel would be in right relationship with God and then would decide to do it their own way and God would give them a smack down. Judges is then, what contemporary America is.
Bet you didn’t know there were two Micahs in the Bible? One of the minor prophets and also in Judges 17. I will give you a brief buzz through about Micah: He took a lot of silver from his mother to make an idol. He decided to make a Levite his resident priest and actually ordained him (Jud 17:12). A bunch of Danites came, took his priest, took his stuff which consisted of “ephod, household gods, a carved image, and a metal image”, none of which (priest included) Micah had any business having in his house. But since everyone did what was right in their own eyes, Micah went ahead and set up the quasi church of Micah.
So, as for me and my house, we are going back to “classical worship”, something that does resonate today, something that does have a feeling of stability, of true worship versus entertainment, it is not meant for “itching ears” (1 Timothy4:3 “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,”
…hmmm sounds like Micah.
This is where discipleship comes in, why we do what we do, in his book “Building a Discipling Culture”, Mike Breen observes: “The problem is that most of us have been educated and trained to build, serve and lead the organization of the church. Most of us have actually never been trained to make disciples. Seminary degrees, church classes and training seminars teach us to grow our volunteer base, form system and organizational structures or preach sermons on Sunday mornings and assimilate newcomers from the Sunday service. As we look around, as Christendom is crumbling and the landscape of the church is forever changed, a stark revelation emerges: Most of us have been trained and educated for a world that no longer exists.” (Truth be told, we weren’t trained in seminary or anywhere else to grow, form or assimilate, heck that would at least be some semblance of discipling – Driskell)
Breen goes on to say: “If you make disciples, you always get the church . But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples.” Hmmmm, wasn’t that the way the Christian church started?
So the question is how to do that? Not with programs, not with show, not with entertainment, but getting people to sit down (whether they are 8 or 80), getting a good curriculum, Breen’s book was recommended by Dr Seaman, and starting from scratch. I’m here to tell you that the few churches I’ve been in there were people there who thought they knew everything they needed to, but upon closer questioning, it was obvious they had no idea. So don’t let anyone tell you they don’t need this, we all need it (yes even you and I fellow pastor). We are called to be disciples of Christ, you, me, everyone in those pews. The pastor has particular responsibility because as Paul wrote to the Ephesians (4:11-13) “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” This is our responsibility as pastors and I can tell you, that we are not measuring up to this call. We are called to equip the saints, not entertain and amuse the audience. Our Renewal Team is all excited and charged to start two small groups of discipling. We have been wrestling with this, praying over this, studying, journaling and we feel we have a firm basis. We have to make disciples to build/restore/renew/grow the church, otherwise “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.” (Matt 7:26)