I had not seen my granddaughter for a while because of my work schedule. A few days ago I got to see her and was delighted by the changes that had taken place since I last saw her. Imagine how surprised I would have been if she looked exactly as she did a few weeks ago (she will soon be 5 months old). I expected her to have grown and changed.
We expect children to grow and develop and we work to assist them in that development. But, too often in the church, we see people who do not seem to make any progress in their understanding or their practice of the Christian faith. And too often, we stand by and do nothing about it.
The writer of Hebrews lamented this very situation with some of his readers:
“Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.” – Hebrews 5:12–14 (CSB)
Those of us who consider ourselves church leaders should be aware of the need of ourselves and the people around us to be progressing toward maturity in our faith. It is our duty to put structure in place so that this comes about. Paul gives leaders a mission in his letter to the Ephesians:
“And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” – Ephesians 4:11–13 (CSB)
We can have some debate as to how to go about building people up in their faith, but there should be no debate as to whether it is necessary.
I understand the reluctance to implement a “check-in-the-box” discipleship system which may be better geared toward producing Pharisees than mature believers. I understand that “programs” may not produce the intended outcome.
But fear of a bad discipleship program does not relieve us of the responsibility to produce disciples. We cannot assume that because people listen to a sermon once a week that they are moving toward maturity.
Let me switch images as a final illustration. One thing that I have learned about gardening is that if I want particular plants to grow, there are things that need to be done to allow them to thrive. I need to pull weeds. I need to prune at the correct time. I need to make sure that the right nutrients are in the soil. I need to make sure they get the right amount of water.
To have a beautiful garden does not happen by accident. But if dandelions and thistles are your goal in gardening, then by all means stay in the La-Z-Boy.
Similarly, if we don’t care that the church should be all that Christ, her head, has called her to be then we can fill the pew on Sunday and go on our merry way.
But if we are truly church leaders, we must diligently seek God as to how to be intentional about producing disciples that are producing disciples. It won’t happen by accident.