I am constantly surprised by the tendency of churches to embrace what I call a method-du-jour mentality. The internet is full of apparently successful church leaders who are willing to provide instructions on how you can produce results similar to theirs.
Some church does something. It appears to be successful based on attendance numbers. Others then seek to find the method or program that was used to generate the good result. We shorten the sermon, use video feeds, turn up the music, redesign the décor, or hire consultants to try to produce similar results.
There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to attract large numbers. Jesus attracted crowds wherever he went.
There is also nothing inherently wrong with trying new things. Jesus, in the parable of the wine skins, reminds us that God’s work is new in every generation. Jesus did all sorts of new things like touching lepers, treating immoral people with respect and healing people on the Sabbath.
But the danger is that we can be so focused on methods and numbers that we lose sight of our mission. Our mission is to make disciples.
Perhaps at issue is how we define disciple. At its root, the word translated disciple means learner, or student. The disciple is one who learns from his master. A disciple is not one who makes a claim to be a follower Jesus. A disciple is one who actually follows Jesus and learns from him.
I am haunted by Jesus’ declaration in Matthew 7 that not everyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus is indeed a true follower. Jesus says:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)
Perhaps an analogy would be helpful here.
If a car manufacturer focuses on speed of production and number of cars produced and loses sight of the quality of those cars, that company will likely go out of business. It will go out of business because the buyers will get frustrated with the product and stop buying their cars. The board of directors for that company will be held responsible for the decline in quality and corresponding decline in sales.
In the same way, based on the Matthew 7 passage quoted above, I believe that Jesus will hold church leaders responsible for the quality of the disciples we claimed to produce in our ministries. When we stand before our Lord, we will have to answer for how many of those disciples are turned away because they were not true disciples.
There is nothing wrong with trying new methods if we remain firm in maintaining our goal of producing real disciples. To be a disciple is to be a learner. The learner must be taught.
Disciple making takes time. Disciple making takes commitment. Disciple making takes life-on-life contact.
The word rapid doesn’t apply here. So then, why are we enamored with churches that experience rapid growth?
Perhaps we have forgotten that the growth of the church is ultimately not our responsibility (see 1 Corinthians 3:6).