There is an interesting article in the Summer 2006 publication of the United Methodist Men’s magazine. The heading of this article reads: “Nearly half of U.S. congregations did not receive a member by profession of faith.” Of course, the article is speaking only of United Methodist congregations, although I remember reading somewhere else that this is true for most Christian denominations. In this same article, it is reported that Bishop Michael Coyner, president of the General Board of Discipleship, told the Board that this situation, which is steadily growing worse, is causing all kinds of other problems, “including,” he said, “our ability to stand before God and say we are doing a good job in making disciples.”
I suspect the bishop is correct in saying this, and I fear that our own congregation is not doing too well either in terms of living up to our mission statement, i.e., Making Disciples for Jesus Christ. Although some of you may disagree, this isn’t just me talking. Our consultant, Tom Bandy said pretty much the same thing in his written report. Except for one adult baptism that I recall pastor Daniel performed last year, I do not think that we had any other new members by profession of faith. If this is a good measure of how well we are doing our mission, what then are we doing wrong? What should we be doing to make disciples?
It seems self-evident to me that, before we can make disciples, we must first be disciples ourselves. Scripture is pretty clear on what it means to be a disciple. In the Old Testament, MICAH 6:8 says, “The Lord has told you, human, what is good; He has told you what He wants from you: to do what is right to other people, love being kind to others, and live humbly, obeying your God.” In the New Testament, Jesus Himself tells us in MARK 8:34-35, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”
Hmmm… deny himself. OUCH!
Alright, let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that I do deny myself and that I do take up my cross daily. Although I admittedly have much room to grow in this regard, let’s say that I am a disciple, even if only a fledgling one. How do I begin making other disciples? What does the Bible say about this?
Well, the most obvious reference that I’ve found is in MATTHEW 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Go, therefore, and make disciples… baptizing them… teaching them. Hmmm… Sounds a lot like evangelism to me, something that most of us would say that we’re not very good at doing. Of course, we do have to leave the baptizing to our clergy, but the other we can do, we can teach. And what’s the best way to teach? Why, by example, of course.
Making disciples, I believe, is pretty much like assuming the responsibilities of being a parent. What I remember about that is this:
- Until they learn to feed themselves, we must make sure they are fed.
- We teach them how to feed themselves as soon as possible.
- If they get into trouble, we help them — even if it is inconvenient, because they are, after all, our top priority.
- We train them to do what they need to do.
- We teach them what we know.
- We protect them from danger until they can protect themselves.
- Last but most important, we spend time with them, because people do learn best by example.
Our goal, in making disciples, is to eventually reproduce ourselves, assuming, of course that we are already mature, adult disciples ourselves. We produce other believers who can stand, as we do, on our own, and reproduce themselves. Of course, few of us individually have the opportunity to be in such close relationships with others. We touch others briefly, then we go our separate ways. Few of us too ever get a chance to be involved in the whole process, or to even see the harvest. All we get to do is plant seeds here and there, cultivate the soil now and again, cast a little fertilizer or give a little drink. It does take a village, after all. And Church of the Disciple is a village.
Some so-called Evangelists seem to think that making disciples means imposing their “Christian” morality on others through legislation. But this, I believe, is wasting missional energy. Christ did not impose Himself on others. He was given all power to do so, was he not? But, instead, He used His energy to do good works, to teach, and show love and mercy. Then He gave His people a choice, clearly distinguishing between the secular and sacred in MATTHEW 22:21, saying, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and give to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus turned sadly away when others, such as in the story of the rich young ruler told in LUKE 18:18-23, found discipleship too much of a cross to bear.
May I suggest to you that, to be an effective maker of disciples at Church of the Disciple, you would do well to commit yourself in a ministry or mission cell group. An adult Sunday School class would be a good place to start. Other cell groups at the church include: the United Methodist Men, the United Methodist Women, Stephen Ministry, the Missions committee, the Worship committee, the Ushers, the Choir, etc. You will find like-thinking people in these cell groups, people who will minister to you and people to whom you can minister. Lovingly hold yourself and others accountable. Then, invite others into your group. Give them opportunities for service, and teach them all that you know. Together, ably led by our new pastor, the Reverend Dr. Ouida Lee, we can all grow in discipleship.
May the Lord Himself be with you as you live out your faith, denying yourself and taking up your cross daily, that you might bear much fruit in the process of making disciples.
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