Churches ought to renew commitment to discipleship
February 7, 2006
A Methodist friend several years ago told me “you Baptists do a great job of bringing people in the front door of the church, but you let too many exit out the back.”
This honest observation reminded me that there are really two parts to the Great Commission: (1) Tell the world about Jesus and (2) train them to become disciples so that they can assist in the multi-faceted work of the kingdom and, thus, help them realize the true meaning of their temporary time here on earth.
At the heart of the confession to “love God and worship Him forever” is servanthood. But how can one become an effective servant if one has not been taught? This leads us to the subject of discipleship.
It wasn’t until I attended seminary later in life that I came face-to-face with the critical nature of discipleship. I was saved when I was eight years old, but as the years went by, I never felt like I was growing in the faith once for all delivered to the saints. How many other brothers and sisters in Christ feel the same way? I suspect, way too many. Bruce Morrison, director, Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Sunday School/discipleship ministry, addresses this critical matter in his first of what will be a monthly feature from now on in The Pathway. It is part of our increased effort to highlight the importance of effective discipleship among our congregations.
The church’s lack of discipleship training has resulted in two disastrous developments. The first is the increasing attacks upon the church from government and the courts. Unfortunately, the church should have seen it coming. Anytime man’s thirst for power is left unchecked by a theologically anemic church, it is a recipe for oppression. The church has been stripped of its authority in the eyes of earthly man, leaving people to seek answers from government or themselves.
This problem can be traced to the fact that the church has done a poor job of growing its members in the faith. Sadly, this has led to apathy outside – and within – the church and created a willingness to accept secular pagan rule. It has left the church weakened so that it cannot deal with immoral or unjust actions, thus failing to be the “salt” Christ called His church to be. Consequently, the church has lost its witness to unbelievers while causing disillusionment among the saints. The church’s lack of effective discipleship training has left it dangerously close to losing its ability to be a prophetic voice.
As for the second disastrous development, while evangelism, missions and church planting are all executed with the goal of leading the lost to Christ, ministry does not stop with one coming down the aisle in response to an invitation. Indeed that trip down the aisle carries with it a solemn commitment to God. While being born again comes through a supernatural process initiated by the Holy Spirit, regeneration is but a first step. Ecclesiastes 5:4 stresses the seriousness of making a commitment, or vow, to God. This must be taught to new believers. If the church continues to stumble in its role in the sanctification process, it does so at its own peril.
Where was the church’s prophetic voice when the Supreme Court ruled abortion-on-demand to be legal? No wonder the church in Missouri is being challenged over something as diabolical as cloning. And how many believers are wandering, wondering what it must mean to live a victorious, Holy Spirit-filled life?
This failure of the church to make disciples has always been a struggle. One only has to read the letters of the Apostle Paul to see how this has been a constant issue for the church. From a purely historic point of view, matters seemed to worsen as The Enlightenment, the 16 th century movement that would ultimately elevate science over faith and man over God, took hold. As the church tried to recover its place with the emergence of neo-orthodoxy or liberalism, it only exacerbated a growing lack of discipleship. This was fed by the growing acceptance that God’s Word contained errors and it caused the church, while still evangelizing, to fail in teaching believers a biblical worldview, which would help them understand and experience the “abundant life” to which Christ referred. Some observers have suggested that in some cases this has led to an unregenerate church. More recently, the lack of discipleship may have been the “switch” that ignited the “conservative resurgence” in the Southern Baptist Convention (a good thing) and has contributed to a steady decline in membership among Mainline Protestantism.
As Bruce points out in his column, discipleship is hard work. It requires passionate expository preaching from the pulpit – and more. It takes a commitment to organization, creativity and accountability. The Pathway is making a commitment to educate MBC churches about the importance of discipleship and it is our prayer that we will see a renewed commitment to excellence in this vital part of what it means to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.