Up front I will admit that I am an Andy Stanley fan. I read everything he puts in print. I like the way he writes and I like the way he teaches. My wife is a Charles Stanley fan. Charles, Andy’s father, is pretty good too. But he is just a little too religious for me. Charles is Southern Baptist and one doesn’t have to listen to him more than ten minutes to figure that out. Andy comes across just as spiritual but somehow seems more real to me.
One of the things I like about Andy Stanley is that he thinks things through. He is probably not the smartest guy in the world, but he works things through to a logical conclusion and responses with some practical applications. I have been thinking about many of the same things he has been thinking about for several decades and haven’t managed to reach the conclusions he has. What he has to say really resonates with me. Like me, he is a funny guy who doesn’t take himself all that seriously but does take the things of God seriously. In his latest book, DEEP AND WIDE, he shares the results of years of research on what it takes to makes growing disciples instead of the needy church members we have been producing for several decades. It comes down to encouraging and providing the opportunities and conditions for several things to come together to produce a disciple. Those are:
· Practical Teaching
· Private Disciplines
· Personal Ministry
· Providential Relationships
· Pivotal Circumstances
As I think over this simple list I am struck at how poorly the church of my generation has done at providing these basic needs to new believers. First, let’s look at what we do provide new believers.
1. A church membership class. In these classes we teach new and prospective members how to be members. We talk about our denominational history and background. The unique beliefs of our church. How one goes about joining the church. Church governance. And we introduce the classes and Bible studies we offer. Unfortunately, Jesus didn’t command His church to make members. He told us to make disciples. It is my belief these are two very different things.
2. Sunday School. This concept is very different in different churches. Where I come from a Sunday school class is a group of people who gather each Sunday morning for less than an hour and attempt to grow as Christians by talking among themselves and studying whatever material happens to fall into their hands. The only thing systematic going on is that most Sunday school material is based on a trip through the Bible every three years. It is a rare adult class that uses such material.
3. Fellowship. Instead of deep and meaningful relationships where we can be transparent with each other and develop a safe place where we are free to practice accountability, we meet together for a few minutes on Sunday morning, chit chat about the local sport teams and how things are at work. Our relationships are shallow and we are completely alright with that.
4. Committees. If you are “super committed” you join a committee that has oversight of a part of the church structure. Some examples: Property; Personnel: Finance: Outreach: Evangelism: and the list gets longer as the church gets older. Committees, by definition, sit and talk. Unfortunately, rarely does much Kingdom work get done through a committee. It can happen, but not often. I have a poster that says, “God so loved the world that He did NOT send a committee.”
5. Serve on the Church Board of Directors. This is a special place reserved for people who really enjoy long, intricate, hostile, meetings that generally accomplish little other than postponing a decision until the next meeting. I have a theory that serving on a church board exempts one from Hell. It’s the old “time served” judicial concept. Church Boards spend huge amounts of time discussing how the church can improve at impacting the community for Jesus; how to develop new and better methods of developing disciples; making sure the church stays on track with its mission and vision; developing policies and procedures that empower the church’s ministries and the people involved in those ministries to be more effective in fulfilling the Great Commission. Okay, I am just kidding. Church Boards spend all of their time putting out “fires” and complaints of dissatisfied
customers members and shoving figures around on paper
trying to find ways to pay the bills and keep the church doors open.
6. Opportunities to do ministry. Sometimes these are available to a very few people.
With all that the church offers, I can’t imagine why more people are not attracted to the church. (For those of you who recognize the last statement as sarcasm and don’t approve; you need to know that I believe Jesus was sarcastic. Reread His conversation with Nicodemus and, as you read, think sarcasm.) The church offers membership in what looks a whole lot like a club. And worse yet, it looks like a club that has lost its way; its mission; its vitality. It looks like a club that exists just to make sure it keeps on existing.
I realize that criticizing the church is like kicking a fighter after he is down. It seems pretty obvious as one reads surveys and statistics that the church is not doing well. Interest in, attendance at and membership have been falling for several decades. And I would be less critical if we (the church) were doing something real and meaningful to reverse the trends. Instead we just keep on keeping on and believe that somehow the world will wake up and see what wonderful people we are and how terrific the church is. Perhaps we need to face the possibility that, as seen through the eyes of the unchurched, we are not so wonderful and the church is not all that terrific.
I am not just complaining. Anyone can complain. I am issuing a wakeup call. Church – here is an astute observation of the obvious – what we are doing is not working. Let’s try something else. Instead of doing what we have been doing for decades, let’s take a look at what people like Andy Stanley have to say to us. Put away the pride. Let down the shield of your “perfect” theology. Crawl out from behind your crippling denominationalism. Admit your needs and shortcomings. And let’s get to work at putting together a model and system that produces disciples.
More to come.
Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved