The Results Are In (see declining church numbers): The Church Growth Movement and the Church Leadership Development Movement have failed. What’s next?

The Church Growth Movement didn’t produce lasting growth (the Church is in massive decline in America). The Church Leadership Development Movement hasn’t produced effective leaders. (See the aforementioned parenthesis about church attendance tanking and think of the vast number of ineffective “leaders” that you know). We need a new, effective model, if we want to build back the body of Christ.

Maybe, I know this sounds wild and crazy, maybe we should be putting our emphasis on disciple making. Isn’t that what Jesus called us to do in the Great Commission?  “Go and make disciples”? I almost wish Jesus hadn’t said the second part of the Great Commission (please don’t throw rotten tomatoes at me for even suggesting such a thing). I wish Jesus hadn’t said the “teaching them to obey” part, because I think that’s where the disciple making hits a major snafu. 

Every believer knows we need to make disciples, the problem is how are we going to make them? Most Christian folks hear “discipleship,” and think “Teach them the Bible.” That’s what Jesus said, “Teach them to obey…” Fill their brains with Bible teachings, then they will be better disciples. That’s the thinking of most Christians, but is it correct? Is head knowledge, knowing the “dos and don’ts” of Christianity, the main thing? Is sitting in a class or memorizing mountains of scripture (as important as that can be), what “making disciples” is all about?

I suggest it is not (again please keep the rotten tomatoes to yourself). I am not opposed to learning the Bible. We need to read God’s word and get it deep in our bones. But I’m not sure head knowledge alone will make the kind of disciples we are after. Who were the most learned men of Jesus day?  Wasn’t it the teachers of the law, the high priest, the religious scholars?  They knew the Torah, like the back of their hand, but they missed Jesus. Could the same malfeasance befall us?

John in his first letter wrote this:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:16-18

Putting John’s advice into practical disciple making terms, the discipleship method we should strive for is not with words or speech (read: head knowledge alone) but “actions and truth.”  

Actions = serving. 
Truth = personal experience with the Truth (Capital “C”). 

How do we make disciples?  We serve with people. Some Christians. Some not. The far-from-Jesus people see and hear through serving (read: love with actions). They see and hear the Truth lived out through the relationships built into serving alongside one another. Over time, prayer and the prevenient grace of God, these far-from-Jesus people will be drawn to and encounter the Truth.

This approach is not down playing the importance of the Bible. The Bible, following serving, reinforces the Truth that people have encountered. The Bible is the word that points us to the Word. The Bible strengthens our resolve to serve more and better. The Bible is essential. But let’s start with serving. It’s being a living example of the Word and Truth, before anyone reads the word.

Serving leads to making disciples. Continued serving makes better disciples. How are we going to bring God’s Kingdom on earth? It happens through serving, not teaching, not preaching. Serving. We don’t need “servant leaders.” We don’t need to use the word “servant” as an adjective. We need “servant” to be a noun again. The next big thing needs to be the old, old thing: Making Christ-like servants.