Back to the basics: Making disciples

Often I find myself in conversations about church growth. I get asked: “What is your church doing to grow?” First, you need to know that I pastor a small rural congregation, one that has not grown by leaps and bounds. So, often my response is more along these lines: “We have grown spiritually over the past 6 years.” I know  some of you may be saying that’s just an excuse for a church that has not seen much “people growth” over the past half decade. But my answer is true. I have seen God mature Christians over the past 6 years of my ministry, and that is an awesome thing to watch.

I will say, I like other pastors want to see our church grow in number, for sure. But should numbers really consume us like it does. After all, cancer grows and it certainly isn’t good. And when our focus is on numbers, we begin to take on characteristics of a consumer-driven business rather than those associated with a holy chosen people.

Now don’t misunderstand. There is nothing wrong with healthy church growth (growing numerically, that is). However, I feel many churches, in their quest to build their membership rolls, have strayed from what we find in the New Testament. What I mean is this: Jesus taught discipleship. He commissioned the church “to go and make disciples.” So, why aren’t we? Instead, we want numbers. Doesn’t matter where those numbers come from, either. Sometimes they come to our churches in the form of a disgruntled member from a church down the road. Sometimes, they come because the church has great music. Others come because the church has a nice building. And, too often, that’s what the strategies of our churches begin to look like. “Draw them with stuff” seems to be the answer. That’s where we’ve lost our focus. I believe, instead, our focus should be on discipling – teaching God’s Word and watching His Word change lives. It’s Biblical. It’s going to work.

In his book, Real-life Disciples, Jim Putman discusses what happened when he and his wife and another couple started a church in Idaho. Yes, Idaho! They began by looking at Jesus’ example of discipleship. They began to model their efforts after His example. What happened next? God did a mighty work and continues to do it today. In his book, Putman outlines what it looked liked as God worked in lives and homes. I like a statement he makes in an early chapter of the book: “Discipleship demands intentionality and relationship – by which each person is invested in specifically.” Oh, how I agree. That’s what has to happen in our churches today. Instead of entertaining the world, we must disciple one person at a time. We must focus on individuals, not numbers. What will happen is our congregations will begin to look more and more like Jesus and less and less like the world. Sadly, there’s probably some out there that don’t want that. After all, discipleship takes time and commitment. It also means we follow the Lord Jesus – no option to that. And that means living out His Word in our lives. Discipleship also means putting away the things of this world and focusing on those things that glorify God. All of these demand we turn from self, take up our cross and follow Him. That’s something many in the “church” don’t want to do. But that’s what God expects.

I hope that my congregation will strive to do a better job of making disciples in 2013. After all, that’s what Jesus told us to do. And, it starts with me, the pastor. Pray with me that our churches will follow after Jesus and stop chasing the “next best thing.” When we do, we will see congregations that live life together, serve others together, love together, pray together. We will see a body of believers that looks more and more like Jesus every day.

Philippians 1:6: And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

The past is just that…

Once again I had the privilege to preach the mid-week service to my faithful congregation. I say privilege because anytime I preach is a privilege. Anyway, I love Wednesday night services. I know, our service is generally smaller on Wednesday nights. But that’s what I like about it. Last night was no exception, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I preached a message from Isaiah 43:18-21, titled: The Past is Just That – the Past! I believe one of the greatest struggles for believers is dwelling in the past. I know, I have struggled at times with it, too. Too often, we are left bitter, discouraged or grieved over something that happened yesterday, last week, 5 years ago, whenever. Instead, God told His people Israel to not dwell on the former things, or consider the things of old. Because He would do a new thing.

It’s easy to want to look back, isn’t it? Certainly, we can learn from our mistakes. God grows us that way. However, if we spend too much time looking back and not forward, it can be dangerous. It’s kind of like plowing a field. If you look back, you won’t plow a very straight row. Or how about when you are driving down the road and you look in the mirror or turn to look at your cellphone. Next thing you know, your car is off the edge of the road. That’s what happens when we dwell in the past.

So, I encourgage you today to meditate on these words written by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:13-14: Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Don’t dwell on what cannot be changed. The past is just that – the past! Don’t worry about what tomorrow may bring. Instead, walk in the joy of the Lord today. Focus on Him and what He has for you today. Seek to glorify Him in all that you do today. After all, that is our purpose in life.