Recently I viewed a video of legendary basketball coach John Wooden describing his definition of success. In essence, his goal was not to build a winning basketball team: his goal was to build people. By help each individual come closer to realizing their full potential, they would be a success and the by-product would be a winning team.
My mind naturally went to Christianity and church. I asked my self a question: “Do we seek to build successful churches or to build people?” Jesus’ ministry was not to build an organization or edifice, but to see people’s lives transformed. His message was not an escapist doctrine of get saved and go to heaven, but he boldly proclaimed the kingdom of heaven is here! It is near you! You are not far from the kingdom of heaven! Jesus message was the good news of the Kingdom!
Before His ascension, Jesus gave us his commissioning:
“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." Amen.
Matt 28:19-20 NKJV.
Notice what He did not say: go and save the lost or go and build a church. He said we were to make disciples. How is this accomplished? By using His authority, baptizing and then TEACHING them to observe the things he command us. Discipleship is a developmental process of the believer!
So, two more questions came to mind:
1 - Is our goal discipleship or salvation?
2 - How many of our programs are truly designed to CHANGE people?
Now I know most sincere leaders will say both of course! So, if this is the case, why is one the biggest problem of the church today retention? I have heard of wonderful evangelistic events that have resulted in many being born again: yet a short time later, these people cannot be found. To me, this is a problem. (A side note, I believe there is a problem with our intentions and presentation of the good news, but that is for a future Apostolic Note.)
As a pastor, I tried many different ideas (can you say “programs”) of discipleship. I even compiled material and wrote a 3 level, yearlong discipleship program: Discipleship Development, Discipleship Maturity, Discipleship Ministry and taught this to the entire church my last year of pastoring. Yet I came to see the weakness of it in the last few months. Let me explain.
Too much of discipleship today is the teaching of facts.
Coach Wooden’s philosophy was not to make his players experts of the mechanics of basketball: dribbling, passing, or jump shots. His goal was, to help them express their greatest potential as an individual. This being accomplished, basketball success would naturally follow as an outgrowth of who the players were.
Jesus’ ministry was the same. Matthew 4:23 tells us:
“Jesus traveled throughout Galilee teaching in the synagogues, preaching everywhere the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed people who had every kind of sickness and disease. NLT”
The intention of Jesus ministry is expressed in the meaning of the word “teaching,” it means: “to know or teach, it includes the aim of shaping of the will of the pupil.”
Jesus’ intent was not to impart religious facts; it was his desire to see a change in the will of the student. Obviously, a transformation of the will results in a different lifestyle.
So the weakness of my discipleship program: I was teaching a lot of good information, but there was not a method or structure to bring about a transformation. Something was missing.
Back to coach Wooden. In his development process, he was just as concerned with the player off the courts as on them. He stressed their classes and grades and conduct. In short, he was involved in their everyday life! So an addition weakness of my program: there was good info, but it was not followed up with practical involvement in the daily lives of the people.
I think this is common in the church. Unfortunately, we stress involvement at church on Sundays, maybe a mid week. Usually, there is limited involvement outside of the sanctioned activities of the church. Most church programs are not designed for true discipleship. Their focus is disseminating information, fellowship or alternative activities (some youth ministry). Very little real transformation happens in these settings.
As new believers, my wife and I were truly discipled by another young couple in the church. We spent hours together outside of service: having dinner, going shopping, taking trips or just hanging out. It was during these times, the principles of living for God were talked about BUT many were caught. I was taught how to live for God by example. (Thank you Marty & Vickie!)
So, a possible answer:
• Minister and train saints to emphasize transformation, not just about heaven or hell. It is about becoming like Jesus.
• Structure the local assembly with multiple opportunities for practical application of the word to everyday life.
• Seek out mature leadership and train them to be elders or shepherds. Assign them to work with individuals.
• Create share groups; people with like interests. Get them spending time together; it does not even have to have a “spiritual” focus.
• Pray for a spiritual transformation of the mind of the local assembly
It may be slow, but when you start with a core and they develop and grow, winning new people, eventually the mindset will change and you will come to a tipping point and there will be a cultural shift to the local assembly.
1 Lexical Aids To The New Testament, The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, AMG Publishers