"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Jesus as quoted in Matthew 28:18-20)
As I consider these familiar words of Jesus and his desire for His church, I’ve often wondered how successful we’ve been through the years in truly making disciples. Sure, people are being converted but are we helping them to become life-long disciples and followers of Jesus? Yes, we get them to the baptistery but what about after their hair dries? Are we strategically coming along side these new Christians and “teaching them to obey everything” as Jesus commanded us to do?
I’m finding that most churches are falling miserably short in this area.
Recently, Bill Hybels, pastor of the Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago and one of the gurus of the church growth movement, made some shocking statements in regards to his church’s failure to make mature disciples. Though through the years his church has led thousands of people to Christ and weekly they see 20,000 gathering for their worship experiences, Hybels is realizing that after three decades of ministry they’ve not been successful in producing solid, mature followers of Jesus Christ.
Now, before any of my mega church “haters” jump to conclusions please know that my experience has been that the failure to make disciples is taking place in the majority of our churches both big and small. This isn’t a mega church problem but there’s no doubt that it’s a mega problem.
As I see it, the church’s success in making disciples is two fold. Number one, the church has to realize and embrace its role in feeding the people and inspiring them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus, rather than people who simply attend church. There’s a big difference! For one group, church is something they do. It’s something they’ve always done. For the other, their faith is a way of life; it’s about a relationship with the person of Jesus. They’ve become a disciple and church is just one of the many things that helps them to grow.
And knowing the church’s role, we at GCC strive to teach the word of God often and with great depth. We want to grow in numbers and we’ve never been ashamed to say that, but we also want to growth in maturity. This is also why our leadership is working diligently to elevate our Life Group Ministries because we believe a healthy small group environment is conducive to spiritual growth. We’ve embraced the significant role the church has in making disciples and we’re continually looking for ways to improve.
But with that being said, please know that with discipleship also comes personal responsibility. At some point every believer has to become a “self feeder” who is aggressively pursuing spiritual growth on their own accord. When this happens Bible study begins to take place throughout the week, prayer and other spiritual disciplines become a way of life, all because we hunger for growth. We long for more of Jesus and we refuse to settle on luke-warm living.
As I read this book of Hebrews in the Bible, I get the feeling that the recipients were being chastised for a failure to take personal responsibility when it came to their spiritual growth. In Hebrews 5:12 the author writes, “Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!”
In everyone’s faith walk, there is a needed season in which we need to be fed the basics, and milk is good. But there comes a time in everyone’s faith walk that we must move towards maturity. My encouragement to you is to become a “self feeder” hungering for the meat of Christianity.
GCC’s promise to you – we will work hard to feed you and teach you the things of Jesus and we will not leave you to walk this journey alone.
The promise we need from you? That you will turn up the intensity and take personal responsibility for your spiritual growth. Make your faith more than just a Sunday thing. Set out on a course to become a fully devoted follower of Jesus!