13 January 2010

How does a church change from "church-building" to "disciple-making"? - Part 1

Ubiquitous. It's a fun word. It describes things that are found everywhere: Starbuck's, thick-rimmed glasses, government spending... you get the idea. Churches who have a few, very busy, burned out or burning out volunteers wondering why people don't change are, unfortunately, ubiquitous. It seems easy to end here.

For the last several weeks, I have been describing what my fellow pastors/leaders have discovered needs to change in our church. Today I'm hoping to lay out some preliminary ideas for that change (also a fun word lately). It is the final post on the series that began with the discovery that Jesus said He would build his church and He called us to make disciples.

Here's a summary of this series of posts:
Leadership Fridays: Building The Church or Making Disciples
Leadership Fridays: Why We Prefer Church-Building
Leadership Fridays: The Downstream Effects of Church-Building
The Downstream Effects of Making Disciples v. Building Churches - Part 1
The Downstream Effects of Making Disciples v. Building Churches - Part 2
The Downstream Effects of Making Disciples v. Building Churches - Part 3

How does a church change from "church-building" to "disciple-making"?

Be ruthless, not reckless
As the distinction between "church-building" and "disciple-making" becomes clear, it is easy to recklessly trim church structure and programs. Make no mistake, in many situations, we need to do more than tweak our existing structures. We are talking about fundamental change and we may need to start from scratch. We must be ruthless about our extra-biblical processes and patterns but ruthless is different than reckless.

We can't be afraid to slaughter sacred cows but we must be careful with people. Many have given their lives (in good faith) volunteering to serve in the structures we are demolishing. Most of them are there because we or other leaders have asked for their help. They have some vision for their ministry and, if it must change, they need to see some vision for that change. Be patient and open to dialogue. Build vision for the new before tearing down the old.

First impressions are critical
Somehow our conscience to evangelize is sharper than our conscience to make disciples (which is much more than evangelism). My sense of obedience is much stronger after "sharing the gospel", than it is after a night of transparent, bible-saturated conversation with friends. This is a problem. Gospel-sharing occurs without any intentions for disciple-making (and that becomes acceptable). I shudder to think of how many times I have sat down and walked through a gospel presentation without the desire or margin to carry on the relationship.

Here is the thing. If this happens, people might still hear the Gospel and, because it is the power of God for salvation, they might trust it and become followers of Christ but they learn something wrong. They learn that we have a sales pitch to make and not a life to share. Out of the gate, the emphasis in the Christian life is on the sale and not on transformation. This produces a climate where the Gospel is received on an intellectual level but does not change us. Our internal lives remain unknown and, consequently, unaddressed by Gospel truth.

But, really, who has time for all this? I might have time for a two-hour conversation/presentation of the Gospel, but I'm already swamped with responsibilities and relationships. I can't add any more.

Yeah, that's a problem as well.

(continued tomorrow)


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