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five steps that help your church to make disciples who make disciples
By Jim Putman, Bobby Harrington, Robert Coleman
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2013Jim Putman and Bob Harrington
All rights reserved.
THE ENGINE THAT DRIVES IT ALL
What is the God-given purpose of the local church?
Bobby Harrington gave a lot of his extra time for about a decade to train church planters and create church planting networks. He did it joyfully. But one day, flying out of Nashville for a network meeting in another city, a vague thought became a clear realization: he was uneasy with the churches being planted. Would the result of all these church planting efforts really last? Would the churches planted truly please God, long term?
The church planters were godly, wonderful people. The theology was good. Their level of commitment was inspiring. But he wondered if the approach to church planting that he and his peers (including various church planting organizations) were advocating was often leading to a shallow, cultural Christianity. Before giving himself to church planting, he had already concluded the same thing about many established churches. Too often they had problems with legalism or traditionalism or they lacked authenticity or something else that missed Jesus' heart for a lost and hurting world. But that day, he finally admitted to himself that he was witnessing much of the same cultural Christianity in the church planting world. Something at a fundamental level needed reevaluation.
It was around this time that we (Jim and Bobby) became good friends. We had the same fundamental belief. Maybe you agree with us? When it comes to the local church in North America today, something is not working.
The big question driving this book is the question of effectiveness. For a moment, resist the urge to defend yourself or your church. Don't defend your experience in ministry, your seminary degrees, or your genuine heart for seeing people come to know Christ. Don't defend any of the activities taking place at your church. And don't defend the size of your congregation, the amount of giving, your service to the poor, or the number of new converts. Simply ask yourself, Is the church producing results? Is it doing its job in the best way possible? And please resist the urge to quickly answer yes.
It's true that throughout North America today, though numbers are declining, there are still many people coming to church, and some are busy with ministry-related activities. There are ministries to the poor. Buildings are being built. Programs are running at full tilt. Money is being given.
But attendance, busyness, construction, finances, and programs are not real indications of success. The core question of effectiveness — the question that ultimately matters—is whether the people who are getting saved are being conformed to the likeness of Christ. Are we making mature disciples of Jesus who are not only able to withstand the culture but are also making disciples of Jesus themselves?
Let's look at some research.
Consider how recent statistics show that when it comes to morality and lifestyle issues, there is little difference between the behavior (and one can assume condition of the heart) of Christians and non-Christians.
Divorce rates are about the same.
The percentages of men who regularly view pornography are roughly the same—and it's a lot of men.
Christians are considered to be more than two times as likely to have racist attitudes as non-Christians.
Domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and most other problems are just as prevalent among Christians as among non-Christians.
Consider too statistics about evangelicals. About one in four people living together outside marriage call themselves evangelicals.
Only about 6 percent of evangelicals regularly tithe.
Only about half the people who say they regularly attend church actually do. And a significant number of younger adults (millennials) believe that evangelical churches are not even Christlike or Christian. Sixty to 80 percent of young people will leave the church in their twenties.
Fewer than one out of five who claim to be born-again Christians have a worldview of even a few fundamental biblical beliefs. Plenty of people call themselves Christians, but very few people can actually tell you what it means—from the Bible's perspective—to be a Christian. They might call themselves Christians, but they also believe that the Bible is full of errors or that God is not one God manifest in three persons or that Jesus Christ did not lead a sinless life (or that he isn't God) or that simply being good will get you into heaven.
When you ask most evangelicals what their job as a believer is, they may tell you that they are to share Christ, but how many actually do? At worst, they follow the rule that you don't talk about politics and religion, and they will die without ever seeing anyone come to faith. At best, they may invite people to church, but they think making disciples is not their job; it's the pastor's job.
We could go on and on. One can't help but conclude that something is wrong. Where's the lasting life change? Where are the transformed lives? Why are people in our churches just like the world? Why are we not developing people who are Christlike?
A few years back, Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Church, one of the most influential churches in America, revealed the results of a months-long study into the church's effectiveness. The conclusion was that the church simply wasn't producing the results they were hoping for. Willow Creek's leaders did research into other churches across the country and came to the same conclusions. In the foreword to Reveal, a book outlining their discoveries, Bill Hybels wrote, "The local church is the hope of the world. For a number of years now, I have shared this message whenever I've had the opportunity to serve pastors of local churches across the nation and around the world. It's a message I believe with all my heart. So you can imagine my reaction when three people whose counsel I value told me that the local church I've been the pastor of for more than three decades was not doing as well as we thought when it came to spiritual growth. As if that wasn't bad enough, they said this wasn't just their opinion. It was based on scientific research."
The results rocked Willow Creek's world. Willow Creek's leaders realized that they had to make significant changes. Hybels put it this way: "Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he's asking us to transform this planet."
That's what's required of us as well. To be effective, we need to make a fundamental shift in the way we do church. What we're doing now isn't working, at least not like we'd hoped. We have defined ourselves by emphases and methodologies that don't produce results.
Fortunately, there is hope ahead. Within the pages of God's Word is a design that will lead to effectiveness. The solution to our ineffectiveness as churches involves following a clear and uncomplicated way to train people to be spiritually mature, fully devoted followers of Christ, and then in turn having those disciples make more disciples.
What we need in our churches today are fewer "Christians," at least in today's popular definition of the word. Now, I don't want fewer saved people. Far from it. I want as many to be saved as possible. But the point is that fewer than we think are actually saved.
What I want are full-fledged followers of Jesus Christ, and to produce that in our churches today, we need a radical shift. We need more of the eng
Excerpted from DiscipleShift by Jim Putman. Copyright © 2013 by Jim Putman and Bob Harrington. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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