We are taking a brief departure from your regularly scheduled program because of a terrific conversation I was a part of last night. We had just finished bible study and the group got on to the topic of churches, church plants, etc. and it was very helpful for me. Much of the conversation revolved around preaching and discipleship (two areas of great interest to me).
The general takeaway was that, though hearing and proclaiming the Word is a necessary and helpful thing in growing in one’s relationship with God, the bulk of the responsibility remains on the individual to “walk out” and actualize their faith. Martin Luther said it this way, “A man must do two things alone: he must do his own believing and his own dying.”
Once this point was established, conversation quickly moved to how preaching is or is not helpful in growth and discipleship. Those present last night were firm believers in preaching through the Word in an orderly, straightforward manner, not trying to soften the blows of Scripture. One of my favorite comments from last night was “sometimes you just need a slap in the face.”
You have to understand how taken aback I was by this conversation. The seeker-sensative movement has come to dominate Christianity in the Evangelical sphere, so I naturally assumed that the people in this conversation would reflect that opinion. I was wrong. They voiced a deep craving for Truth that would transform their lives and experiences, making them more like Jesus. They longed to love as Jesus loved and to really be the people the Lord delights in. The “fluff” they encountered in the majority of sermons today was unexciting and unappealing to them. (A note about this bible study group: we have a wide range of experience, some relatively recent believers all the way to “old timers.”)
This conversation has led me to think of many things, foremost being how I present the Gospel. Am I spoon-feeding people along because I don’t want to offend them? Am I nervous about dropping the H-bomb because it is unpopular and “archaic?” Am I cheapening the Gospel of Christ so much that Jesus wont know these people as His own when He returns?
While I don’t like the modern model where churches operate like businesses, some business analogies are really helpful, hence the title of this post. Sales don’t equal profits. A business can sell its entire inventory, but if it does it too cheaply, the business wont profit and will have to close. Similarly, selling people a pseudo-Gospel of cheap grace doesn’t profit them, me or Christ. Sales don’t equal profits and Converts don’t equal Christians. Many people choose to dedicate their lives to Jesus, where are they a year later? Ten? Fifty?
Discipleship, following Jesus and becoming more and more like Him, is for the long haul. I like Eugene Peterson’s phrase, “A long obedience in the same direction.” Discipleship is the process of conforming ourselves to Christ, being made and re-made into His image over and over again. We can’t deny Him and who He reveals Himself to be or else we set up an idol in our own image. I don’t understand everything about God and even some of the stuff I do understand makes me uncomfortable, but I trust Him and I know that Christianity is having relationship with God on His terms, not mine.
I appreciate you sticking with me through this rather rambling reflection, now it is your chance to add to the conversation. What do you think about preaching, discipleship and how they work together? What are your opinions on the seeker-sensative movement? I look forward to reading your comments.