What kind of environment do we want to create for our church? Naturally we want to create a place that is welcoming and safe. We want our church to be loving and caring. For people to feel nurtured and supported. All this is good. But it’s not the whole story. Did Jesus offer a welcome to his disciples? Did he create a community of love and support? Of course. But that’s not all Jesus did. He also created an environment of huge challenge. Huge support and huge challenge were the hallmarks of his disciple-making community.
- Huge support: “Come follow me!” (i.e. I choose you!).
- Huge challenge: “I will make you fishers of me”
- Huge support: “He called the twelve to be with Him.”
- Huge challenge: “He sent them out to preach and to drive out demons.”
- Huge support: “I will be with you to the end of the age”
- Huge challenge: “Go into all the world and make disciples”
In contrast our western churches are often high on support but low on challenge. It’s not that the sermons aren’t challenging. Often they are. But that alone is not what makes an environment challenging. Each week people will listen to a challenging message, do nothing about it (or almost nothing) and then come back next week for another challenge. The net effect is that no-one is challenged at all. Challenge needs accountability. Accountability is only possible with people you are in close relationship with. Is that why Jesus only chose 12?
If we want to create missional disciples like Jesus did we will need to create a more challenging environment. I know in my own personal life that without the challenge I dumb down to something far less than what a disciple should be. All too easily inertia sets in. Personally. Corporately. But here’s the trouble: moving to a high challenge environment is not easy. Even if the same levels support remain, whenever you increase the challenge it feels like support is being taken away. Rather than a nice straight journey from left to right, churches are faced with a journey more like the lower arrow (below). It’s messy, painful and disorientating. Tragically churches can begin the journey only to retrace their steps when the going gets too tough. For those that push through to the other side much fruit awaits. And that’s the point. Our cosy comfortable churches are not producing much fruit. Their not working. We can’t settle for that.
On October 2nd we had a special church conference entitled: Launch the Lifeboats. You can find more information at www.burlingtonbaptist.org.uk/launchthelifeboats. More of my blogs associated with this can also be found here