I have been writing a series of blogs about how we need to think differently about church:
One key area where it is time for a major readjustment is in how we deploy our most major resource: people.
Whatever your particular churchmanship, almost every church I know has special people who do the stuff. So for example if I have a friend that needs to become a Christian, or grow stronger as a Christian, then I will bring them to the church because the church has special people that can help them: vicars, pastors, elders, small group leaders whoever.
In these people, the church has got what they need. My job is to bring them.
People will say to me, jokingly of course, “Make sure it’s a good one, I’m bringing my spouse/friend/neighbour/work colleague on Sunday.” They are referring to the sermon. The partial joke however reveals how we think it all works. I bring my non-Christian friend and the preacher in 25 minutes (or 40!) has the responsibility of rescuing them from a lost eternity. Let me let you into a secret. It’s not going to happen. Believe me, your preacher is not that good. No preacher is. Even Jesus was not that good. He would have thousands of followers in the upper room if a perfect sermon was all it took.
The idea that the church, the preacher, the special people will do it is deep in our psyche.
I have been a Christian for 31 years. I have been in churches all my life. I have led in churches since I was 14. I am a trained, ordained Baptist minister. I have a degree in theology and several pastoral qualifications. Yet no-one really until relatively recently has said that my ordinary responsibility as a Christian is to open up my life to others and to be personally responsible for helping someone grow deeper in their faith. In my professional capacity for sure, but that’s part of the problem too. We have not understood that it is the personal responsibility of ordinary Christians to train others, to disciple others to be Christians too.
The closest the ordinary Christian gets to the action is to bring their friends and hand them over to the church. A few chosen ones get to help, but the rest of us are simple left only to watch.
How have we created such a dis-empowering environment?
Jesus did not build a church to disciple people. Instead he made disciples that would disciple others. It’s that personal. It’s about you and me. He started a movement where everyone got to do all the stuff. There were no special people. Jesus is not expecting the church to disciple your people; Jesus is expecting you to disciple your people. [pause .. breathe .. reflect].
I could understand you wanting to protest. I have. If this is true it turns a whole lot of practice in our churches inside out.
You may reassure yourself by remembering that after all Jesus did have special people: the 12 disciples. True. He sent them out, amazingly, to do the work he had been doing. True. It then gets a little worrying when he sends out 72, not to help but to do themselves everything that the 12 had been doing. That’s not the end. In the finale, Jesus sends his disciples to teach every disciple they make to do everything that they themselves had been taught. It’s the bit that we don’t focus on:
Matthew 28:19-20 (ANIV) 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
We all get to do the stuff. How do you feel about that?
Deep in our psyche is that God calls a few people – vicars, ministers, bishops, popes whoever – to do the real stuff while the rest of us help or just show up to offer some kind of moral support. It’s time to change. The people of God deserve to be released into their full potential.
There is a big problem though: permission is not enough. Many Christians I meet feel powerless to know how to disciple somebody else, or even lead them to Christ. When you think about it, the average Christian feels quite powerless to personally respond to the Great Commission (the verse above) and even spending many years in churches has not necessarily helped that feeling. So there is a role for the church after all: equip, empower and enable the ordinary Christian to be an ordinary Christian i.e. a disciple-making disciple. That’s a different kind of church. That’s a church inside out.