Have you ever try to build a house out of playing cards? I used to be pretty good at it. One of the things that is frustrating when you're first starting out, however, is getting those first few cards to stand up. You prop two cards against each other and then try to put a roof on it and then... poof... it all falls down. Sometimes you get a little further along and it falls down. Sometimes, as you get going building different levels and wings you spend as much time picking up fallen cards as you do constructing new cards. It becomes just as difficult to keep a card standing as it does to stand it up in the first place.
I often feel that ministry is the same way. We want to build a big church for God's glory. We know that it is not a building, but made up of people. But as soon as we get a few people in we try to get a few more in. But with more people, the flavor of the group changes... attention is divided among more people... different people take on different roles... etc. When new people come in, the original people leave. They are like the cards that you just can't seem to keep standing up for a long time in your house of cards.
I believe with all my heart that God doesn't want us to build his church as a house of cards. In fact, I am quite certain that God is in favor of firm foundations--building on the rock, not on the sand, etc. So, how does this apply to church planting? One word: Discipleship.
It is sad that we tend to differentiate between evangelism and discipleship, as if they are two completely separate endeavors. However, in the most quoted Biblical text on evangelism (the so-called "Great Commission" in Matthew 28:18-20) Jesus' command is not to "preach the good news" but it is to "make disciples" and to "teach them to obey everything I have commanded you." We don't do discipleship after we do evangelism. We do evangelism by doing discipleship. Have you ever thought of that before?
Much of this discussion could center on the theology of salvation, but I don't want to get into that here on this blog. I do believe that a Christian is a disciple of Jesus, a disciple of Jesus is a Christian. I do not believe someone is a Christian if they are not a disciple of Jesus. But my convictions about this doesn't lead me to "water down" discipleship, by saying that anything is discipleship (like mere church attendance) because this person is a Christian. No, instead it leads me to "beef up" evangelism.
It is relatively easy to get people to raise their hands and say they will be a Christian. Just like it is relatively easy to give birth to a baby. However, like a newborn baby, these new believers will soon die if they are not fed and taken care of. Or, they will continue to exist at a state of believing they are saved when they have still not been transformed. Perhaps they have simply accepted a new religion but have not been born again.
When a baby is born the work of the parents is not over. (Anyone with children is laughing now.) No, the work just begins. And if I am the one who fathered (or mothered) this child, then it is my responsibility to raise this child. Will I always raise this child? Of course not. Part of the whole point of raising a child is to teach the child to be able to do things on his or her own without the help of the parent. They must learn to become independent. And, one day, we all hope they will have their own children. But if we abandon them at birth, none of that will likely happen.
When we lead someone to Christ, the work has just begun. Yes, they are a new life, but we want to make sure that life grows strong and that faith is rooted to the point that they will survive and grow. I think you understand the analogy.
So I believe the core of every ministry should be discipleship. I don't think we should do evangelism until we have a system of discipleship ready to go. The next question is... what is discipleship?
In planning meetings with other Christians the topic of discipleship often arises. Then, invariably, the discussion always moves on to "discipleship materials." To us, discipleship is reading a book or lesson material together with someone, meeting with them once a week to discuss it, and then going through a workbook together where we each write our answers in blanks following questions about the reading material. Now, doing something like that is not a bad thing to do. But is it discipleship? I say it is not... at least, not completely.
One time I heard a Seminary professor respond to someone's question about what kinds of discipleship programs they had at his church. In truth, they didn't have anything designated "discipleship" but just did all the regular activities traditional American churches do. But wanting to sound professorial and sophisticated, this professor said that their Sunday services are their discipleship program. Their potluck dinners are their discipleship programs. Everything the church does was their discipleship program.
Now, I agree that everything a church does should be for discipleship rather than for religious tradition or mere entertainment. Hopefully the worship and sermons help people to grow in their faith. But are typical church services and potluck dinners discipleship? I say they are not.. at least, not completely.
So, what is discipleship? I think the answer to this is found in the example of Jesus who took twelve disciples to follow him. So, over the next few days we will look at Jesus' discipleship and see how he did it. Perhaps there are other ways to do it, and I am not arguing there are not. But for what it is worth we will examine Jesus' approach.