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The Inward Direction of Discipleship

The measure of a healthy church is changed lives.

Over the past few decades far too much attention has been given to growing our churches and not nearly enough to growing our people. God’s purpose in every Christian’s life is that she would be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29). The question that is not asked nearly enough in our churches is whether or not this is happening.

Are members being transformed into people who reflect the character and purpose of Jesus Christ?

Every church needs to look not at the number of people who attend on a Sunday morning but at the number of people who are mature followers of Jesus Christ. That really is the only number that matters in any church large or small. The challenge for the church is to see lives transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit working in the character of individual people and bringing those people to maturity in their walk with Jesus.


The battle against sin

Theology needs to shape our churches. One of the concerns that I have as I visit churches is that we are becoming so concerned about preaching felt needs that we are not teaching theology. We need to be teaching the deep truths about God and those truths need to shape who we are and who we want our people to become.

In this article I want to focus on just one theological truth. You probably have this fact in your Statement of Faith. You teach it to your children in Sunday school. One of the first verses that most of us memorized states it quite clearly.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23)

That word “all” in pretty inclusive. It include every single person who is a member of a church in Canada.

So, there it is. You are a sinner. I am a sinner. We lead a group of people all of whom have been deeply impacted by sin. We wonder that there are problems in our churches but why should we wonder. Sin creates problems and each of us brings sin into the life of our churches.


The importance of discipleship

That is why discipleship is so important. God’s plan for your life is to turn you into someone who reflects the character of Jesus Christ. That is the only answer to deep rooted sin in our lives.

I understand that the death of Jesus on the cross paid the penalty for our sin. When we come to him in faith, believing in the power of that sacrifice, we are forgiven for our sin and we enter into the wonder of a restored relationship with God.

But even for those of us who have experienced that forgiveness, the daily battle goes on. If we try to fight that battle ourselves, we will lose every time. Our churches are filled with attenders who are struggling against sin in their lives and losing the battle.

When you look around the congregation on a Sunday morning, you look at men who are addicted to pornography, teens who are having sex outside of marriage, women who are thinking about leaving their husbands, business men whose practices are unethical, members who struggle with racism and sexism, and the list goes on and on.

That is reality in every church in Canada. If you question that description then you probably haven’t served in ministry for very long. As a pastor I encountered all of those things and more. People in our churches struggle with sin.

Now for the real shocker. Sermons help shape the character of our people but sermons by themselves don’t do the job. This is a preacher talking but it is a preacher that has taken a good look at reality and realized that he could preach every Sunday of the year and those sermons by themselves will not do the job.

The answer to sin is a deeply rooted change in a person that only the Holy Spirit can produce and that occurs best in an accountability relationship with another Christian. The inward direction of discipleship involves a heart change at the very core of who we are.

People in our churches need to respond honestly not because it is the right thing to do but because at the very core of their being they are honest people. They need to respond to situations in love because they are loving people. They need to care about people because they truly care for people. They need to help the poor not because it is a church project but because seeing people in poverty breaks their hearts.


The place of the small church

I have written in the past and you will read this in my blog many times in the future, at the heart of small-church life are relationships. That is the strength of the small church. Every time that I have asked a small-church member what is the greatest strength of her church, I receive the same answer – relationships.

People tell me that their small church is a family. They tell me that everyone in their church knows everyone else. They tell me that people in their small church care. They tell me they are missed if they aren’t there. They tell me that at the heart of who they are is a love for each other.

That is good. I would argue that relationships need to be at the heart of everything that the small church does but those kind of relationships aren’t enough.

When my children were small, once in a while (It didn’t happen often) but every once in a while they would get angry at me because I wouldn’t let them do something and they would tell me that they didn’t like me. My reply to them was always that I didn’t care right then whether they liked me or not. I wanted them to like me when they were adults. I wanted them to look back and realize that I had instilled in them the qualities that mature adults need to have to live successfully in an adult world.

Our job in small churches is not to have everyone like us. It is to instill into our people those character qualities that will transform their inner being and change them into mature disciples of Jesus Christ.

In last week’s blog I said that the upward direction of discipleship involves leading people into a deep, living relationship with Jesus Christ.

In this week’s I said that the inward direction of discipleship involves leading people through a deep heart level change so that they become people who reflect the character of Jesus.

Next Thursday I will look at the aroundward direction of discipleship as I write about our relationships within the church.

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