Bill was a young man whose life was being destroyed by alcohol. As he had done many times before he went out drinking on a Saturday evening. When he got home all he could do was collapse unconscious on his bed.
When he got up the next morning the house was empty. For his wife his night on the town was the straw that broke the camel’s back. She had taken her daughter and left.
Bill wandered around the empty house for a bit, finally turning the television on so that there would be another human voice for him to hear. The television just happened to be set to a station on which a well-known televangelist was preaching. Bill began to listen and then he because absorbed in what the evangelist was saying. Realizing that he needed to change his life, he responded to the alter call at the end of the program and committed his life to Jesus that morning.
The change was remarkable. He stopped drinking. He began attending church. He had a deep desire to grow in his new walk with God and he began to share his new faith with everyone that he came into contact with. His wife returned when she saw the change in Bill’s life.
I love that story because it is the story of someone who played an important role in my early life as a Christian. For two years I worked in the same factory as Bill and most lunch hours were spent discussing various aspects of the Christian life. An important part of my spiritual growth came out of those conversations. Bill died a few years ago but I will always be thankful that he was a part of my life.
Growth as a life-long process
We all love those stories of transformation that occur when someone comes to Christ. It is especially exciting, when as was the case for Bill, the transformation is dramatic. An alcoholic’s life is radically changed. The person who once lived for the next drink now lives for Jesus Christ. What could be better than that.
There are few things more exciting than the birth of a new baby. When my first child was born, I can still remember looking at him and having two thoughts go through my head. The first was that he was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen. I couldn’t get over how perfect he looked and the sense of wonder that he was mine.
I basked in that wonder for a few minutes and then a very sobering thought went through my mind. I realized that I was responsible for this child for the next twenty or more years of his life. As much as his birth was an amazing miracle, it was just the beginning. He had a whole lot of other stages to go through before he became an adult and I was responsible to care for him in each of those stages.
As much as people rejoice over the birth of a baby, no one would want to see that child remain in the infant stage. The exciting part of being a parent is watching your children grow and mature until they reach adulthood. I have some times been asked which stage of my children’s lives did I enjoy the most. My answer is always that I enjoyed the stage that they were in. I loved watching them as infants, toddlers, preschoolers, school children, teenagers and young adults but I would not have wanted them to remain in any of those stages.
Spiritual growth as a process
There are few things more exciting in the church than seeing someone become a Christian. Whether the conversion produces a radical transformation such as Bill experienced or a less dramatic change when someone raised in a Christian home professes faith in Jesus, it is an thrilling experience.
There is a problem though. We rejoice in this new birth as I did at the birth of my first child. We marvel that this person is a new creation in Christ. We thrill at the change in his life. We love to hear his story.
But we never get around to the second thought that I had when my son was born. I was responsible for him for the next twenty years. Whenever someone becomes a Christian, the church and the people who make up that church are responsible for him for the rest of his life.
When someone becomes a Christian through the ministry of a local church, that church has not carried out the Great Commission. The Great Commission is a call to make disciples and that is a call to produce mature, passionate followers of Jesus Christ. That calls for a deep commitment to the spiritual growth of people for as long as they are a part of that church.
We are fast coming into the summer season and in many churches this means DVBS, day camps and Bible clubs. In back yards, parks and church basements children will hear the gospel presented in an atmosphere of fun. Evangelical churches will talk about the number of children that made a profession of faith during the period of the camp. I rejoice with every church that celebrates decisions made but if that is all that happens, it is not enough. If decisions are all there are, the church has failed in carrying out the Great Commission. The important question is not how a church gets these children to pray a prayer and profess faith in Christ during the day camp but how does it disciple those children through the years until they graduate from high school and leave home.
In too many churches the major goal of youth leaders is simply to get teenagers to attend. The hope is that if they are exposed to the youth group they will make a profession of faith and continue to have an interest in the church after they leave home. Again the question is not how do we increase attendance at youth group but how do we disciple those teenagers who do attend. The measure of the impact that a church is having is what happens when their young people leave home. Do they continue to have a passion for Christ? Do they provide leadership in a new church setting? Do they go on to a life time of service?
In many of our churches the concern of leadership is how they can lead so that the people attending are happy. Can they provide the kind of music that attracts people? Can they add more programs so that they will appeal to a wider group of people? Can the church attract young families so that they will have a thriving children’s program? The challenge of the Great Commission is not to keep people happy and contented but to keep people growing in their walk with God.
Producing wholly committed, passionate followers of Jesus should always be the primary goal of the church. When that happens we become a church that is making an impact.