My goal in life is to convince churches that their greatest challenge is to turn people attending their churches into four-directional Christians.
At this point you may be asking: “What is a four-directional Christian?”
For a detailed description you can turn to four earlier blog entries that outline the four-directions that I am talking about.
- The Upward Direction of Discipleship
- The Inward Direction of Discipleship
- The Aroundward Direction of Discipleship
- The Outward Direction of Discipleship
This is a huge task but one that in many ways is best carried out in the context of a small church. Large churches can be successful in producing four-directional Christians but they have more obstacles to overcome than a small church does.
What does all this have to do with the fear of hurting people?
I would suggest that the fear of hurting people is the number one reason why churches are unsuccessful in producing Christians who are growing in their walk with God, in the development of Christian character, in their relationship with others in the church and in their reaching out into the community around them with the gospel.
The indispensable elements in discipleship
There are probably many more factors in growing disciples but I want to mention just one that is indispensable to any discipleship strategy that is going to produce Christians who are growing in these four directions. Most Christians are growing in one or two of these areas but very few are growing in all four. A fully developed passionate follower of Jesus is someone who is growing in all four. Each direction is essential and the challenge is to produce four-directional followers.
The challenge for the church is to provide a structure that helps people grow in these areas. A church needs to be totally committed to producing disciples and to providing the help that people need in each area if it is going to be faithful to the commission that Jesus gave it.
How does a church do this? I am going to just mention several areas in the following list. I may treat these in more detail in a future blog but for now I am just listing them. If you would like to talk to me more about this I would be glad to meet with you face-to-face. If you are a long way away geographically we can arrange a skype or phone call.
- An absolute commitment by the leadership to four-directional discipleship
- A four-directional mindset in the church
- A four-directional review of all programs
- A commitment to four-directional growth by the members
- An accountability structure by the leadership that trickles down to the members
The indispensable element of accountability
There is a huge contradiction in almost all of our churches that seriously hinders us in our commitment to making disciples. I am tempted to say that it is the greatest obstacle to spiritual growth that we face but I’m not quite ready to make it that all inclusive. It is, however, a very serious obstacle.
On the one hand we accept the biblical truth that we are all sinners. Prior to salvation Paul says that we were slaves to the sin in our lives. Following salvation we are set free from that slavery. Sin no longer holds the power over us. We have means by which we can battle sin but we must never forget that we are still in a war.
We experience victories in that war but we also experience defeats. Sin is still a reality in our lives. It is no longer our master but it is still very much there. Of all the wrong teachings that have occurred down through history, the idea of sinless perfection is the one that I have most difficulty understanding. How can anyone possibly look into the depths of their lives and think that in this life the day could come when sin would not be a daily reality?
Sin is there and we all fight the battle.
On the other hand we fight against anything that would make us accountable to someone else for that sin. We want to go through life with the illusion that while we aren’t perfect, we are pretty close and we really don’t need anyone poking their nose into our business. We certainly aren’t going to admit to anyone that we are doing anything terribly wrong and we will be quite upset if anyone comes along and suggests to us that we are.
The problem with the second half of this contradiction is that the first half is true. We are all sinners who fight a daily battle with sin in our lives.
Do you do things that are terribly wrong?
Do I do things that are terribly wrong?
The problem is that we do these things but no one holds us accountable for the things that we do.
Because we are more concerned about hurting people’s feelings than we about their spiritual growth.
If people get their feelings hurt, they might cause problems for the leadership. They might even up and leave the church. We don’t want to risk that because church growth has told us that what really matters is seats in the pews. It isn’t how much those people in the pews are growing into passionate four-directional disciples of Jesus Christ.
The problem is that growth into passionate four-directional disciples requires a structure of accountability. It can’t happen any other way.
No accountability – limited growth.
I’m not suggesting that everyone in your church should start going around telling everyone their faults. A great deal of needless harm has been done by people who thought that it was their special giftedness to tell people their faults. They very much needed to pay attention to Jesus’ teaching when he told us that we needed to remove the log in our own eye before we attempted to remove the splinter in another person’s eye.
Accountability should only happen in a trusting, church-designed structure in which the people involved have a deep concern for each others growth.
A personal example
Way back in my seminary days I took a preaching course with Dr. Bill McRae. I followed that up with one of the best gifts that God ever gave to me. I served for two years as Dr. McRae’s teaching assistant and for that I will be eternally grateful.
In that first course when I was a student we had to preach a sermon while Dr. McRae sat in another room watching the sermon on video. He would do a voice over outlining our mistakes and offering positive praise. We then had to watch the video later in the week. As you can imagine, none of us were too eager to watch ourselves being critiqued by such an excellent preacher.
Dr. McRae then came back into the room and led a discussion on our sermon. He started the discussion with some comments and one of those comments was a constructive criticism that almost destroyed me. I received lots of positive praise for my sermon but all that I could think about was that one criticism from Dr. McRae.
I spent the next week thinking about what he had said. It was one of the most difficult weeks of my life.
During that week, I almost quite as a pastor. That is how devastated I was by the remark.
Finally after a week of torment, I asked myself the question that I should have asked when he made the comment.
“Is what he said true?”
As I thought about it, I had to come to the difficult conclusion that what he said was true and was the primary weakness in my preaching. As a result of that conclusion, I completely changed my preaching style and most of what may be positive about my preaching today I owe to Dr. McRae.
I will be grateful for the rest of my life that he had the courage to speak the truth in love and to turn me into a much better preacher as a a result.
Constructive criticism is never easy to take. In fact, sometimes, as was true in my case, it can be very hard to take but our lives will never become all that God wants us to become unless there are people who are willing to speak even the hard parts into our lives.
Churches need to get over their fear of hurting people and be willing to build those structures into their churches in which accountability can happen.
Let me close with a question for all church leaders. I am challenging you to answer this question honestly because the future of your church hangs in the balance.
Would you sooner have fifty growing four-directional disciples in your church or one hundred and fifty people who are just filling the pews?