A common definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. If that is true, then church leaders in churches of every size often demonstrate a little bit of insanity.
You have seen the scenario played out. Leadership in a church becomes concerned about some aspect of church life. They go looking for the program that will bring new life to that area. They believe that there is a program for every aspect of church life. They just have to find the right one.
Some times its evangelism. The leaders become concerned that no one is being brought to Christ and they look for the program that will turn their people into evangelists.
Maybe its worship. They find a website that offers new ideas and they encourage the worship group to introduce those new ideas into the Sunday morning service.
Perhaps its fellowship. They are concerned about developing a deeper level of fellowship and they look for a program that will enable them to start small groups.
Whatever form the program might take, the results are predictable. There is an initial excitement when the program is introduced. There may be some training involved and people are fired up enough to attend the classes. Then after a while, the program fizzles out and everything goes back to normal.
I was speaking with a pastor recently who told me about an evangelism program that they tried in their church. He offered training classes and people attended. They seemed excited about the possibilities but then the time came when they were going to put all that training into practice and no one showed up.
The missing ingredient
The problem is that churches begin at the wrong starting point. Imagine the following scenario.
A small church has not had a baptism in which someone from outside the church community was baptized for the past five years. The pastor becomes concerned and decides that the church needs to do something to reach people. He grabs onto the latest program and tries to convince people to join up.
He sets up a training program for people who are willing to be involved. Then the church plans a special Sunday to which the members can invite non-Christian friends and family. The big day arrives and to the disappointment of everyone no one comes.
The leaders wonder what went wrong. Why don’t people want to be involved in evangelism? The question that they should be asking is why anyone would expect that the program would work.
Thank about it.
People in that church have not been involved in evangelism for five years. No one has become a Christian as a direct result of the people in the church. Why should the leaders expect that suddenly because they introduce a new program people are going to do a complete turn around and become active evangelists.
The people don’t need a new program. They need a change of heart. They need God to do a supernatural work in them that will make them want to share their faith.
The first step in discipleship
The first direction that people must take if they are going to become disciples of Jesus Christ is an upward direction. People need to deepen their walk with God and out of that dynamic, faithful, living walk with God the rest of the discipleship process will flow.
In Acts 1 we find an important statement made by Jesus to his disciples just before he returned to heaven. They are asking questions about the future kingdom and Jesus tells them that that is not the issue. He tells them that the Holy Spirit is going to come into their lives and when that transforming work of the Spirit occurs they will be his witnesses right there in Jerusalem where they are living and beyond to the furthest corners of the world.
What is interesting in these verses is that unlike the Great Commission in Matthew, there is no command here. Jesus isn’t telling them what they should do. He is telling them what they will do. When the Spirit has come into their lives, they will be his witnesses. It is a natural progression. Their relationship with God is deepened and they share the wonder of that relationship with people around them.
The most important question for a church to ask as they think about the challenge of making disciples is how do we move people forward in their walk with God. Everything else flows from that.