Discipleship and a Healthy Church


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Introduction

             Some times, especially after you pass forty, you wake up in the morning feeling a certain pain with no idea of what generated such pain. You may wake up in the morning with a cold, feelings of nausea, etc. These are symptoms that are announcing that something in your body is not right at the moment. Many times we ignore those symptoms. There are also diseases that are lethal; however, they present no symptoms until, perhaps, it’s too late.

            Biblically speaking, it will never be too late for the church. The church will make it and be all that God says the church will be (Matthew 16:18). Nevertheless, many local churches are suffering from a disease, and even as there are no symptoms, the consequences are lethal. This disease is called, lack of discipleship. It is impossible for any church of any denomination to be healthy without aggressively and intentionally embracing the Great Commission. A million things have substituted this lack of discipleship and it has become a silent killer in the deterioration process of the health of many local churches. Many local churches are indeed dying.

A Healthy Church is the Goal of Discipleship

            Lack of discipleship is the greatest evidence that a church is sick. Dr. Krejcir states,

“This comes from a big problem we have in most churches today, that is the                    tendency of leaders not effectually growing in the Lord and thus do not practice their faith and this dispenses down to the congregation. And the outcome is a church that has missed its point and reason for being; as its people, who Christ has   brought in, go without being taught or discipled because the pastors and leaders  are not being taught or discipled.”[1]

            Jesus’ will for us is to have abundant life (John 10:10). His will is unquestionably good. In Jeremiah 28:11, even under the law; the Scripture describes the good plan that God has for us. What is in question here is not God’s will for us; what is in question is our true condition. The image is unimportant; the size of the building is unimportant and how large our membership is, is unimportant. The question here is, are we healthy according to Scripture?

            Every Sunday, for the most part, somebody is preaching; on Wednesdays, for the most part, somebody is teaching. So what are we missing? Jesus came to make us free according to John 8:32. He did not come to do a half way job; Jesus came to make us whole (Matthew 9:20-22). I am afraid that we have lower the standards and are skipping discipleship for lukewarm approach to the Gospel.

Examining my Personal History with Local Churches and Denominations

“In brief, the lesson in understanding what Jesus meant by “all that I commanded   you” at the end of Matthew’s Gospel is a call to strive for a closer and more   precise interpretation of Jesus’ teaching and commands in light of the circumstances in which they were given. “Teaching them to observe” requires no less than the disciples’ best efforts in understanding Jesus’ intent when He gave  each of those   teachings.”[2]

            I don’t know what is it that is so much moving us away from what we are called to do in our local churches. Honestly is frustrating! Many things in Scripture are hard to understand, but not the Great Commission. May be is the fact that discipleship requires two foundational requirements: 1) For us to remain in God’s Word and not live this life base on our opinions (John 8:31), and 2) to deny ourselves and to carry our cross (Matthew 16:24).

            In my life as a Christian my journey has taken me through diverse denominations. I have been a part of three nondenominational churches; one of these churches, a strong multicultural church. I have been a part of four major Pentecostal denominations. The nondenominational and all the Pentecostal churches I have been a part of are considered proud charismatics. I have also been a part of one Full Gospel Baptist Church (Mostly Black), and one Southern Baptist Church (Mostly white). I have also pastored two local churches; one under the Assemblies of God and the other independently. My journey has even taken me through a very short season with the “Organic Church” (Home Church). I honestly thank God for this journey that have also taken me through three states: Florida, North Carolina and now Alaska.

            Through all these churches I have seen one common sickness, none of these churches are really embracing the Great Commission; that is also including the two churches I pastored. For some, the idea of making disciples is limited to a disciple class, a far cry from what the Great Commission truly demands. When it comes down to divisions, confusions and backbiting the Pentecostal/Charismatic churches, by far, lead the chart.

            In regards to the balance between passion and emotionalism and Sound Doctrine and orthodoxy, again the Pentecostal/Charismatic church, by far, places the emphasis on emotions, experience and feelings. Also, the Pentecostal/Charismatic wing of the church seems to be quickly departing from orthodoxy and strongly embracing opiniondoxy (I made this word up, but you get the point).

            I have to make a few points very clear here. I am aware that not everybody in the Pentecostal/Charismatic wing of the church are guilty or partakers of my previous assessments. I have never known a man who study, honors and live out the Word of God more than the man who led me to Christ, that is, my brother in Christ and friend, Doug Berrenguer who is a longtime Pentecostal. I also have to make an honorific mention to my Pentecostal brothers and sisters in North Carolina who continue to honor God’s Word as the ultimate authority.

            However, there is a horrendous and ridiculous concept out there that teaches that embracing sound doctrine, theology, orthodoxy and dogma are a violation of the flow of the Holy Spirit. Even as I have seen that concept before, I never saw it as clearly as I did here in Alaska. What we are seen is the divorce of the Word of God and the Spirit of God; this is a demonic approach and a false teaching that is opening doors to a lot of foolishness in the Body of Christ.

            The reality is that Discipleship is inexistent. For the most part churches meet twice a week. Outside of church services or church related activities, we do not see our pastor or our brothers and sisters. Beloved, that is not discipleship!

            It is extremely difficult when you are a part of a charismatic church, to bring a degree of structure. Many churches passionately resist any formal study of theology or Christian seminary of any kind. So I asked myself, could the church in general be reformed? I have not seen much reformation taking place through church history. People are set in their ways. Many of these local churches are unhealthy; they are filled with divisions, jealousy, hypocrisy and horrendous theology. Nevertheless they view themselves as healthy. Some are feeling the pain, but are ignoring the symptoms that something is wrong. They continue to insist in whatever they learned and whatever their denomination stands for above what the Word of God establishes as truth.

            Just as we make excuses and refuse to go to the doctor until indeed is too late. Four thousand churches are closing every year here in the US. Out of the 250,000 protestant churches in the US, 200,000 are stagnant or experiencing no growth.[3] Are we healthy or are we suffering from a silent killer disease?

Two Areas We Must Focus on Immediately

            Earley presents a very practical tool for assessing the health of a church; I believe that two of these elements need immediate implementation. 1) We need to teach the whole council of God with a viewpoint towards application. It seems like churches and denominations get a hold of one theme and that is all they preach and teach. Some focus on the prophetic, some focus on material prosperity, some focus on the baptism of the Holy Ghost and so on. The focus should be the whole council of God without partiality. 2) We must encourage leaders to understand their role as equipping and empowering saints. According to Barna, 52% of church leaders believe that people can be disciple on their own.[4] In the case of some of the Pentecostal churches I have been a part of, there is absolutely no equipping of the saints because it is all delegated and placed on the experience of the Baptism of the Holy Ghost. Many feel that if you are baptized in the Holy Ghost you are ready; if you are not, you are not ready. I don’t take anything away from the vital importance of the Holy Ghost in effective ministry and in our lives in general, but we can’t ignore our biblical responsibility in the discipleship process. Leaders for the great commission are intentionally developed; this is not just going to happen people! It requires work![5]

            Many local churches feel that they are ok, that they are doing what they are supposed to and that they have somewhat of a different and exclusive call from everybody else. They are waiting on revival or in some new thing that God will do for them while ignoring the Great Commission and Acts 2:42.[6] Perhaps they have not received the memo that there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

Initial Steps to Fix the Problem

            If the Word of God is not taken serious, if the Word is not the ruler of our faith, there is not much that can be done. That is the initial step; Jesus states that in order for us to be his disciples, one of the nonnegotiable requirements is to remain in the WORD (LOGOS) (John 15:7)

            We must assess the people in our congregations in regards to their spiritual levels. We must assess the church in regards to our health as a body and implement an aggressive program of teaching what the meaning of the great commission really is, what Jesus commands and how to follow what He commands. We must aggressively promoted and implemented small home groups with trusted and mature leaders to implement a curriculum of the great commission and meaningful fellowship outside of the four walls of the church.

Conclusion

             We have a discipleship crisis in America. The statistics are alarming. Discipleship is not a complicated topic in the Bible; it is in fact a matter of obedience. Everything we need to know about discipleship is already written in Scripture. God’s will is for the church to be healthy, for the church to equip saints, for disciples to be developed and send out to continue to fulfill the Great Commission. The focus is on what we are teaching; we are supposed to be teaching all that Jesus command; but we seem to focus on everything else, but that.

           My personal situation in ministry and in my relationship with certain denominations is at the end of the road. The Word is resisted, emotionalism, materialism and this lukewarm approach to the Gospel that I am witnessing is not an isolated case. I am not giving up on Jesus, I am not giving up on the church, but I am giving up on this institutionalize and ineffective system that is not design to establish true discipleship, but to resist it.

              The warning here should also be point out, even as the system is mess up, even as there is a need to get out of many of these institutionalize churches, we must be careful in not jumping into these “Alternative Groups” that claim authenticity while divorcing God’s Word as vital in our walk as Christians. We must avoid any group that disregard God’s Word for outrageous statements that could not even be found in the Jehovah witness Bible. Again, pursue orthodoxy and runaway from opiniondoxy.

 

[1]           Richard J. Krejcir, What Makes a Church Healthy and Unhealthy, http://www.churchleadership.org/apps/articles/default.asp?articleid=44960&columnid=4545

[2]           Robert L. Thomas, The Great Commission: What to Teach, http://www.tms.edu/m/msj21a.pdf

[3]           Jack Wellman, Why We Are Loosing So Many Churches in the United Staes, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2013/10/26/why-we-are-losing-so-many-churches-in-the-united-states/

[4]           Barna Group, The State of Discipleship: Research conducted among Christian adults, church leaders, exemplar discipleship ministries and Christian educators, (Colorado Springs: The Navigators, 2015), 49

 

[5]           Dave Early and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is… How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence, (Nashville: B&H Academy, 2013), 212-213

[6]           And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Acts 2:42 (NKJV)

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