What in God’s name do we think we are doing? If I hear one more prominent church leader define discipleship as going to church I will scream. We aren’t going to count the number of people who attend church anymore. Some genius decided we will count “disciples” in worship. What? We can do that with one hand! And I keep hearing about discipleship “programs” and “systems”. Do we not have any clue what we are talking about? Well, we did form a Board of Discipleship, so it isn’t a new confusion, but really… let’s take the heart and soul of the Christian movement and reduce it to just one more institutional church growth travesty.
No one with a lick of common sense or the ability to read the Bible defines discipleship as church membership/participation/attendance. The only way to do this is to believe that Jesus was wrong and had no idea what he was talking about — in which case, it is hard to defend the idea you are a Christian. There is no such thing as a passive disciple. Discipleship isn’t about believing in God, believing that Jesus is God’s Son, wanting to live a “good, Christian life,” or attending worship whenever you feel like it (sorry Vital Congregations/Vital Signs dashboard…). Discipleship is a lifestyle — a commitment to live as Jesus lived and taught. It is “high-end” Christianity — where we actually integrate beliefs and behaviors and give ourselves to God’s will for our lives. It is not for the faint of heart, the Christian consumer, or apparently for a significant number of people in prominent positions of leadership in our denomination. No, many would like to make Christianity easy and simple — undemanding and appealing. Let’s reduce everything to an insipid broth so anyone anywhere can choke it down. Jesus wept!
We should be raising the bar, not lowering it. Have we not noticed that by making our church all about numbers and attendance that we have created a mediocre and impotent presence in the world? Do we not realize that when we make our church about TV ads and door-hangers we shout to the world that the church is cheap and vulgar? Does pandering to the lowest common denominator of American culture actually get us where God wants us to be?
As I prepare for General Conference I am reminded again that there are two churches in today’s United Methodism: one that is concerned with its own survival and existence that will spend exorbitant amounts of money to justify its own existence and a much smaller church that wants to serve God and Jesus Christ in the world. One is concerned with numbers, the other is concerned with lives. One is concerned with image, the other is concerned with integrity. One is concerned with power and control, the other with justice and service. We stand at a crossroads. We need to make a choice. Will we sell out to a lesser vision of church as social institution or will we rise up to BE the body of Christ? It begins with discipleship — and if our leaders are going to make this rich and wonderful concept meaningless, we are in deep, deep trouble.