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.
I have been left with a profound dis-ease in my soul over our complete inability as United Methodists to keep the main thing the main thing. After reading this blog post I reposted it to the United Methodist Clergy Facebook Group where I attached a question designed to offer an opportunity for constructive engagement. My question about a definition for disciple and process for making disciples for Jesus Christ was met with a proponderance of critiques about UMC dashboards and metrics. It was telling and disheartening.
You know, you’re really good at raising questions. Do you have any answers to offer, or is it just your job to stir things up?
I actually think I am pretty good at giving my answers, too, but they tend to be things people don’t want to hear — because they probably won’t make us bigger.
1. get back to basics — pray, study scripture and discuss/discern its meaning in community, talk about God’s will and vision, fast with purpose, do something everyday for someone else in the name and Spirit of Jesus Christ.
2. meet regulary to share answers to such questions as “and how is it with your soul?”, “where have you experienced God’s grace in your life/the world this week?”, “where have you extended the grace of God to others this week?”, “how is the world a more just, loving, caring, kind, compassionate place today because of your existence?”
3. get out of the church building and be the church in the world.
4. commit to living the fruits of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
5. put the common good before your own individual good — build community, avoid selfishness.
6. give something away every day.
7. advocate for someone who needs help.
8. talk personally about what you believe and why it is important to you.
9. spend time with the poor.
10. only engage in those things that generate/produce positive energy; avoid those things that produce negative energy.
I basically same some variation on at least one of these things whenever I call us to stop doing something.
Points taken–and thanks for your reply. (And you’re still pretty good at stirring things up!)