Why do simple church? Because Jesus told us to make disciples. ” But,” someone might respond, “aren’t sermons, Sunday School, VBS, mission trips, weekend seminars,small groups, and a myriad of other programs carried on by institutional churches just methods for making disciples?”
From what I’ve observed after a couple of years of attempting to make reproducing disciples, not only are these initiatives not discipleship, they actually have become counterproductive toward fulfilling the Great Commission. How can this be? The answer can be found within the Great Commission itself:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matt. 28:19-20 NIV emphasis mine
The difference comes down to one word, “accountability.” All the programs which I mentioned at least as they are most often administered, teach people what Jesus commanded but they do not teach them to obey everything he commanded. Without obedience the entire culture of a church can become one of quiet disregard for the commands of Christ. In time, we begin to excuse each other’s (little) sins so they will excuse ours. By teaching what Jesus said without expecting that a disciple obey, we actually teach disobedience. So, we all come together regularly to carry out empty religious activity which we substitute for obedience. Sadly, the church-goers are the only ones who are fooled into thinking that those observances matter.
Discipleship requires loving, mutual accountability. As a believing community we must ask each other, “What is Jesus calling you to do and when will you do it?” Then we must expect that everyone who claims to follow Jesus will carry those things out. We ought to expect that everyone will expect us to be “doers” rather than just “hearers.” When this happens we go from an irrelevant religious society to the counter-culture expression of Christ’s kingdom in the midst of real lives.
Some have called that form of religion which has supplanted discipleship “churchianity.” That word fits this discussion. In the Bible belt where I live, we’re sick with it. I’m sick with it. Last year, while having dinner with church planter, Neil Cole, I recognized the degree to which I had succumbed . As we discussed the challenges of facilitating spiritual growth in recently redeemed people, I remember saying, “Yeah, those guys got drunk the other night but I overeat sometimes. I guess we all sin.” I expected Neil to nod and agree. That’s how we do it in the church of church. He didn’t. He just gave me a puzzled look. In that moment I felt the Spirit convict me that if I, a professed disciple of Jesus, consider something to be outside his will, I shouldn’t do it. I also shouldn’t excuse other people when they do things they know to be wrong.
Making disciples is hard because it calls us to go beyond spiritual feelings and scriptural insights to personal obedience and interpersonal confrontation. For those who are tired of gathering attenders and want to join Jesus in building an army, it’s the only way.