“But our church isn’t anything like that!”
I was having coffee last week with a young man new to our church. He was asking about our history. And I was telling him about the ups and downs, and how long it took for the church to take root. At the end of my description, those were his words.
And I agreed. I replied: “You’re right. This is a whole new church.”
The fact is that our church, as it presently is, hardly existed eight or nine years ago. Very few remain from the 25 years prior to that. Some went home to be with the Lord. Quite a lot, including most of our own kids, left to pursue life and careers in larger cities where there are jobs. Some went to plant or help plant other churches.
And many just left.
Some left for other churches where, for various reasons, they felt more at home. But many, sadly, left God when they left church. Or at least they left any active pursuit of God.
As I look around, I see a series of revolving doors. People go from one church to another, and then eventually drop out entirely.
Sometimes church leadership is to blame. Many pastors feel pressured to fill the pews up in order to keep their job. They happily take in people from other churches without asking any questions, reassuring them they will have a happier experience here. But they don’t. They leave after a while, and often take a few others with them. Dysfunctional people are rarely challenged in terms of basic Biblical discipleship in a broader church culture that is all too often experiential and superficial.
I’ll tell you when the change started in our church because I remember it so well. It was the day a young man new to the church approached me and asked me this question: “Would you be willing to disciple me?” After picking myself up off the floor, I said yes, of course. And suddenly the tide turned. Before long, a culture of discipleship began to develop as more and more younger couples came.
And I began to think about discipleship a lot.
There was a discipleship movement when I was a young Christian. It was condemned by the religious establishment for being too authoritarian. In truth, it challenged the unwillingness of most church leaders to engage in discipleship themselves, or be willing to engage in the process of discipling others. It’s easier just to run services and not get involved.
The rot starts at the top. Pastors are taught in Bible colleges to protect themselves by never making friends in the local church. The revolving door starts with the pastors, who find themselves on a career track moving from smaller churches to (hopefully) larger ones every few years, never getting rooted and grounded in one place.
As I come to the end of 33 years planting and leading one local church, I wonder how many others there are like me? Maybe more than I think, who knows?
Whatever the causes, churches have to stop being revolving doors and start being discipleship centres. The immediate effect may be that the church becomes smaller, but in the long run it will grow and prosper.
And just remember this. Jesus did not call us to have big meetings. He called us to make disciples. That’s the only Great Commission I know. And if we are not ourselves discipled, how do we expect to make any? Maybe that’s why Christianity is losing ground in our culture.
I would imagine every major movement of God has been based on discipleship. Think Calvin. Think Wesley. Think William Booth. The transformative effects of revival are not based on big meetings. Revival produces converts who get discipled and go out and make other disciples.
I’m still being discipled. My life is still open to others I trust. And I’m doing more discipling now than I ever have.
So let’s stop the revolving door and start doing what God called us to do.
It might open more real doors for the kingdom.