Church or crowd?

There are two types of congregation, in my admittedly simplistic definition, and the best way of differentiating between them is by asking a simple question: is this a church or is this a crowd? 

The difference between church and crowd is summed up in one word: discipleship. 

This was on my mind this week as I attended a dinner honouring a number of men who had been through a discipleship programme run by the church we are working with this winter. They have run this course for the last thirteen years. A lot of men have been through it, and it has had a deep impact on the life of the congregation (and before I proceed further, let me make it clear women are disciples also!). 

It should be obvious to even a casual reader of the New Testament that discipleship played a central role in Jesus’ ministry. After all, he had twelve disciples, not twelve executive assistants, associate pastors, management trainees or general hangers-on. 

Other Rabbis accepted anyone who wanted to follow them, and placed few or no conditions on them. But Jesus chose his own disciples, and made life-changing demands on each of them. They had to leave everything and follow him, no matter what the cost. And he trained them to go out and do things, not just sit around listening to him teaching. He also limited their number quite severely so that he could invest enormous amounts of time and energy in each one of them. 

At the end of three years, when they all deserted him, it didn’t look like his training programme amounted to much. But when the Holy Spirit fell at Pentecost, those twelve became the nucleus of a movement that has changed the world, and drawn a billion or more people into allegiance to the same man who started with only those twelve.

And so I ask the question why it is that so many congregations engage in such little discipleship? Perhaps it’s because they’re too busy running up the numbers to have any time for it. Perhaps it’s because pastors are so worn out trying to please everyone they don’t have vision or energy for it. Perhaps they’ve just lost track of what Biblical church is supposed to look like. 

But I think a large part of the reason is this. Our society, by and large, doesn’t want to be discipled. Church is fine as long as it gives us a little inspiration or some decent teaching about the Bible, or even some social fellowship. But when it comes to mature believers helping us to live a more godly life, messing around with our sin, superficiality and complacency, we invoke our own personal Declaration of Independence and move on. 

Discipleship became a dirty word in the 70s and 80s when it was associated with pastors telling church members who to marry and what kind of wallpaper to put up (though a lot of that was myth). So we decided nobody had the right to tell us anything. And we have paid the price. 

My advice is to go back and have a second look at how Jesus did it. It might turn your life and your church upside down, but it will be worth it. 

And remember this. Jesus’ last instructions were not about enlarging church membership, building a bigger auditorium, getting more tithers in or increasing your congregation’s social media profile. 

Those instructions were to go and make disciples. How come we find that so hard to understand?


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Foundation of Faith Project  is strengthening generations in faith and bringing beautiful changes to the communities around them. Through teaching, mentoring and coaching, many are finding out who they are and who they are destined to be.  They are bringing more to their world. David Campbell is the key leader in this initiative and you can support him financially directly through Awakening Ministries.

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