Posted on February 4, 2016.
By Pastor Skylar Spradlin
In recent months there have been two separate issues that the Lord has used to generate my thoughts on discipleship. The first happened more recently and in a more compelling fashion. A friend and myself happened across a gentleman who lived in a neighboring city. This individual recognized the university logo that was on my friend’s jacket, and that is in our community, and proceeded to tell us that in the 1980’s he attended that same university. He also began to tell us that while he was in college he was very faithful at a small local church in our community called Trinity Baptist Church. He talked of his time at our church (a time that was before my friend and myself) and the faithfulness to which he served our church. He told of fellowships, Sunday school, and his volunteering where the church needed his help. He exclaimed with pride in his eyes that he was so faithful that he knew everybody in the church. My friend then asked a very simple yet rather telling question, “Where do you go to church now?” The answer was both heartbreaking and all too common – “I don’t go anywhere. I haven’t been to church in years.”
In yet another instance the Lord has driven my mind to thoughts on true discipleship. I have observed members of a church who were faithful members and volunteers of their church, serving it for years, but have now decided to leave that church for various issues. Without getting into details of why they left and whether it was wrong or right for them to do so, I have noticed an alarming trend among them. Many of them have decided to drop out of church altogether and still many others have made very poor choices about where they are now attending church; attending some local churches that blatantly disregard truth, disregard a high view of Scripture, and disregard following God in all they do. The question that I have been forced to ask of both stories is why?
Why did these people make poor decisions? Why are they dropping out of church or going to church’s that aren’t biblically sound or God honoring in their practices? An even better question that I have asked is how? How can these people be seemingly solid people, serve faithfully in the church, even be leaders in the church, and yet make such decisions as to not attend church at all, or to attend churches that are not true to the Bible? We know the answer to why they make these decisions: they are still sinful and are following their own sinful hearts, but how they can make these decisions if they are true disciples is a question to examine.
These are important questions to ask and to answer, and it is unfortunate that these questions are also too common. Most local churches, even in the last 5 years, have had people who were once faithful to the mission of the church but have since moved off and are now divorced, converting to other religions, and having nothing to do with God at all. These are telling signs for the church that something is not right.
The Unfortunate Reality
The truth of the matter is that most churches are good at getting people to buy into church programs, but not good at training people to follow Jesus. That is a major difference. Pastors spend much of their time trying to figure out how to “sell” an idea instead of trying to determine how to spur their members on to godly living. These are alarming realties. Truth be told, we are training people to become more committed to our local church programs, to volunteer to fill gaps, and to further the agenda of the local church instead of training them to live godly lives that honor Christ. Sure we may exhort them from the pulpit to live their life for Jesus, but in the daily grind and ministry of the church, in the programs and mission of the church, in what takes the most resources of our church’s time, money, and energy, are we truly prompting biblical discipleship? It is one thing to train people to be faithful to our local church, it is quite another thing to train people to be faithful to Jesus.
From the examples mentioned above we have seen this kind of attitude play out. The individuals that were mentioned were faithful to their local churches in the sense of serving the church and volunteering in the church, but were they faithful to Christ? The fruit of their life would indicate no. They dropped out of church, began attending churches that didn’t care if Christ was regarded or not, and, in some cases, have had nothing to do with God in years. Does that sound like the heart of a disciple? No. In my estimation, those people were disciples of their local church – an imperfect group of redeemed sinners on this side of glory and still undergoing sanctification. Is it any wonder then that when the church messes up, when the pastor leaves, when those members are forced to move on in life, that they make decisions that don’t honor or involve Christ at all? There should be a fear in the church of raising up good volunteers, but not good disciples.
Back to our Lord’s instruction in Matthew 28 we see an explicit indicator of what it means to make a disciple. While this will be covered in another post, it must be mentioned, at least in part, here. After Jesus commands His disciples to make disciples in all nations He mentions two things to do in the making process: baptize them (make a public confession of their inward conversion) and to teach them the things of the Lord.
It is the latter command that must be addressed here. As disciples are made they are taught the things of the Lord. This means that they are schooled and trained in the Word of the Lord; i.e. Scripture. Therefore, disciples would and should know the high value that the Lord places on the church. They would know that a commitment to Christ means a commitment to the church; His body, of which He is the Head (Col. 1:18). A disciple would know of Ephesians 5 where Paul tells of Christ loving the church and giving Himself up for her to present her clean before God. As a result, disciples would not abandon the church, but because Christ loves the church they would love the church.
Disciples would and should also know the high value God places on truth. Paul describes the church (which is made up of disciples) as the pillar and buttress of truth; the upholder of God’s truth (1 Tim. 3:15). Disciples would know that Jesus Himself identifies as the truth (John 14:6). As such, disciples would not belittle truth because God so values truth. Therefore, it would make no sense for true disciples to associate with a church that cares nothing for God’s truth, but instead cares about their own entertainment.
Disciples would and should know how precious God is. They would know the grace lavished upon us, the mercy that washes over us, and the tremendous blessing of salvation secured for us by Christ. Simply put, it is ludicrous that true disciples could go years without having nothing to do with God.
While believers sometimes make poor choices and fall into a bad situation, and while God still saves and redeems believers from their bad decisions, it is inconceivable that faithful church members could drop out of church, attend unbiblical churches, and neglect God altogether and the church think that they are doing a good job at making disciples. Yet, that is exactly what is happening.
So, we must return to our original question: are we making true biblical disciples? Unfortunately, it does not look that way. Instead, we are making good disciples of our local churches who fall away and make ungodly, unwise decisions that do not line up with the desires of the Lord.
Do we think we are making biblical disciples that are capable of making biblical, godly decisions of their own? Do we think we are making biblical disciples who are truly concerned about pleasing Christ in every detail of their lives? Do we think that we are making biblical disciples who are seriously concerned about advancing the name of Christ over satisfying their selfish desires? Before we answer, let us examine the evidence. Before we answer, let us look at the trends of our members. Before we answer, let us be honest with ourselves.