There is a reason you are frustrated.
There is a reason your church is struggling and you are discouraged.
For an answer let’s start with a question. How do you make disciples?
“Start a class of course!” How do you get pre-Christians to a class? “Put it in the bulletin of course!” What if there are no pre-Christians reading the bulletin? “Well, I can’t control that! Hopefully members will invite their non-Christian friends!” What if that doesn’t happen? “Then we need a better mousetrap – er, ah, a better class! More whistles and bells, video, computers and so forth.” Really?
Jesus used agricultural imagery all over the gospels when speaking of people and their faith and growth as disciples: The parable of the sower and the seed (Matt 13). He spoke of the fruit-bearing tree (Luke 13) and Paul spoke of the fruits of faith (Gal 5). But we seem to want to “make” disciples in industrialized, mass produced methods: Confirmation classes, group activities and their corresponding efforts to promote and gather many people at once. Nothing wrong with that, except when it doesn’t work. The Word is not at fault. So we need to reexamine our approach.
With the industrial age a shift took place not only in the manufacture of goods but also our approach and practice in other things including the church. Mass production brought conformity, standardization, cheaper prices and one size fits all but we also gave up customization and personalization. In the church we are not stamping out widgets but people. In a post WWII era where, maybe, the prevailing culture was Christian and maybe people where flocking to new churches in the suburbs, and it may have worked. But no more.
Each person is unique and cannot be stamped out like a cookie cutter especially in this post-Christian and even anti-Christian culture. There can be no factory short cuts and one size fits all. People need to be nurtured in their faith and life. It may be more labor intensive and take longer. So think “apprenticeship.”
That means that lay people will need to engage individuals themselves rather than merely invite them to church or an event or a class. But that presumes that lay people will be mature enough in their own faith and savvy enough to engage and nurture their friends, neighbors and others in their daily life. That also then presumes that they have had a customized and personalized approach modeled for them! Furthermore that presumes that the pastor knows, understands and lives this apprenticeship approach to discipleship. But I doubt exists much and many don’t even know what they don’t know. So the frustration continues.
So what to do? Pastors will need to learn and model one on one nurturing the faith with a selection of people (how about 12!?). Then those in turn will identify another group of people in the church (and some pre-Christian friends), not for a class or even a “missional community” but one on one intentional conversations that will no doubt involve sharing, Bible reading and dialogue, confession, absolution, prayer and accountability. Now that sounds like disciples making disciples! There are numerous practical ways to do this but we need to give up the industrialized approach save some group based Biblical staples such as worship and fellowship which affirm and celebrate the “communion of saints.”
So, let’s get personal. Who are you going to ask to mentor-disciple you as an apprentice? Then, who will you invite into an intentional disciple-nurturing relationship? Choose both those who are and those who do not yet confess faith in Christ. Let me know what happens!
Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, firstname.lastname@example.org or scottgress.com
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