Many years ago I helped my dad build a green house. The walls were framed with 12 foot posts buried 4 foot in the ground. Sounded easy enough. My dad purchased a posthole digger and we went to work. This seemed like the perfect tool for the job, after all we had posts and we were digging holes. Well, it didn’t take long before we realized that this was going to be harder than we thought. If you are not from Florida, then you probably don’t know what I’m talking about. Nearly all of Florida is covered in sand; soft, dry, nearly impossible to dig a hole in, sand. Each time we stuck the posthole digger into the ground we would pull it back only to have at least half of the sand fall back into the hole. This was very frustrating. We did eventually get all of the posts in place. However, we quickly learned that the only way to keep the sand from falling back into the hole was to make the hole nearly as wide as it was deep. For every foot of depth we had to open the top of the hole by about 4-8 inches. It was much more work that we anticipated.
Recently I found myself thinking how much this resembles the church. You see there is a debate that has been going on for years. Small churches look at large ones and say that their people are not going deep enough in their faith. Large churches criticize smaller churches for their lack of growth. The argument some make is that if you are growing really fast, then there is no time for Christians to go deeper in their faith. The other end of the argument is that if you focus ONLY on going deeper in your faith then you’re ignoring the main reason that the church exists, to spread the gospel. Obviously these views can’t both be right. So, the question is which one is? I would say that neither extreme is what God intended.
We’re a discipleship church. This is the view expressed by many people in smaller churches. The idea is that they are focused on helping people grow spiritually. They might even say that they are a “discipleship church”. On the surface this sounds like a good idea. I mean after all Jesus did commission us to “make disciples of all nations.”(1) Paul went so far as to compare those that did not grow in Spiritual maturity with babies. (2) The writer of Hebrews made the same comparison, criticizing those that should be teaching others, but still required someone to teach them the “elementary truths of God’s word.”(3) Clearly discipleship is important.
But, is it just an excuse? For some the cry of discipleship becomes an excuse not to reach new people. I would argue that discipleship without evangelism is not discipleship at all. Let’s look at the examples that the New Testament gives us. I think few would deny that the people that had the closest relationship with Jesus Christ were his disciples. These 12 men were hand selected by Jesus and spent three years studying directly under him. What did these men do after Jesus death and resurrection? Did they gather in small groups and have Bible studies by themselves? No, their close relationship with Jesus led them to reach out to people that did not know Christ. In fact it was the efforts of these disciples that were the beginnings of the church as we know it.
We’re an Evangelistic Church. This is often the view expressed by churches with a strong focus on evangelism. This too sounds very noble. After all, Jesus told us to “GO and make disciples of all nations, BAPTIZING THEM…” Clearly this is a call to evangelism. Jesus was all about evangelism and I think we should be too. However, I would say that evangelism without discipleship is not evangelism at all. Imagine a woman has twin sons. One baby she cares for and gives him everything he needs. The other she nearly ignores. Along the way someone may come around and feed the less favored baby. Somehow he survives. If we were to look at these two babies at any stage of life, which one do you think is going to be healthier? Evangelism without discipleship is like the baby that gets ignored. The Bible often compares new believers to babies. Even as the ignored twin can be born without discipleship, so can people come to salvation through Christ without being discipled. However, even as a baby requires ongoing care to grow strong. In the same way a new believer requires ongoing care to become mature and strong in their faith.
It’s like digging postholes in the sand. Now let’s look back at the story I told at the beginning of this post. You see, when digging postholes in sand, it is impossible to go deep without also going wide. Likewise in the church it is impossible to TRULY go deeper in your faith without also going wide.
To the “discipleship church.” I would recommend that you consider these thoughts. Are the people that you are “leading deeper in their faith” reaching out to the lost people around them? If not, then you have to ask if they are TRULY going deeper in their faith.
To the “evangelistic church.” Is your church filled with a bunch of stillborn Christians? Are the people in your church able to feed themselves spiritually? Are they able to share their faith with other people? Are the people in your church praying regularly? Are they reading their Bible daily? Is their only exposure to Biblical truth what they hear on Sunday? If your church is growing rapidly, but you can’t answer these questions yes, then you might want to reevaluate your strategy.
What about us kidmins? Well, check back soon for the answer to that question.
1.) Matthew 27:55
2.) 1 Corinthians 3:2
3.) Hebrews 5:12