Two things happened to me recently that set me thinking afresh about church. One, since February this year, I have had the privilege of being part of the pastoral team of a church. Haven’t done this in awhile. It has been a challenge getting back into harness. I am also teaching a course on leadership in a local seminary. There are six students in the class, all seasoned pastors. We learn together.
As a result of these two developments, I have gone back to reflect afresh as to how we should do church. I have come to a number of conclusions. The most fundamental is this — the primary mission of a church is to help its members grow in Christlike maturity. Here, it is hard to better Paul’s mission statement in Colossians 1:28:
“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” (TNIV)
In his opening comments in Colossians, Paul already tells us what it means to be mature in Christ:
“So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honour and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.”
“We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.”
(Colossians 1:9-12 NLT se)
I summarise Paul’s definition of Christlike maturity in this way. To be mature in Christ is to be mature in:
A person who is mature in Christ must be filled with God’s Word. But Paul is not thinking of an abstract factual study of the Word. We need to know God’s word in such a way that it gives us wisdom for our daily lives. We need to know God’s Word in such a way that it shapes our character and helps us grow in our relationship with God.
A person who is mature in Christ must exhibit Christ like character. He or she is a person who regularly says no to the deeds of the flesh and says yes to the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 19-23). This Christlike character is to be manifested in how we live.
A person who is mature in Christ will emulate Jesus in giving his or her life in service to others. He or she “will produce every kind of good fruit.” This includes verbalising the gospel (Colossians 4:3) but it also includes living out Kingdom values in the family and at work (Colossians 3:17 – 4:1).
Therefore a church that is faithful in doing what God wants her to do should be helping her members grow into people who are Christlike in character, people who live by the Word, and who minister to others in every sphere of life.
In other words, it is not enough for a church to chase conversions. We are to make disciples. We are to invite people to a journey of life long learning, an adventure of growing in the living knowledge of God’s Word, of more and more manifesting the image of Jesus in their lives, and of blessing people in Jesus’ Name in every sphere of life. It is to invite people to discover their destiny.
Discipling cannot be done through preaching and programmes alone. Discipling, as modelled to us by the Master, is personal and relational.
I enjoy preaching. I think it is one of my gifts. Yet I can’t help but wish I could tailor each sermon I preach for each member of my audience. Each individual is different and deserves to hear how the truth of God applies to their specific circumstances.
And I have seen the value of discipling programmes. Yet there is a “procrustean-bed” feel about these programmes. People are expected to fit into the programme. But people are different. No programme can fit the needs of every disciple.
So we see Jesus preaching to the crowds. But He spends personal time with a few, twelve. And He invests special attention to three of those twelve. Jesus’ approach is personal and relational.
Therefore I fully endorse Greg Ogden when he reminds us:
“…we have relied on programmes to make disciples. We rely on programmes because we don’t want to pay the price of personal investment that discipleship requires. By putting people through programmes, we foolishly hope that we can mass produce disciples.”
“Leroy Eims critiques this approach incisively when he writes, ‘Disciples cannot be mass produced. We cannot drop people into a programme and see disciples emerge at the end of the production line. It takes time to make disciples. It takes individual personal attention.'”
(TRANSFORMING DISCIPLESHIP, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003, p.67.)
As I reflect on where we should be going as a church, I feel a need to articulate our primary mission in a way that returns us to our basic call to make disciples.
I was thinking of a mission statement that goes something like this:
“mentoring believers into Christlike maturity so that they can minister for Christ unto His glory.”
Mentoring, Maturity, Ministry — a 3M ministry, with apologies to the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company.
The embarrassing thing of course, is that this is nothing new. Yet how quickly the church forgets its primary mission. The need of the hour is not more money or better technology. The need of the hour is a renewed humanity.
And so the church needs to return to its primary mission – to “go make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20a TNIV) As we do this we have the promise of the very presence of God.