Download This  Study For Free!


Please feel free to Download this study.

WHEN IS A CHURCH TRULY SUCCESSFUL?

Hundreds and even thousands stream into America's large churches and super churches each Sunday.  The animated song leaders or worship teams of these churches skillfully create a worshipful spirit as those who fill up their sanctuaries sing the choruses and hymns they have come to enjoy.  There may be a choir that performs a beautiful piece of music.  A talented soloist often sings a moving piece of music that sets the tone for the pastor's message. Then, the pastor stands and preaches a well-prepared message from the Bible.

What has just been described is what happens in thousands of churches across our country every Sunday.  Sometimes the choruses are sung with lifted hands and even dancing as a worship team leads an active time of praise, while in other churches the atmosphere is more formal and reserved.  Whatever the form of worship, there are churches in nearly every large community or city who have reached this presumed level of success and attainment.

Outside of these successful churches, though, the gay rights movement grows stronger, the percentage of divorces and single-parent homes steadily increase, the number of young people becoming involved in gangs and violence multiplies, and the morals of our country continues to degenerate.  Our churches appear to be growing larger and more successful, while at the very same time our society is sliding farther away from God.

How can we determine whether or not a church is successful?  Should we measure the success of a church in the same way as we measure, for example, the success of a business?  Our first thought is that it is the store with the most customers and the largest financial income that is the most successful store in town.  Is this the way that we measure which is the most successful and least successful church in town?  Are successful churches determined primarily by the number of their customers and their financial income?

When is a church truly successful?  We cannot read Jesus' words in the gospels long before we see that He used a different method for measuring success and failure than we use today.  The widow's mite or few pennies held more value to Him than the rich gifts of the wealthy (Luke 21:1-4).  He said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3).  He told us that he who is the greatest is he who is the greatest servant (Matthew 21:25-27).  And He said that the last will be first and that the first will be last.  Because the church was bought by His blood and because He is the Head of the church, we need to be concerned above all with His standards of success (rather than the world's standards) when we measure the success and failure of a church.

When does Jesus consider a church to be successful?  Can we be sure that the churches we consider to be successful are the churches that He considers to be successful?  He made it very clear what He desires to take place in His church when He gave His apostles their commissioning and their final instructions.  He summed up what He desired for them to do in Matthew 28:18-20: "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.  Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing 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.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'" What He made his highest priority, is what we the members of His church should also be making our highest priority.  His highest priority was making disciples.  It was making disciples who would follow Him in a lifestyle that in many ways is the very opposite of the world's ways.  He commissioned them to go out and make disciples of others in the very same way He had discipled them.

Did this commission to make disciples stop with the apostles?  No, it is clear that it is His commission to us as well, for He said "to the very end of the age."  We are not at the end of the age yet, and it has been a long time since the apostles have been with us.  Who, then, are to make disciples today?  There is only one possible answer -- the twenty first century church is to be busy at the very same task that the first century church made its highest priority!  When is a church successful?  We are only truly successful, when we are successful at fulfilling Jesus' commission to the church and are making disciples who will follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

How are we doing today?  When we compare what is most important in our churches today with what were Jesus' and the apostles' patterns and priorities, will we find that the heartbeat of today's church is the same as the heartbeat of the early church?  I believe that if we are willing to take off our American cultural glasses and are willing to look with fresh eyes at our American churches, we will discover that the success that we are often seeking after in our churches is quite different from the type of success that was sought after by Jesus Christ and the apostles.

Are our local churches focused above all on building disciples?  Is your local church focused above all on making disciples?  It has been my observation that success in an American church is most often measured by how successful that church is in building its attendance, rather than by how successful it is in building disciples (building followers of Jesus Christ).  Making disciples, has been too often given a backseat role in the working program of our churches, while increasing church attendance is most often the driving goal in American churches.  I once attended a national meeting for my church's association of churches.  At the meetings there were a number of elective classes that were offered.  One of the many electives was a class that was directed toward giving instructions on how we can be effective in serving and meeting needs within our community.  Another class was led by a noted expert on church growth.  The class on how to serve our communities was attended by just a handful of people, whereas the elective on church growth was attended by hundreds.

When is a church successful—is it successful when it is effectively reaching out in love and meeting needs in its community or is it successful when it is growing in attendance?  The vast majority at that conference obviously believed that church growth is what is most important.  I do not believe that our association of churches is the only national church organization that would have had their largest attendance at the elective on church growth.

The primary purpose of our American churches should be to build disciples?  Sadly, though, our churches are often content as long as the attendance is doing well, even if there is very little effectiveness at building disciples.  As long as the attenders keep attending, the church is all too typically looked upon as being a successful church.  But, Jesus' mandate to the apostles was not for them to go and build churches with large attendances, but He commissioned them to go and "make disciples of all nations...teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

These churches full of attenders, however, are very ineffectual at penetrating our society with God's love, truth, and righteousness!  They are also not very effective in warring with our relentless enemy.  Often, they can become little more than weekly meeting places and even entertainment centers for many people who hardly even know each other.  Churches are not truly successful until they are discipling centers.  Jesus and the apostles reached out to everyone, as we should, but they did not in any way adjust their message or methods to pander to and placate the multitudes.  Their focus was clearly on reaching and building disciples who would be able to face Satan's best forces and continue to build God's church in God's way.  God desires Christians to be much more than Sunday morning attenders, He desires that we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, Peter, Paul and all those who have had but one primary purpose in life, to further God's kingdom on earth no matter what the cost.

In these pages you will find a contrast between the attendance-focused church and the discipleship-focused church.  It is recognized that no church is fully one or the other.  It is also recognized that no church in this imperfect, sinful world will ever be perfectly one or the other.  But, what should be the goal of each of our churches?  What we really believe is the measure of success for a church is what we will seek after.  If a pastor and a church believes that a large attendance is the primary measure of a church's success, he and that church will seek above all to expand their church's attendance and their membership.  But, if a pastor and a church believes that discipleship is the true measure of success in God's churches, then it will be their very highest priority to make disciples in the same way that Jesus and the apostles made disciples in their time.  True success in a church, then, is the success that God alone can enable us to do, and that is the growth in that church of real disciples and real growth in those disciples!

 

WHEN ARE WE SUCCESSFUL IN GOD'S KINGDOM?

It is easier to answer the question, "When is someone successful in the world's kingdom?"  Success in our society is usually measured by that which is outward and easily observable.  Who are the successful people in our society?  They are typically those who have some type of outward and obvious signs of success such as being in elevated positions in our society, owning expensive cars, and living in lavish houses.  We are usually only looked upon as being successful in our society if we have some of these outward signs of success.

Is this the type of success that we should seek after in our churches?  Are churches only successful when they have these outward signs of success?  Success in God's kingdom may have nothing to do with any of these measuring sticks.  In the Beatitudes, Jesus said blessed are the poor, mourning, meek, and hungry.  It is obvious that for us to be successful in God's kingdom, we may need to go in the very opposite direction from those who are seeking success in this world system.

Those who are successful in God's kingdom are those who have humbled themselves and become servants.  Jesus' disciples thought that following Jesus would result in them being served by many.  But, when Jesus washed their feet He was teaching them that success in His kingdom meant that they would need to learn how to become the servants of many.  Success in God's kingdom must start with humbling ourselves.  But, God does lift up those who humble themselves.   He lifts them ever higher in the ways of His kingdom and in His type of success; a success that lasts forever.

Jesus said that the first will be last and the last will be first.  He also said that no man can serve two masters.  We need to first of all decide, "Which success are we going to seek after—the success that non-believers are rushing after, or the success that we reach through being a disciple and servant of Jesus Christ?"  A young man who had the ability and personality to be successful in many areas in our society, gave his life seeking to reach an Indian tribe near the Amazon river.  He said, "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."  If you desire this type of success, read on.

 

DIFFERENT VIEWS OF SUCCESS LEAD TO TWO VERY DIFFERENT TYPES OF CHURCHES

If pastors and church leaders believe that success in the Christian world is similar to success in the business world, then they will direct their efforts toward building a church that is much like a successful business franchise.  Success will equal more, larger, and richer; more attendance, larger buildings, and richer possessions.  The promotion for this type of attendance-focused church (or customer-focused) church will be very similar to the promotion that is developed for a business venture.  The message will be generally as follows:  "Come to our church and get more of what you want in a church—more exciting speakers, more talented musicians, and more elaborate programs."

There is, of course, nothing necessarily wrong with any of these.  But, a church that focuses on worldly success will be seeking above all to entice people to come and attend their church, rather than attend another church.  Their goal may even be for people to leave another church and come and attend their church.  They will be seeking to gain customers rather than seeking to build disciples.  In this type of church you will find the same type of competitiveness with other churches as there is between businesses.  Their goal will be to get people to choose their product over what is offered at another church.  They will have been successful when people leave other churches to attend their church.  They will have reached the ultimate success when their church has become the largest church in town (in the state, etc.).

The discipleship-focused church has very different goals.  Their goal is to do all that they can do to promote obedience to Jesus Christ, even if it does not help their own church to grow in attendance.  They are successful to the degree that they encourage those outside of the church, inside the church, and even in other churches, to become Christians and to grow in their Christian lives.  This type of church does not have as a goal the desire to promote itself or seek to build its church at the expense of other local churches, but its goal is to promote God's work throughout its community.  Instead, a church like this often puts its efforts into ventures that may never be measured by growth in their own church.  They will share the gospel even when the people who hear its message may end up attending another church in town or even end up in a church in another city.  Churches with this priority focus on sharing the gospel message with as many as possible, knowing that for most, seeds are being planted that may not bear fruit until at some unknown time in the future.

For example, they may spend time and money on efforts that further the gospel and further God's kingdom, but may be of little benefit in building the size or success of their own local church.  Prayer continually goes up for those inside and outside of the church.  The goal is not to be good salespeople trying to get people to come to their church, but to be God's servants seeking to be obedient to Him in anything that assists Him in His work as He builds His kingdom.  The goal is not to seek after more attenders, but to seek out those who will become Christ's disciples and to seek after more growth in His ways among those who are already His disciples.

 

WHO ARE THE "ATTENDERS?"

In short, the term "attenders" is a word that has been chosen to describe those in our churches who are like the "multitudes" who followed Jesus.  Your remember that there were large numbers who followed Jesus around, but did not become His disciples.  Many of these multitudes of peoples turned away from Him when they learned that He was not offering them an earthly kingdom with earthly wealth, but a heavenly and spiritual kingdom with spiritual wealth.  They were those who loved Jesus' miracles, but had no interest in following Him to the cross.  It also appears to be true, though, that many of those who were once the disinterested multitudes did later become Jesus' true followers when thousands came to believe in Him after His resurrection from the dead.

It is clear, however, that Jesus did not build His church with the disinterested multitudes who only had a superficial and selfish interest in what He could do for them. Jesus built His church with those who had  really became His disciples; those who recognized their sinfulness, genuinely appreciated what He did for them on the cross, and were willing to follow Him on the path to that cross.  When we are focused on adding attenders to our churches, we may also be seeking  to build our churches with the multitudes and not with disciples.

At this point, some might consider that dividing people who attend our churches into disciples and attenders is being judgmental.  But, we need to keep in mind that it was Jesus Himself who turned away the rich young ruler and others who were not willing to pay the cost that was necessary in order to follow Him.  We should not shy away from saying to people of our day, "if you are not willing to do what Jesus said we must do to be His disciples, then you are not His disciples, even if you attend church regularly."

Also, there is a place in the Christian ministry for being corrective, for much that is said in the New Testament is corrective.  The author of Hebrews calls those to whom he is writing "slow to learn" (Hebrews 5:11-14), James calls those in his audience "double-minded" (James 1:4-8, 4:4-8), and Paul calls the Christians at Corinth "worldly" (I Corinthians 3:1-3).  Were they being arrogantly judgmental?  No, they were being corrective.  Paul tells us that, among other purposes, God's Word was given to us for correction (II Timothy 3:16-17).

If it is true that many of our churches consider that building large attendances is the measurement of a church's success, and if the building of large attendances has become more important in many of our churches than building disciples, then it is appropriate for there to be correction.  Dividing those who attend our churches into the categories of attenders and disciples is being used here to point out that we should not be satisfied with buildings full of attenders; but instead our goal should be to have our buildings and, even more important, our communities full of growing disciples of Jesus Christ.

Who are the attenders?  They are those who do little more than attend our churches.  Some attenders can at some time in the future become disciples of Jesus Christ, but at the moment they are spectators and not participants.

People, of course, come to our church buildings on Sunday mornings for a variety of reasons.  Many even attend our church services for less than pure motives.  Maybe, we can remember a time when we attended on Sunday mornings for reasons other than our love for God, His word, and His people.  There may be young men and young women who attend church primarily to find a mate.  There may be businessmen whose primary goal is to use the church to make business contacts.  There may be parents whose main desire is to make use of the church youth program to help keep their children out of trouble, or even to baby-sit their children.  These may, after attending our churches a while, learn about their sinfulness and God's grace toward them and choose to turn whole-heartedly to Jesus Christ.

Many of the attenders are those who have not yet become Christians.  Some of these will continue to attend our church as long as the program is interesting and not boring.  But, they may have little interest in becoming a Christian.  Others, though, come to our churches with empty and seeking hearts, hoping that they will find what they are looking for in our buildings.  They may later become Christians and desire to fully follow Jesus Christ.

Other attenders can be Christians who have mixed motives.  Some have not yet made a clear decision about what is most important to them.  They may be like a man who wants to have a girlfriend, but does not want to make a commitment of marriage to her.  As James says, they are "double-minded."  They have not yet come to the place where they are willing to give their lives for the One who gave His life for them. 

It is not unusual for the attender, like the multitudes who followed Jesus, to be more interested in being served than in serving others.  Like the multitudes who only followed Jesus around when He was popular and when He performed miracles, they tend to be interested only in meetings that are entertaining.  Attenders who have not yet become disciples can attend for years without growing in their understanding of the Bible; just as the multitudes did not grow in their understanding about who Jesus was and why He had come.

In general, the attender is like the person who wanted to follow Jesus, but was unwilling to give up some part of his or her life to follow Him.  They are unwilling to give up some personal priorities, and they put Jesus and involvement in His church second or further down on their list of priorities.  The rich young ruler would be an attender, but not a disciple in the modern-day church.

A problem that attenders can create in a church is that they can, if they attend church services for a number of years, eventually gain a position of influence within that church.  Though they typically become involved in the service of a church only when there is a shortage of those who are serving, they can work their way into important jobs in the church.  They tend to see anything beyond attendance on Sunday morning as extra credit; they are often glad when someone else takes over their position of service; they are most often half-hearted and begrudging in their tasks; and they characteristically have impure goals for doing God's work such as furthering their own prestige.  Nevertheless, they can for a number of reasons (such as their winning personalities and abilities), slowly become heavily involved in a church's government.

In short, though to many churches these attenders are a sign of success, they are not a true sign of success.  The multitudes who followed Jesus were not the measure of His success.  Those who became His true disciples were His main focus and they were also His greatest accomplishment.

Not only are attenders not a measure of a church's success, they can even hinder a church from being successful in making disciples.  A number of years ago a thriving Sunday School college class was seeking to launch an evangelistic emphasis.  But, each time the college pastor and others sought to organize and to generate enthusiasm about the enterprise, the Sunday school class president, who was the son of a pastor, would argue against the class being involved in what he considered to be a waste of our time.  The next year, that very Sunday school president attended a revival type retreat and became a Christian for the first time.  Previously he had had no interest in evangelism because he had not yet become a Christian himself.  In similar ways, those who are only attenders and who are not disciples can hinder efforts toward disciple-making in the church.  To them, all this spiritual talk and effort at growing as Christians makes no sense at all and is looked upon as a complete waste of time.  They can even become offended at those who suggest that God calls us to be obedient to Jesus Christ in every area of their lives.

 

WHO ARE THE "DISCIPLES?"

Who are the attenders?  They are those who are regulars in a church who are not yet ready to become disciples.  It is also possible that they will never be ready to become disciples.  Who, then, are the disciples?  When Jesus asked His early disciples to follow Him, Peter and the other fishermen left their fishing nets, Matthew left his financially rewarding tax-collecting job, and others left their occupations behind and followed Him.  They had found the Pearl of Great Price and were willing to give up everything for Him.  By contrast, as is described in John chapter six, the multitudes who had been His followers left Jesus as they began to realize that the kingdom that He was offering them would require changes in them that they were not willing to make.  Peter and the other disciples stayed.  They had a spiritual hunger that they knew only Jesus could fill.

There are also those today who believe that real life is found in Jesus Christ alone.  The church to them is not a place that they go to once a week and then get on with their real lives, but being part of the Body of Christ is the richest and most deeply satisfying part of their lives.  For them, following Jesus Christ is not just a small part of their lives; He alone gives meaning and fulfillment to their lives.

The Bible and Jesus are clear about who are and who are not disciples.  Below is a list of the characteristics of disciples:

1. They know the Bible is the book of life.  Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free."  John  8:31,32  Disciples are those who have come to a place where they have an insatiable hunger to understand God's book of life.  Though they are imperfect and flawed like Jesus' early disciples, they are eager to understand and put into practice what is taught in the Bible.  As Peter said, they long for God's Word like a new baby longs for milk. (I Peter 2:2)  They have a hunger for God's Word, and will enter a Bible study not to share their opinions, but to learn from those who have an understanding of God's book.  They are often those who enjoy reading books or listening to tapes that help them to understand the Bible and the Christian life.

2. They desire to be with godly leaders.  Jesus chose twelve to be "with Him."  (Mark 3:14)  Paul chose Timothy to be with him.  Disciples are those who are convinced that getting to know God will meet their greatest needs and fulfill their greatest desires.  They want to be with those who can give them a greater understanding of the Christian life and who can guide them into being able to live out the Christian walk.  Paul had a number of disciples like this who traveled with him.  Barnabas, Silas, Aristarchus, Tychicus, Trophimus, Sopater, Secundus, and Gaius were only some of those who wanted to be with Paul and who traveled with him.  Disciples today are those who also have a desire to be with godly church leaders.

3. Disciples are those, who like Paul, have left their goals of worldly success behind and are focused whole-heartedly on finding the riches that comes from knowing Jesus Christ and serving Him.  In Luke 14:25-33, Jesus told the crowds or multitudes that were following Him, that for any of them to become His true followers, they would need to love Him more than their families and follow Him no matter what it might cost them.  The rich young ruler was not willing to give up his riches.  Those who are His true disciples have only one master.  They are not trying to serve two masters, but they desire to serve Jesus alone as their Lord and Master.  We cannot build a successful church, that will be able to effectively penetrate our world with the gospel and battle victoriously with our enemy, with those whose hearts are divided between the world and Jesus Christ.  Jesus' and Paul's ministry instead was built upon those who gave up everything to serve God.  Paul's ministry was not built upon men like Demas who eventually left Paul because he loved this present world, but it was built upon men like Timothy, who was willing to go anywhere, do anything, and pay any cost to be with Paul and to share in his ministry.

Someone has used the letters F.A.T. to describe disciples.  They are Faithful, Available, and Teachable.  If a church has few or no disciples, it is not a successful church even if it has 1,000 attenders.  Jesus spoke to the multitudes and loved the multitudes, but His ministry was primarily focused on those who were truly His disciples.  The church today can speak to the attenders and love the multitudes, but our primary ministry should be to focus on those who are Jesus' present disciples.

Disciples are quite different from attenders: (1) they enjoy studying the Bible on their own, (2) they benefit from listening to the teaching of God's Word and will eventually become teachers themselves, (3) they most often prefer to do their own studying before they teach a class or lead a Bible study, (4) they do not see their Christian service as extra credit, but they see their service as an expression of love toward the One who gave up everything for them, (5) being with other Christians is the highlight of their lives, not something they want to get over with so they can go out and recreate, (6) they most enjoy church meetings that are meaty and require a high commitment, and (7) disciples enjoy, above all, talking about spiritual things and serving God.

This appears to be a good time to deal with another question that can come up about what has been taught in this paper.  Someone may ask about the parable in Matthew 13 in which Jesus taught about the wheat and the weeds that look so much alike that if you try to pull up the weeds you will also pull up the wheat.  But, please notice that there is nothing that has been mentioned or will be mentioned in this paper about pulling up the attenders from our churches.  Instead, this paper is focused on how to determine when a church is successful and when it is not successful.  Simply put, we should put our focus on building disciples and not on merely growing in attendance.  We must not lower God's standards and goals for His church.

The greatest hope, of course, is that the attenders will eventually become disciples.  We are to be fishers of men, and the goal of our fishing is that the men and women who attend our churches will become disciples.  For, it was from the multitudes that Jesus chose His disciples Peter, James, John, and the others.

But, even one of Jesus' twelve turned out to not be a disciple.  His name of course was Judas.  So, we cannot be certain that even those who appear to be disciples are in fact disciples.  Nevertheless, our goal should be that every church attender should become a disciple.  So, the work of making disciples is never completed.  It is to be the lifelong pursuit of every Christian.  A parent's goal is that his or her children will become disciples.  And, of course, it should be our desire that each person who attends our church becomes a disciple.

It is true, though, that if a church focuses on building disciples and not on entertaining the attenders, that some of those who are just attenders will move elsewhere where they can comfortably do no more than attend.  Many of Jesus’ followers left Him when the cost was too great for them.  He did not chase after them.  We should desire that people come to Jesus Christ because they see the real thing in the life of our church, not because we have watered down our Christianity to keep them coming.

 

TWO DIFFERENT TYPES OF CHURCHES WITH
TWO VERY DIFFERENT GOALS

The primary goal of the attendance-focused church is to keep the attender coming.  Therefore, the Sunday morning message must be designed to keep them coming.  The messages that will be received best by the attender are short entertaining messages.  For those who are merely attenders will complain when the messages are too long.  "The head will not absorb what the seat cannot endure."  The message must be simple.  Those who are just attenders will complain when the messages are too heavy or too deep.  Meaty messages are considered to be difficult and boring.

What they like are "ear tickling" messages.  They typically also like the message to be "positive."  Unless the message is focused on the positive, on what is interesting to them, and on what is emotionally inspiring, it is rejected.  Sin and hell are not to be talked about.  They like messages that are entertaining.  They complain when the messages are "too boring."  Lots or humor and charisma are essential.  Some churches are filled to overflowing because a charismatic pastor is telling people what they want to hear.  Some of what these pastors are preaching may be found in the Bible (though it is a watered down version of what the Bible says), but many of the ear-tickling teachings presented in churches are not even found anywhere in the Bible (such as the messages of the "word of faith" pastors).

The meetings in the attendance-focused church are also designed so that the attenders will "keep coming."  Low-commitment and entertaining meetings are the most well-attended.  To keep them coming, plan to have plenty of entertaining speakers, talented musicians, and fast-paced movies.  They will not keep coming if you have meetings that involve commitment, sacrifice, a change of life-style, or personal vulnerability.  The numbers of these attenders will dwindle to a trickle if you schedule prayer meetings, meetings that are designed to help the needy, meetings that involve taking off our masks, and meetings that are directed toward correcting some moral wrong in our society (like abortion or pornography).

The primary goal of the discipleship-focused church is "to keep the disciples growing."  Therefore, the Sunday morning message must be designed to keep them growing.  The pastor and teachers in this type of church will be dedicated to help the disciples understand and apply God's plan for their lives as it is revealed to us in the Bible.  They will be dedicated to teaching and preaching the whole Bible; even those parts of the Bible that are not exciting and even those parts of the Bible that convict of sin.

True disciples desire more than short messages.  We learn in Acts 19:8-10 that the disciples at Ephesus sat for hours, probably in the hottest part of the day, learning from Paul's teaching.  They were not eager to get the message over with, but they were eager to learn all they could from him.  They were not like the lukewarm Christians that are often produced by prosperous areas like the city of Laodicea that Jesus describes in Revelation three and the United States where we live, but they were "hot" in their desire to understand God's book.

True disciples also like challenging messages.  Disciples desire to move from spiritual milk to meat.  They want to understand both the easy parts of the Bible and the difficult parts of the Bible.  They also do not want messages that avoid covering the negative parts of the Bible, or any part of the Bible for that matter.  They want to hear what the whole Bible has to say.  That includes, of course, what the Bible has to say about sin, Satan, and hell.

Disciples are primarily interested in whether or not a message is biblically sound and helps them to grow as a Christian and not in whether or not it is humorous or entertaining.  Humor and a dynamic personality can be pleasant additions to a message, but they are not essential to the disciple (and they can even be a distraction).  Disciples prefer to hear from someone who is godly and who has something to offer them spiritually over someone who is entertaining.  They prefer a diet of spiritual meat to a diet of spiritual cotton candy.

Disciples desire high-commitment meetings that will help them grow as Christians and will provide opportunities for them to be effective in their Christian service.  They like Bible studies and training times where they are expected to be active participants and where the Bible is looked upon as the final authority for how God wants us to live our lives.  They like Bible studies where there is a freedom to be real and vulnerable about their needs, doubts, failures, and sins.  They desire prayer meetings where the participants regularly pray for each other and for the world around them.  They prefer meetings that lead to some type of action.  For example, they desire meetings that are designed to encourage and care for one another, to share the gospel, to reach out to the needy, or to confront some type of moral problem in society.

It is obvious that only those who are serious about God and His work will attend these types of meetings.  Jesus did not focus on the multitudes, He focused instead on His disciples.  He started out with only a few, but they were the few who had put knowing His ways and doing His work above all else in their lives.  In Judges seven, we see that God whittled Gideon's army down to a very few.  God's pattern in the Bible is to do His work through the few who are wholehearted rather than through the multitudes who are halfhearted.

 

WHAT IS IT LIKE WHEN A DISCIPLE  FINDS HIMSELF OR HERSELF IN AN ATTENDANCE-FOCUSED CHURCH?

In our country, certainly there are churches where it is more important to keep the attenders coming than it is to keep the disciples growing.  What is it like for disciples in these churches?  As can be expected, they are dissatisfied.  They often feel guilty about being discontent with the short, ear-tickling, entertaining, milk messages they frequently hear.  It is not unusual for them to express their discontent to those closest to them.

They also are not satisfied with the low-commitment meetings that are characteristic of their churches.  When they do seek to get higher commitment meetings started, they may become discouraged and frustrated by the low turn-out and the lack of enthusiasm, and even bold opposition that they receive in response to their efforts.

Because disciples are usually the most responsible and willing workers in their church, they may become overworked doing what the attenders are not interested in doing.  Since it is often true that only a few are doing most of the work, it is hard for them not to resent those who want do nothing more than attend once or twice a week.  The disciples are often nominated over and over again for the positions in the church that many others in the church will not do.

Also, because they usually end up carrying more than their share of the load in the church's work (building committees, church building clean-up, leading the youth group, teaching Sunday school, working with Vacation Bible School, singing in the  choir, visiting new comers, serving on committees,....), they can end up having little time left over to dedicate to their own spiritual growth.  It is not unusual for them to have little time for what disciples primarily need to be doing, such as spending individual time with God, participating in Bible studies and Christian fellowship, being discipled by those who are more mature, sharing in prayer meetings, being involved in personal evangelism, and discipling others.

Due to their heavy involvement in keeping the church program going, they also may end up having little of their quality time left over for what should be of highest priority in their Christian lives:  They can have little quality time available to spend with their families.  Their involvement in the church program can leave little time for them to become involved in the life of the community outside of the church.  Because of their many responsibilities and their little time for fellowship, encouragement, and edification; their spiritual life can actually grow weaker rather than stronger.

Finally, because they usually have a desire for change in the church, they can be looked upon as malcontents.  At first, there usually is an attempt to ignore them (do not say anything and maybe they will go away), and, next, they are told in fatherly tones, not to rock the boat.  Often, they will yield to the circumstances and become a faithful worker who only expresses discontent in private to close friends.  However, if they continue to seek to point out the inconsistency between what the Bible teaches we are to do, and what their church is doing, they will usually begin to meet opposition.  Jesus, Paul, Stephen, and others in the early church met this same type of opposition.

 

WHAT IS IT LIKE FOR AN ATTENDER IN A
DISCIPLESHIP-FOCUSED CHURCH?

Those who are really only intending on being a Sunday morning attender will soon find it uncomfortable in a church that is primarily intent on building disciples.  They will ultimately respond to the discipleship-focused church in much the same way as the multitudes responded to Jesus' message that He is the Bread of Life, in John chapter six.  "Aware that His disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, 'Does this offend you?' "

The attenders will grumble when the messages are about spiritual things and  are not related to their non-spiritually oriented lives.  "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him."  Many will find the type of message that the disciples want to hear, offensive to them.  They may grumble, and, like the disciples who left Jesus, threaten to leave the church.  Too often, pastors do what Jesus did not do, we chase them, change our message to please them, and eventually degenerate into an attendance-focused church.  (See John 6:25-70)

The attenders in a discipleship-focused church will tend to cater to, and direct their adulation on the dynamic and humorous Christian speaker.  They will even idolize them.  We see this pattern in the worldly church at Corinth.  Some idolized Paul, others Peter, and others Apollos. (see I Corinthians 1:12)  Even Paul apparently was not a dynamic enough speaker for those who were not disciples at Corinth:  "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior  (impressive) wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power.  I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge."  (See I Corinthians 2:1-5 and II Corinthians 11:5)  Paul did not come to them with the eloquence that impressed the Greeks, but he came to them with the message that Jesus Christ was crucified for their sins.

Attenders in a discipleship-focused church will have little or no interest in the high-commitment meetings that will be characteristic of this type of church.  They will not be interested until they themselves become disciples.

Churches with thousands in attendance can have only a small attendance at their prayer meetings.  Though thousands followed Jesus, it was those few who left all and followed Him, through whom His work was done.  Attenders who have little or no interest in doing that which will cost them anything, are not those through whom the very difficult and costly work of serving Jesus Christ will be done.  It, instead, will be done only through those who are willing to suffer hardship to do God's work.  In Paul's last letter, II Timothy, he encourages Timothy to be willing to endure hardship.  Jesus suffered; should we expect anything less?

 

A DESCRIPTION OF THE ATTENDANCE-FOCUSED PASTOR

The pastor in our American culture is often very much like the CEO in a business corporation, and the church leaders are often very much like the corporation's Board of Directors.  The only real difference is that he is the head of a religious corporation.

The pastor in the attendance-focused church (or the customer-focused) church is the paid professional whose job it is to keep the church buildings full and the offerings coming in.  In the attendance-focused church, the prestige of the church is actually of more importance than the needs of the people in the church.  This type of church is much like a professional ball team whose primary goal is for the team to win the championship.  Coaches and players are only important to the team if they can help the team to win.  When a coach is unable to lead his team to a winning season or to a championship, he is often replaced by another coach so that the team can continue to pursue its never-ending quest to win championships.  The team and its success are usually more important than the coaches and the players.  Corporate success is more important than the individual people.  Some may debate whether this is an acceptable state even for professional ball teams.  Winning and being better than other teams may be most important in professional sports, but is this what God desires for His church?

The attendance-focused church's primary goal is to be successful.  The people's primary purpose in the church is to build up the organization.  As a church grows in success, it is often true that those who were at one point an important part of the church's success become expendable as they are replaced by the new and more accomplished members who begin to attend the church.

Is this not infinitely different from God's plan for the church, where the goals are not church success, but impartiality, genuine love, and unconditional commitment to those that Jesus died for?  The church is meant to be a place where those who have been unconditionally accepted by Jesus Christ can find that same love and acceptance within His church.  The church is to be a place of love first and foremost, not a place where people are unimportant unless they can in some way help the Pastor, church, or denomination to be successful.  Paul had this to say to Timothy in I Timothy 1:5.  "The goal of this command is love which comes from a pure heart and good conscience and a sincere faith."  Love is to be the goal of a church, not corporate success.

The following are some typical characteristics of the pastor in our attendance-focused churches.  In these churches the pastor, rather than the whole church, carries most of the load:

(1) He is seen as the church professional and is often distinguished from other church members by being called "Pastor" or "Reverend."  As a result, he is often tempted to feel that he is one of the elite class in the community along with doctors, lawyers, and others.

(2) He often is given the sole right to lead religious ceremonies in the church.  It is interesting that Paul's disciples did most of the baptizing rather than Paul (See I Corinthians 1:14-17).

(3) The Pastor often has the role of needing to be a polished salesman whose primary goal is to keep attenders coming back.  It is his responsibility to make attenders feel comfortable so that they will want to keep attending.

(4) It is the Pastor's responsibility to get the attenders to do the extra-credit-type of duties in the church.  He is the recruiter whose goal is to keep the church going and growing.  Someone has likened his role to the plate-spinners on the old television variety shows.  Like the plate-spinners, the pastor's job is to keep everything spinning.  If he slows down, everything in the church slows down, stops spinning, and falls apart.

(5)  He is responsible to keep people happy in the church.  He is not to make waves; he is not to do anything that would discourage anyone from coming: he is to meet everyone's expectations and he is to keep the church running smoothly.  Quite frankly, Jesus Himself did not meet these requirements.  His words and lifestyle often angered and divided people.  He did make waves and He did discourage some from following Him.

(6) He is expected to be the master of everything that takes place in the church.  He is to be a teacher, a counselor, an administrator, a financial wizard, an evangelist, a song leader, a master salesman, a friend of all, a comforter, a charismatic speaker, a polished master of ceremonies, a janitor,  a maintenance man, a bus driver, a musician, a helper of the needy, a man without human weakness, to be able to get along with children and the elderly, to be equally comfortable with the wealthiest and the poorest in the church, a master of each moment, a stand-up comic, an intervener in crises, to be always available, an expert on alcoholism and drug addiction, to be responsible to meet every emotional and economic need in the church, to be adept at resolving conflicts, a visionary, an architect, a fund raiser, an accomplished politician, and give seminars on how to do all of this.  People without an "S" on their chests need not apply for this position!

If this type of pastor is able to pull off much of what has been described above, who will get the credit?  Attendance-focused churches often are referred to as the pastor's church.  The pastor in a "successful" church is often raised to a place that is very similar to what happens in our society with movie and sports' stars.  The tragedy is that the pastor is just a man and is prone to fall just like the rest of us.  Many of those who have been raised to this star level in Christian circles have come crashing down in recent years.  The fall was greater because they had been raised up so high.  Only Jesus Christ deserves to be raised up and to be worshipped.  Attendance-focused churches tend to create these types of stars.

 

A DESCRIPTION OF A DISCIPLESHIP-FOCUSED PASTOR

There were no corporations in Jesus' or Paul's day, yet few would say that the churches that were raised up and led by Jesus Christ and Paul were not successful.  A church that focuses primarily on discipleship will be strikingly different than a successful business corporation.  Also, the Pastor's function in this type of church will be much different than a corporation CEO.  The Bible outlines for us the role of the Pastor in the discipleship-focused church.

According to Ephesians 4:11-12, the Pastor's role is to equip or prepare (disciple) God's people for the work of the ministry:  "It was he who gave some to be....pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service so that the Body of Christ may be built up."  The title "minister" gives the impression that he is to do all the work of the ministry, and the church is to be ministered to or served by him.  This perception is the very opposite of what the Bible teaches.  The ministry is to be performed by each Christian.  The pastor's job is to see that they are trained for this work of ministry.

Also, the discipling Pastor is to do what Jesus and Paul did, he is to choose some to be with him.  He is to pass on the leadership of the church to the next generation.  Paul chose Timothy and then in his last letter to him, said these words,  "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others."

In our corporation churches with our Pastors and church leaders following the model of leadership in business corporations, how often do we see our pastors doing what Jesus and Paul did?  Are they not often too busy to spend time discipling young leaders?  If their primary goal is discipleship, then they will spend their prime time discipling men like Peter, James, and John.  Can we improve upon Jesus' and Paul's primary goal and their methods?

Finally, the Pastor is to be a shepherd or pastor over the church.  As a shepherd watches over and guides sheep, so the Pastor is to care for and guide the sheep along the right path.  What if one insignificant member of the church begins to fall away from the church?  Will someone in the church consider that person important enough to reach out to, even if without this person's attendance the church corporately will still be very successful?  Few would argue that it is all too typical for many pastors to hardly even notice that this poor soul is slipping away from the church and from God.  This is far from what God desires for a pastor in His church.  Like a good shepherd who puts the needs of the one lost sheep over the needs of the rest of the sheep, so a good shepherd over the church will direct his primary concern toward reaching and bringing that straying church member back into the fold!

Paul is the perfect example of a shepherd:  "You know how I lived with you the whole time I was with you...I served the Lord with humility and tears, ....I have taught you publicly and from house to house....For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God."  He warned them that there would be false shepherds that would come out of the very middle of them who would twist God's Word and try to draw disciples to follow them.  (See Acts 20:18-31)  Is this the heart of a corporation CEO or the heart of a pastor?

The pastor in a discipleship-focused church will be very different from a pastor in the attendance-focused corporation:  (1) There is nothing in the Bible about the pastor being called "Reverend."  In fact, in the Bible even "pastor" is a function and not a title.  Pastors are no different than other men except that they have a leadership-servant role in the church.  They are chosen because they meet the requirements for leadership in God's church and should be respected as leaders and appreciated for the work they do.  They are not, however, to be viewed as being in a professional elite class within the church or within our society.

Paul was real clear that we are not to elevate any man to a position above other men:  "As for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me." (Galatians 2:6)  "James, Peter, and John, those reputed to be pillars." (Galatians 2:9)  Paul was not disrespecting the apostles, but he was being clear here that Jesus Christ (and not any man) is the only One who should be looked upon as the Pillar of the church.  Remember that James, Peter, and John were simple fishermen who were only special because of what God had done in their lives!

Jesus was also clear that men should not seek to be elevated above other men:  "Everything they do is done for men to see......they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.'  But you are not to be called 'Rabbi' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers... Nor are you to be called 'teacher' for you have one Teacher, the Christ."  (See Matthew 23:5-12)

(2) There is nothing in the Bible that declares that pastors are "clergy" who alone can perform sacred roles such as performing funerals.  As has been mentioned, Paul was not even the primary performer of baptisms at the church of Corinth:  "I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus."  (I Corinthians 1:14)  Paul was glad that he did not baptize every Christian at Corinth and give the impression that he was, somehow, a ceremonial representative for God.

The ceremonial High Priest in the Old Testament was a picture of Jesus Christ and the ceremonial priests were each a picture of the individual Christian.  There are no such ceremonial positions in the New Testament.  All Christians are priests.  "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."  (I Peter 2:9)

Pastors should not be seen to be a one-man welcoming committee for people coming into the church building each week.  The church is not a building that people come to each week.  The church is the people.  What should be taking place is that the members should be part of each others' lives throughout the week.  Putting all the pressure on one man to represent God's church is nowhere taught in the Bible.  The pastor-teacher is a man gifted to train and prepare the whole church to minister to each other, so that together we can express the ministry of Jesus Christ.  We are all the Body of Christ, and we are to represent God to each other and to those outside of the church.

 

TWO DIFFERENT TYPES OF CHURCHES WITH TWO VERY DIFFERENT TYPES OF MINISTRIES!

Because the goal of the attendance-focused church is corporate success, the ministry and service in this type of church is primarily directed toward increasing the church's attendance.  Typically, most of the service of the church members takes place within the walls of the church building.  Any type of service that does not help the church to grow in attendance is seen as a waste of time.

The following are signs that a church is attendance-focused:  (1) There is little or no ministry sanctioned and encouraged by the church that is directed outside of the church.  (2) There is little or no cooperation with other churches in town.  (3) There is little or no concern for Christians outside of the church.  (4) Time spent by staff members discipling young or eager Christians is seen as a waste of time by the pastor and other people in the church, for it does not lead to obvious growth in the attendance numbers of the church.  (5) Little or no money is spent from the church's budget on efforts that do not directly benefit the church (such as evangelistic efforts or helping the needy outside of the church).  In short, the attendance-focused church has one over-riding goal, to build up its numbers so that it will be successful.  It is a self-focused church.

This type of church is very much like a family that in practice says, "us four and no more."  They are above all concerned with their home and what is within their walls.  They invite in only those whom they enjoy being with socially.  The worst type of attendance-focused church can be like this.  They want to grow in numbers and be successful.  But, they prefer that only those whom they enjoy being with socially, come to their church.  They are not eager to have a bunch of needy people attend their church, as that would make it a less comfortable atmosphere for them when they attend church services.

Service in a discipleship-focused church is quite different from service in churches whose primary goal is for the church to be successful.  The focus of service in this type of church is directed toward individuals and not toward numbers of people.  In churches that are concerned with discipleship above all else, there is a concern for each person in the church and for individuals outside of the church.  They are concerned with people as individuals rather than with numbers, and they are concerned with growth toward Jesus Christ in individuals' lives rather than corporate success.  They are concerned with what is happening in the hearts of people, rather than how many people are coming to a building.

In a discipleship-focused church, the members of the church will bloom where they are planted.  The pastor and the elders in the church are to encourage them to grow in their relationship with God and toward fulfilling God's purposes for them in the world.  If Christians are growing in their Christian lives, they will not need to have all of their Christian service programmed and directed by the church staff.  God Himself will motivate them to serve Him in every part of their lives and in every opportunity that becomes available to them.

Some of us have been blessed to have been associated with a discipling church.  What we found is that people reached out to us and encouraged us in our Christian lives without a pastor encouraging them to do so, and without it being a part of the church program.  The early church founded by Jesus Christ and led by the apostles was not a self-directed ministry, but it was a spontaneous, courageous outreach to needy people wherever they may have been found; especially to those who were ripe for God's harvest.

The early churches in Asia—like Colossae, Thyatira, and others—were probably started by the disciples of Paul who were with him when he instructed them for those long hours while he was in Ephesus.  They went out from there and bloomed all over Asia (what is now Turkey).  There is nothing in the Bible about Paul starting these churches, but in Paul's letters to Colossae and Philemon we see that his disciples were leaders there.  A discipleship-focused church will begin to see ministries develop wherever disciples are located, even without the church's pastoral leadership being involved and; at times, even without the leadership knowing that it is happening.

Most of the service in the discipling church will be directed toward reaching out in love to those in need, to sharing the gospel, and to building up fellow Christians in the faith; even if it does not help the church to grow in numbers.  (This type of self-less service, of course, does help the church world-wide to grow.)

Are there ways the church can reach out and touch our world?  Here are just a few of the ways a local church can have an impact outside of the church building.  We can reach out to help single parents and children who have poor home lives.  We can provide an after-school program for latch-key children.  We can become big-brothers or big-sisters to lonely young people.  We can visit lonely and elderly people at home or in the nursing homes.  These are just a few ways we can be reaching out to our world with God's love. 

Attendance-focused churches are usually so involved with their own church programs and are so involved within the walls of their own church buildings, that it is not unusual for them to put little thought into considering what the church could be doing to change the lives of those outside of the church.  Also, although the selfless efforts of a discipleship-focused church are demonstrations of the love of Christ to a needy world, they may do little to help a local church grow in size and numbers.  A church that majors on discipleship and minors in church growth will reach out to anyone, and even to those who are very unlikely to ever enter the door of a church building.

At this point, there may be some who are reading this paper and thinking that there is no church that is totally like this attendance-focused church.  There is no church that is that self-centered.  Also, there is no church that is perfect nor will there ever be a perfect church like this discipleship-focused church.  Of course, you are absolutely right in everything you have been thinking.  The early churches also were far from perfect.  But, does that mean we should be content, for example, with a lukewarm, self-centered, and worldly church?

It is true that the church never has been perfect, nor will it ever be perfect until we are taken up to be with our Lord.  Does that mean, though, that we should be satisfied with the church as it is and with ourselves as we are today?  That is not what we see taught in the Bible.  The Bible tells us, though none of us will ever be perfect in this life, that we are to work out our salvation, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and to seek after holiness.  Though the church will never be perfect, we are nevertheless to be continually and wholeheartedly pursuing after what God perfectly desires for His church.  We are not to be content with a church where many (or most) do little more than attend services.  Instead, we are to be devoted to fulfilling Jesus' commission to the church.  We are to seek to have a church where disciples are being taught and encouraged to obey everything Jesus wants us to do.  As will be mentioned later, though the church cannot be perfect in this world, it can, by God's power, be far more than what we imagine it can be.  We should not be satisfied with anything less than God's very best for His church!

 

TWO DIFFERENT TYPES OF CHURCHES WITH TWO VERY DIFFERENT TYPES OF BODY-LIFE

Body-life is a word that has been coined by some churches to describe the type of spiritual fellowship, genuine unity, and cooperative service that God desires a church to experience.  The Body-life in a discipleship-focused church, and in an attendance-focused church, are in many ways complete opposites from each other.  We will first consider the quality of fellowship in these two types of churches.

The fellowship in an attendance-focused church can be quite superficial.  It is possible for people to attend this type of church for many years and not even know by name someone who has sat quite close to them Sunday after Sunday.  In a church that has reached its goal when most people in that church are little more than regular attenders, there is little incentive for people to get to know each other.  The interaction that takes place in our churches can, in too many cases, be only a little bit more real and personal than the interaction that takes place between those who sit together in a large bus depot (attendance-focused Christianity can be called "bus depot Christianity"!).

A church, however, that is committed to discipleship, will also be committed to building relationships not only between Christians and God, but between Christians and other Christians.  God's Word clearly instructs and commands us both to build each other up and to grow as mutual members of Christ's Body.  We, of course, cannot do that if we are not even seeking to get to know each other.

It is a lot more comfortable, though, to hold people at arm's length.  For if we really get to know others, we will also get to know their needs.  The knowledge of others' needs will make us responsible to love them not just in words, but in  "actions and in truth." (I John 4:16-18).  It will mean that we will be with them when they are going through tough times.  In short,  it will lead  to the need for the giving of our time and even our money.  Our lives will become more stressful and less comfortable.  The simple way to avoid all of this is simply to avoid getting to know our fellow Christians and fellow human beings.

Also, we are all not that easy to get along with when we really get to know each other.  But, as Jesus reached out to the quick-spoken Peter and the quick-tempered James and John, so we are to reach out to those in our church fellowships and our world.  As Jesus left a much more comfortable place and entered our sinful world, so we are to leave our comfortable homes and to reach out to the people outside of our homes.

Another important quality of fellowship that is usually missing from the attendance-focused church is authenticity.  It is not unusual for the people in this type of church to have no idea at all what the people who sit with them each Sunday are really like.  Each Sunday, they put on their best faces and head for their church services.  But, in the church where there is success if people merely attend regularly, there is no need for people to really get to know each other.  These churches can be very artificial.  To put it in another way, they can be phony.  It is what inevitably happens when people only see the face that we put on for each other at Sunday services.

The tragedy about all of this is that we all need to be loved and accepted just as we are.  This superficiality in our churches prevents us from getting to know each other with all of our failings, weaknesses, and sin.  If we do not get to know what each other is really like, we will also never find out if others can love us the way we really are.  It is only love, grace and mercy between Christians who know each others' faults, that will meet our real needs for Christian fellowship.  We are flawed, often hurting and struggling Christians who need support, encouragement, and love.  We will not find any of these in our typical attendance-focused churches where few take off their masks and are authentic with each other.  Also, the lack of authentic, vulnerable, and caring relationships has made it necessary for many (who just need to be loved, nurtured, understood, and encouraged) to pay professional counselors to understand and care for them.

Churches that are dedicated to Jesus' type of discipleship will be committed to authenticity.  When we read the Bible we get to know the real Peter, Philip, and the other disciples.  The Bible does not soft pedal their sins or their failures.  We cannot help each other to grow in our Christian lives if we do not even know that we have any areas where we fail and are needy.  It is obvious in the gospels that the disciples were needy.  In a church that is committed to discipleship, fellow Christians will really get to know each other and will then be able to confront and correct each other in love when it is necessary.  Authenticity, removing the masks, is essential for discipleship to be effective.

In a church that is oriented toward worldly success, the Body-life is usually organized and programmed by the church leadership.  Money is given by the church to a needy family.  When the church organizes it, it takes place and when the church does not organize it, it usually does not take place.

Body-life in a church that has been effective in discipling its members is much different than this superficial and half-hearted type of fellowship.  When disciples grow as Christians, they also begin to grow in their motivation to minister to others' needs; primarily in the areas where they are spiritually gifted.  As a result, individual Christians are built up by the love of their fellow Christians and the church as a whole also grows stronger.  The ultimate goal is that together the church will become an expression of every dimension of the love of Jesus Christ.  The church is functioning as it should be when the members of His Body are expressing His love to every member of His church and to those outside of the church.

Listen to Paul's words to the church at Ephesus:  God gave gifted men to the church "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the Body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching......Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ.  From him the whole body joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work."  (Ephesians 4:11-16)  "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge......that you my be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:17-19)

These two passages in Ephesians describe what most disciples of Jesus Christ have come to desire for the church.  But, those who do little more than attend a church, usually see little in these verses that relates to their lives.  They may have personal goals for their lives and their possessions that they can get excited about and direct their efforts toward, but God's goals for His church are of little or no interest to them.  These passages are looked upon as being idealistic and impractical verses in the Bible that do not relate at all to our lives.  For disciples, however, God's goals become our goals.  What God desires for His church becomes our highest goal, for we are His blood-bought church!

Consider briefly, from these two passages, what God desires for His church.  He would like us to grow as Jesus' disciple (1) until we agree together on what is truth and until we share in a common understanding about Jesus Christ, (2) until we are continually building each other up, (3) until we are cooperating together in working toward God's goals, (4) until we together are growing closer in our fellowship with Jesus, (5) until we are together experiencing every dimension of Jesus' love through our love for each other, and (6) until we are together experiencing the fullness of God.  We, without question, cannot experience any or all of what Paul describes in these verses if all we do is attend once a week and keep our masks on.  Obviously, it is only in a church where there is real growth in disciple-making, where there will be any hope for moving toward the goals that Paul describes in these rich passages.

Is what is described in these verses just Paul's "Pie-in-the-sky" dream?  It is a "pie-in-the-sky" dream if a church is satisfied with little more than a lot of people attending services.  But with God's power, in a church that is committed to real discipling, it is not a dream, but a Divine certainty!  Listen to what Paul says in this very same section of verses: "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us".

 

TWO DIFFERENT TYPES OF CHURCHES WITH TWO VERY DIFFERENT TYPES OF OUTREACH

Also, the way that these two very different types of churches reach out to those outside of the church is very different.  Why does the church that sees greater attendance as a sign of success typically reach out to the outsider?  Every new person that comes to our church becomes one more person that is attending our church and not attending another church.  That sounds pretty horrible, but the honest truth is that when we are focused primarily on the size of our attendance as the indicator or our success as a church, a new attender becomes important primarily because they are one more person on our attendance count. 

A test of whether we are attendance-focused or discipleship-focused is a pastor's attitude towards the first time attender.  What sometimes happens is that a pastor can get real friendly and excited about newcomers.  But, that friendliness and enthusiasm can wane when the pastor becomes certain that the newcomer is now a stable member of the church.  In the race for numbers each new attender becomes an exciting new addition to the church.  Sadly, this pastor sees the newcomer as little more than a number.  The discipling pastor, however, sees the newcomer as a commitment that will require a great amount of sacrifice and time; not just for the pastor of course, but for the whole church.  For his commitment is to see that the newcomer is discipled fully while that person attends his church, and even cared for long after he or she leaves the church.

The goal of outreach in the attendance-focused church is to do whatever it takes to get people to come and attend their church.  A typical outreach is to bring in a well-known speaker or entertainer, then advertise so that people will come and attend the special meeting.  The goal is to bring in the numbers.  It needs to be clarified, though, that every church that brings in a special speaker or entertainer is not necessarily just interested in numbers.  But, if a church is more interested in adding to their attendance when they sponsor these types of events, than they are in a life-time commitment of evangelism and discipleship to those who come, then they are obviously attendance-focused.

Outreach in the discipleship-focused church is quite different.  It is directed toward reaching out and loving individuals no matter what it might cost to meet their needs and to encourage them toward God's kingdom.  Outreach in this type of church is very costly.  There is nothing wrong with bringing in special speakers and special music as long as there is going to be a genuine, loving, and personally costly outreach to the individuals who come to the meeting.  What too often happens, though, is that there are only a few who regularly reach out to others in most churches.  So, these churches are certainly not ready to reach out to a large group of visitors who come to hear a special speaker or singer.  But, a church that is committed to discipling everyone who attends their church, will have special outreach meetings only when they have a sufficient number of disciples who are equipped and available to disciple the newcomers who come to the special meetings.

Also, outreach in the discipleship-focused church involves reaching out to people in every corner of their lives and our lives.  Our goal should not be to recruit them and to get them to come to our church, but our goal should be to love them and care about them with Jesus' type of love even if they never show any interest in coming to our church.  A disciple's goal is to be salt and light in the world wherever he or she happens to be, whether it be inside or outside of a church building.  And when God opens a door, we are to share with them the good news that God loves them and gave His son so that they might have eternal life.  For telling them about God's love through Jesus' sacrifice for them is where discipling begins.

 

TWO VERY DIFFERENT TYPES OF CHURCHES WITH TWO VERY DIFFERENT TYPES OF SPIRITUAL LIFE

When a church is not really dedicated to Biblical discipling there will be a lack of genuine spiritual life among its members.  But, because we want our successful churches to at least give the appearance that they are vibrant with spiritual life, we typically look to some type of artificial spirituality to create the illusion that real spirituality is taking place.  The following are some examples of America's artificial spirituality.  Artificial spirituality is often something that is good, but it does not require a life of obedience and trust to develop it.  Jesus commissioned us to make disciples who would obey Him in everything.  Some of the artificial types of spirituality that we will be mentioning are important and needed in churches, but they fall short of what Jesus commissioned us to do.  For example, beautiful music and scholarship are good, but a church with just beautiful music and biblical scholarship is not a spiritual church, nor is it a church that is fulfilling Jesus' commission to go and make disciples.

Music is a beautiful gift of God.  It can help those who are sincerely seeking to worship God to enter a very genuine state of worship.  But, music can also be used to create an artificial replacement for true spirituality.  Talented musicians outside of the church are aware that they can gain emotional control of their audience through their music and the effect of rhythm instruments.  Music is also being used in church settings to give the impression that God is powerfully moving in a church, where what is actually happening is that they are only having a emotionally moving musical experience.

For example, a church building full of people where there are many divisions, hatred towards each other, and much immaturity can be drawn into an emotional mood of "spirituality" by a stirring worship service. A very moving worship service can cause the casual onlooker to think that they are seeing a spiritually thriving and growing church, even when there is little discipleship and spiritual growth taking place in that church.

A disciple is one who is being taught to be obedient to Jesus in everything.  Without this type of growing walk of obedience among the members of a church, there is no true spirituality; even though there are emotionally moving services each Sunday morning and evening.  There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with having a beautiful and moving worship service.  But, it is wrong when the music in a church service becomes a replacement for the real spirituality that comes only through a daily walk with Jesus Christ.

Another method of developing artificial spirituality is to create a sacred/secular split.  We do this by dividing the world into that which is sacred and that which is secular.  There is a sacred/secular split when we believe that by walking into a church building, we leave the secular world and enter into the sacred world.  The light comes into the sacred building through the sacred stained glass windows.  We sit on sacred pews, listen to the sacred organ, and listen to the pastor speak in sacred tones from behind the sacred pulpit.  We come to the sacred world once a week to be lead by the sacred leader who sometimes wears sacred clothes, then we leave this "holy" world to go back into the real world, until we come back to the sacred but unreal world the next week.

In this sacred world it is not important, for example, whether the Bible is really God's book describing real historical events.  Because the sacred world is seen as a separate and different world from the real world, it is not important whether or not what is described in the Bible happened or did not happen.  It is just important that you enter into a sacred religious mood or experience on Sunday mornings.

This whole concept of some places, music, language, clothes.... being sacred is an artificial replacement for genuine spiritual life in the Holy Spirit.  It is something you have to go to the sacred church building to get.  When you have gotten your weekly dose of it, you leave it until you return for another sacred experience on the following week.  True spiritual life, though, is an every minute responsibility of the Christian.  "Be filled with the Spirit."  (Ephesians 5:18)  "So I say, live by the Spirit."  (Galatians 5:16)  Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem....  Yet a time is coming and has now come when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth."  (See John 4:19-26)

For disciples there is no split between the sacred and the secular.  To them, the Bible is not a religious book to be read on Sundays, but it is our Creator's instruction manual for all of life.  Disciples are dedicated to finding the Bible's explanations about every part of life, and they have interest in understanding every part of the Bible and how it relates to the real world.  If anything in the Bible did not actually happen or if its teachings are not God's wisdom for life, then, for them, the whole Bible would not be able to be trusted as being God's Word.  For disciples, nothing changes when they walk into a church building.  God is with them inside and outside of the building.  Their focus is on God inside and outside of the building.

Another artificial form of spirituality can be a knowledge of the Bible.  Some measure spirituality by the knowledge that a person has about the Bible.  Again, Bible knowledge is not bad but good, but like music it can become an artificial replacement for true spirituality.  In some cases, Bible knowledge can be little more than an academic accomplishment.  In this case, instead of it being an aid to true spirituality, it can be a hindrance.  For as Paul says in I Corinthians 8:1:  "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up."

The Bible has its intended effect on us when it humbles us and shows us our need for Jesus Christ.  Jesus said in John 8:31,32:  "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free."  Discipleship requires more than just a knowledge of God and His ways, but it requires obedience to His will!  A church that is nothing more than a classroom for learning Bible knowledge is not a discipling church.  Discipling requires personal accountability to obey what is taught in the Bible.  Jesus chose disciples to be with Him.  He did not choose them so they could sit in a classroom and listen to Him teach.  He held His disciples accountable for their sins and failings, and He led them toward obedience to His Father, just as He was always obedient to His Father

In a similar way some may measure spirituality by how well people obey a list of religious rules and by whether or not they agree with a list of doctrinal positions.  Like the Pharisees, we can develop our list of rules and regulations that others must obey for them to be spiritually acceptable.   Also, doctrinal purity can become a standard that in some people's minds determines a person's spiritual state.  Again, of course, seeking to live a life that is separated from the world's sinful ways and having good doctrinal beliefs is good and not bad.  But, obeying a set of rules and having the right doctrine is not the same thing as spiritual maturity.     A knowledge of doctrine and obedience to a list of rules can lead to pride rather than a humble and spiritual walk with God.  The Pharisee in Jesus' parable in Luke 18 was quite proud of how much better he was than sinners like the tax-collector.  This is the very worst form of artificial spirituality; and it can raise its ugly head in our churches today just as it did in the Jewish religion of Jesus' time.  True spirituality involves a humble and loving obedience to Jesus Christ which leads to being empowered in our daily lives to live and be like Him.

All of the above and more can become counterfeits of true spirituality: emotionalism, creating a religious and sacred world, an academic knowledge about God, and a list of proper doctrines and practices.  All of these are and can be a special and an important part of our spiritual life.  Emotions are an important and appropriate part of Christian worship; there is a need for reverence in our worship service; there is need for those who are academic scholars of the Bible; there is need to avoid sinful practices; and doctrinal purity is very important.  But, none of these healthy emphases can replace the individual Christian learning Christ's commandments and lovingly obeying Him as a way of life!

In the discipleship-focused church there is not a need to create an artificial form of spirituality, for in these churches you will find the real thing.  There will be obvious evidences of growth in the real life of God's Spirit being exhibited among the members of the church.  Where there is true spirituality, there will be growth in the fruit of the Spirit.  There will be growth in real love, peace, and joy.  There will also be growth in righteousness, purity, faith, and sacrificial Christian service.  In short, there will be growth in real spiritual life and a movement away from depending on any type of spiritual counterfeit.

Also, in the discipleship-focused church there will be a joy and delight to fellowship around spiritual topics and pursuits.  In the attendance-focused church, it is not unusual for the topic of conversations among Churchgoers outside of the church meetings to rarely be on spiritual topics.  They typically talk about the same things that non-churchgoers talk about.  To summarize, the spiritual life in these two quite different types of churches will bear little resemblance to each other.  The attendance-focused church has a form of godliness, but is not experiencing the power and life of God's Spirit.  The discipling church is pursuing all they can to experience God's power and life through seeking to trust and obey all that Jesus has commanded us to do.

 

WHAT ABOUT CHANGE AND TRADITIONS?

Change is an important and sometimes controversial issue in churches.  These two different types of churches look upon change in totally different ways.

One of the most important parts of the church is its traditions.  Tradition is, and has been, a stabilizing part of church life.  For example, in our churches, we have a traditional time for our church services.  If we changed that meeting time every week, we would soon become disturbed at the chaos that would develop.  But, change is also an important part of church life.  A new paint job, a new building, a new youth program, and many other changes can be very stimulating in a church's life.  So, neither tradition nor change, are bad.  It, then, can never be a question of whether or not we should have traditions or make changes.  We will always have both, and we should always have both as important parts of our churches.  The question, though, is, when should we do things in a traditional way and when should we make changes?  The attendance-focused church and the discipleship-focused church approach this question very differently.

It is not an exaggeration at all to say that in many churches, what is traditional has become more important than what is Biblical.  In the worst situations, traditions can be practiced with little consideration for what they mean and with little or no knowledge of how or why the tradition first got started.  Some of the rituals and some of the traditions may even be different than what is taught in the Bible.  Listen to Jesus' words in Matthew 15:3:  "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?"  That we have always done it this way, sometimes becomes more important than whether or not it is based on the Bible, or whether or not it is God's direction for the church.

In many churches, change of almost any kind is looked upon as bad and threatening to the church as they have known it.  For example, a white church is uncomfortable when people who are not white began to attend.  A middle-class church is uncomfortable when low-income children or families begin to be reached out to by the disciples in the church.  It was discovered that some of the older members of the church that was mentioned earlier, were very upset about the thriving college ministry that had invaded their church.  They liked the church better the way it was before all the college-aged young people began attending with them.

In some churches, those who seek to make changes are looked upon as the enemy or the villain.  Some of the antagonism towards those making changes may be due to the anxiety that is often produced by change.  But, much of the anger is because these innovators are threatening to change the type of lifestyle they have chosen for themselves and that has become very comfortable for them.  They resent those who are a threat to make changes in their personal kingdoms, just as the Pharisees resented Jesus coming and changing the religious system that they had established.

In the discipleship-focused church, traditions are looked upon as needing to be subordinate to the Bible.  If God's purposes can be better fulfilled in a way that is different from the way it has been traditionally done, then a new way, which more effectively accomplishes God's purposes, needs to be developed.  Also, if a tradition is no longer serving God's purpose as it did when it was first developed, then it needs to be replaced with a new practice that does fulfill God's purpose.  For example, if a Sunday evening children's program would be clearly more effective in a certain locale in reaching and teaching children, it is even okay to replace our traditional Sunday school.  (Though, this type of change needs to be done with great sensitivity, patience, and love.)  In a church that emphasizes discipleship, God's Word and its purposes always have priority over any traditions developed by men.

Some of  men's traditions, however, should continue to be an important part of our churches.  For example, hymns like Amazing Grace, the Sunday morning service, the Wednesday evening prayer meeting, and many more traditions from the past can be very effective parts of our modern-day church ministries.  But, none of these traditions are necessarily God's best and only way for accomplishing His purposes at every church, in every time, with every group of people, or in every situation.  A discipleship-focused church seeks God's best for every situation, no matter how it was done in the past.  They are not the type who try to stop change by making one or more of the following statements:  "We have never done it that way before."  "We already tried that before and it did not work."  But, they are those who are willing to try some innovations as they search for the most effective ways to do God's work in their unique community, with their unique group of people, and in their unique place in time.

Change in the discipleship-focused church is not looked upon as a danger to be avoided at all costs, but it is often seen as being a very exciting part of church life.  Here are some changes that disciples hope to see:

(1) Change that comes from spiritual growth in disciples

(2) Change as new people become Christians and come to the church (You would think that new Christians would be a welcome change in churches, but that is not always the case.  New Christians who are immediate stars and wonderful trophies of the church's success, are welcomed.  But, because new Christians are much like they were before they became Christians, they can be looked upon as unwelcome intruders.)

(3)Change that comes from new, more Biblical and effective ways of accomplishing God's purposes (Attenders tend to become uncomfortable when there is a chance that more might be expected of them than was expected of them in the past.)

(4) Change and adjustments as new disciples come into the church—new leadership, new people involved in the ministry, and new social arrangements (The attendance-focused church tends to resent making these adjustments and can even black-ball these newcomers.  They prefer to have new-comers attend their church, but they do not want them to make any changes or to get involved in the decision-making of the church.).

In the attendance-focused church, there is a need for changes that will encourage continued church-growth. The changes usually take place through deft political maneuvering.  Not every pastor or church leader is able to pull this off.  Some churches do not make it through these times of transition.  Some people in the church can become discouraged as they begin to realize that the success of the church is more important to the pastor than the people in the church.  Some may even move to a smaller church where they will receive more individual attention from the pastor.

Also, in our modern church-growth era, there is a trend toward seeking guidance from what successful churches are doing, even if those churches are not Biblical in some of their "successful" patterns.  As a result, some churches that have some very questionable doctrinal beliefs are idolized and have become patterns for other less "successful" churches.  (For example, a super church in Korea whose primary teaching is more pagan than Christian is used a model for what a church should be like.)  What has been lost in all of this is that we have become more concerned with what is working successfully, than what is the Biblical pattern for God's church.  We have created successful churches that are not successful at doing God's work God's way.

We can say in summary that what distinguishes an attendance-focused church from a discipling church is that discipling churches will be characterized by changes that help the church to more effectively build disciples, and the attendance-focused church will primarily be characterized by change that will help the church to grow in numbers.  Often, also, the attendance-focused church will steer towards changes that create the least amount of discomfort among its attenders.  The attenders like growth in numbers as long as it is exciting and entertaining.  Just as they do not mind change in their homes that add comfort to their living, so they do not mind a little sacrifice and change in their church as long as it will lead to a more pleasant church home and a more exciting church experience for them in the future.  Some churches are opposed even to this type of change, and are basically resistant to all change.

Discipleship, by contrast, leads to a life of change in those who move forward, following Christ on the path to the cross.  A discipleship-focused church will encourage this type of change.  Examples of what can happen in this type of church are as follows: new ministries can develop reaching out and touching some of the greatest and most painful sores in our society; people can become more open and vulnerable to each other; people can become more aggressive in confronting each other and reaching out to each other; and there may be more open confession of sins, failure, and needs.  These are some of the changes that may occur in a Biblical church, but rarely happen in a church that is seeking worldly success.

 

WHAT ABOUT THE CHURCH BUILDING?

The building we have come to call "the church" was not present at all in the early church of Bible times.  "The church" instead was the people, who have now become the Temple of God (See I Corinthians 6:19-20).  The church building often has a very different role in the attendance-focused church than it does in a church that is primarily focused on building disciples.

In the attendance-focused church, the church building tends to become more than a building.  First of all, the church has come to be seen by many and even by most Christians as a "sacred" building.  Everything about these buildings has become sacred; the stained glass window, pews, pulpit, organ, piano, hymnals, crosses inside the building and on top of the building are seen as being sacred.  When we go to these buildings we are expected to talk differently (or at least the pastor is), sit on something different, look differently, do things differently, and listen to a different type of music.  But, it can make very little difference in our lives as we go back to the world where we do not do any of these different things.

Discipleship-focused churches tend to see the building where the church meets as just that, a building where the church meets.  It is a man-made building that is only special because God's church meets in it.

In Isaiah 44:15-20, God speaks about people taking a tree, making an idol from it and calling it their god, but then talking the rest of the tree to burn on their fire.  Nothing that we do turns wood into something sacred unless God has ordained that it be sacred.  The Old Testament Tabernacle and Temple were sacred because they were designed by God to be a picture of how we approach God through the blood of Jesus Christ.  There is, however, no description by God of a church building for New Testament Christianity.

The early church met in homes, in lecture halls, and in whatever building was handy.  We tend to think that we have progressed because we now have church buildings.  But, the truth is that in some ways we have gone backwards.  Because the early church did not have church buildings, they were less likely to think about going to church, but they saw themselves as the church wherever they met and they saw themselves as being with God wherever they happened to be at the time.  Today, we tend to think that we have to go to the church building to meet with God.

What does this have to do with the attendance-focused churches and their emphasis on numbers and success?  Well, the emphasis on the sacred building and going to the sacred building has put the focus on what happens in the building, rather than on what happens in peoples' lives.  So, if you have a big building with a lot of people coming to the building, you are successful.  The truth is that you can have a big building with a lot of people coming to the building, and yet have a very weak church!  What is most important, is not how successful we are in getting people to come to the sacred building each week; but what is of most importance before God, is what is taking place in the hearts of people.  As God said to Samuel:  "The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

As has just been mentioned, the size of the building is very important in the attendance-focused church.  The size of buildings has become within our society, a primary indicator of the success or failure of a church.  One primary way that an attendance-focused church can display its success is through the cost and the size of its church building.  Much like the way an expensive house and car have come to be status symbols of success within our society, so an expensive building has come to be a status symbol that displays that a church has arrived and is successful.

Surely few would disagree that a large, costly building signals to us that a church is successful, and a small church building is sign of church failure.  Should we accept this evaluation of successful Christianity without any examination of whether or not this is actually a true way to evaluate a church's success?  This is our society's standard of measurement, but is it God's way of measuring the success of a church?

Does this mean that it is wrong to have a large church building?  The answer, of course, is no.  But, in some cases it can be very wrong to build a large building.  Those who build church buildings should very prayerfully ask, "What is the purpose of this building?"  "Why are we building it?"  Is the building going to be built so that the church can more effectively build disciples and so that the church is more able to reach out in love to its community; or is it being built as a monument to the church's success?  Is the church's money best spent on buildings or can people be better helped and God's kingdom be advanced more effectively if the money is spent in other ways?  We can be sure that it is not appropriate to build lavish and unnecessarily costly buildings.  Some buildings are designed to magnify the worldly success of the church, while other church buildings are designed so that they can become 7-day-a-week ministry centers where Jesus' servant heart will be expressed and magnified.

A large building, packed to the rafters is not always a sign that a church is truly successful.  Large church buildings can be filled with those who are mesmerized by a manipulative "name-it-claim-it" preacher, a "positive thinking" orator, or various others who have developed the ability to draw large numbers of people to a church building.  Also, many large churches and ministries have come crashing down in recent years.

By contrast, the smallness of a church may not be sign of failure.  Even Jesus' ministry dwindled to only a few at the time when He was hanging from the cross.  Was He a failure at this time?  At the very end of Paul's life, he said these words to Timothy:  "You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes."  "At my first defense, no one came to my support but everyone deserted me."  (II Timothy 1:15 and 4:16)  Is this the testimony of a man who had failed as a Christian worker?  Was Paul a failure?  The size of a church building, like the size of the widow's offering is not a good basis for judging the success or failure of a church before God!

Some at this point might be thinking, "Is it the purpose of this paper to attack large churches?  Might there even be some animosity against large churches that has motivated this whole paper?"  Actually, some of my most satisfying experiences as a Christian have come in very large churches.  For, I have benefited from the ministry of a number of large discipling churches.  There is nothing more exciting to me, than to be a part of a church that is both making disciples and is also large.  Still, only God knows if even a large discipling church is more successful than a small discipling church.  For God can use a very small church to disciple a few people that He will use in a large way.  Some who have gone on to achieve what appears to us to be a very significant ministry, were reached with the gospel and discipled in small churches.  The message is, focus on making disciples, no matter what is the size of your church!

Sadly, though, there are many large churches that do fit the description that is given here of an attendance-focused church.  In these churches, the majority of those who attend the church are not disciples who are being nurtured and who are actively nurturing others in Christian growth, but the majority in these churches are little more than attenders.

Why did I write this paper?  My motivation started as a result of being part of a very dynamic church as a young Christian.  For thirty years as a Christian (I wrote this paper ten years ago), I have been seeking to understand why other churches are not like that church and a few others that I have been exposed to.  I have concluded that the key to understanding the difference between the dynamic church of the first century that so impacted the world of its time, and most churches of the Twentieth century America, is that the church of the First century was seeking above all to make disciples who would follow Jesus Christ no matter what the cost.  Whereas, a large percentage of our churches today are seeking above all to be successful businesses.

This paper was not written to justify smallness, but to expose the fallacy that largeness automatically means that a church is successful in the task that God has commissioned us to fulfill.  Neither largeness nor smallness is a standard for measuring the success or failure of a church, but how well we are doing at making disciples, and what kind of disciples we are making?  Also, what is proposed in these pages is that a church that does focus on discipleship may need to go through a period when it will lose from its attendance those who are not willing to pay the cost of following Jesus Christ.  Just as Jesus' ministry lost numbers before it grew in real growth.  So, a church may have, as someone has said, "a backdoor revival", before it grows with real church growth.

Now, back to the topic of church buildings.  What is the proper place for the church building in our church fellowships?  The church building should not become the tail that wags the dog.  It is a place where the church holds its meetings.  It is important and even special to us because of the warmth of fellowship, the purity of worship, and what has been learned within its walls about God's love, mercy, and grace.  But, when it becomes more than a building and a place to meet, it can become a man-made idol and it can begin to be worshipped (its size and sacredness) rather than be a place in which we worship God.

 

A QUICK SUMMARY DESCRIPTION OF THE ATTENDANCE-FOCUSED CHURCH

 Is your church primarily an attendance-focused church, or is it primarily a discipleship-focused church?  You can look at the summary of these two types of churches, which is given below, and then you can decide for yourself which of these two churches sounds most like your church.

The following is a summary list of what is characteristic of a church that focuses on trying to build success with numbers:  (1) The disciples are often burned out and tempted to become resentful as they see only a few doing most of the work.  (2) The pastor is the primary worker in the church.  Like a juggler, he is to keep the balls in the air or to keep the plates spinning.  If he slows down, the church slows down.  Everything revolves around the pastor and is kept revolving by the pastor.  (3) Disciple-making, the prime directive given to the church, is usually a low priority in this type of church.  Discipleship meetings are offered as something someone can do if they have some extra time.  (4) Bible studies tend to be a sharing of opinions, rather than a seeking after God's will and wisdom so that what is learned can be lived out.  (5) Church people rarely talk about the spiritual side of life and God's Word outside of the organized meetings.

(6) There may be many who are sitting in a typical Sunday morning service who are not disciples.  (Many do not know each other, some may not even agree with the basic orthodox teachings of the church, some are there to make business contacts, others are there mainly for their children, some are looking for a date or a mate, and some are there because it is a family tradition.)  (7) The people rarely, if ever, really get to know each other (they see each other only on Sunday mornings and then they only see each other at their Sunday morning best).  (8) The pastor is careful to give messages that will not offend his listeners.  (Even if he does give strong messages, they can be easily ignored.  For, the loose ties between the people in the church makes it highly unlikely that anyone will hold each other accountable for what is being taught.)  (9) The pastor will not do anything that might drive people away.  (Pastors who survive in this type of atmosphere are those who have developed the best political skills.) 

 

A QUICK SUMMARY DESCRIPTION OF THE DICIPLESHIP-FOCUSED CHURCH

The following is a summary list of what is characteristic of a church that focuses on building disciples:  (1) There will be a growing number of disciples in the church who are obviously growing in their walk with God.  (2) The love between church members will also be obvious and growing stronger each year.  ("Blessed Be The Tie That Binds" will be more than a song, it will be a reality in a church that is successful at building disciples. Disciples may move to other cities, but the bonds of love will never be broken.)  (3) More and more leadership is being developed in the church.  (The discipling church does not need to look outside of the church for leaders, for they will be developed within the church.)  (4) There is an atmosphere in the church of love for each other and love for the truth (Disciples love to fellowship.  This atmosphere promotes growth in the Body.)  (5) Because a large percentage of those who attend the church are growing disciples and because those who are not interested in following Jesus Christ are not comfortable in this type of church for long, it is easier to determine who are and who are not fellow members of Christ's Body.

(6) Because disciples get to know each other throughout the week, Sunday morning is a real time and not a phony time where everyone puts their best foot forward.  (Most everyone knows what each other is really like already, so there is no sense in anyone trying to pretend that they are something they are not.)  (7) The pastor's messages are directed at helping the Christians to grow in their Christian lives.  (They will contain both milk for the new believers and the children, and meat for the more mature Christians.  The pastor will not pull his punches, but will preach the whole counsel of God.)  (8) Sin will be confronted in this church.  (There will be waves caused by this, but a discipleship-focused church realizes that there is no real peace when sin is allowed to continue in the Body, and there is no happiness in Christians' lives without growth toward holiness.) (9) This type of church will not adjust God's Word to keep people coming, and will not adjust anything for those who do not like a discipleship-focused atmosphere.  (Jesus let them go and the discipleship-focused church will sadly let them go also.)  (10)  The meetings in this type of church will primarily be directed toward prayer, edification, worship, compassion, and outreach.  (11) This type of church will not see itself in competition with other churches over who is the greatest, but it will want to find ways to be an encouragement to other churches; so that they also can work towards being a discipleship-focused church and not an attendance-focused church.  (It will also seek out ways of cooperation with other churches toward God's goals.)

Based on these summaries of the attendance-focused church and the discipleship-focused church, is your church seeking after worldly success through growth in numbers, or is your church seeking to please God by seeking, above all, to build disciples of Jesus Christ?  Though, as was explained earlier, it is true that no church is fully one type of church or the other; nevertheless, we can usually determine whether a church is primarily seeking after one type of success or the other.  As Jesus said, "no one can serve two masters."   If we are serving the wrong master, we need to change masters!

 

WHAT IS THE FINAL PRODUCT OF THE ATTENDANCE-FOCUSED CHURCH?

There is good that comes from these churches:

My dividing of churches into attendance-focused churches and discipleship-focused churches, could give two wrong impressions.  One we have already mentioned, and that is that I could be giving the impression that there are churches that are totally attendance-focused, or others that are totally discipleship-focused.  Once again, there is no church that is totally attendance-focused or discipleship-focused.  Just like Christians are a mixture of self-centeredness and genuine commitment to God, so churches are a mixture of a self-focused desire for success through numbers and a pure desire to build disciples (it is also, of course, even possible to have an impure desire to build disciples).  Secondly, I am not saying that even attendance-driven churches do not have some good results.

The following are some good results that can come from attendance-focused churches:

(1) The size of the church makes it possible for large amounts of money to be given to missions, many hear the gospel who come to the large meetings, and needs are met by the moneys that are put aside to help those in need.

(2) The disciples in these churches can still reach out in many ways and often can have a rich ministry both inside and outside of the church.

(3) Small group fellowships are often formed that do provide a discipleship atmosphere (as long as there is an emphasis on the authority of the Bible rather than a sharing of personal opinions).  These groups, however, can be resented by the once-a-week attender or by non-disciples in the church.  And if the church is not following the teachings of the Bible in some area or a number of areas, these small groups can begin to go in an opposite direction from the church, as they seek to understand and obey the Bible.  This different direction will inevitably begin to create tensions between the Bible study members and the church leaders.

But, it is not all good:  There is also some results that are not good that can come from these attendance-driven churches.  Some of the bad results that can come from these churches are as follows:

(1) The pastors of super churches can become idolized as super-stars.  Then, when it becomes apparent that they are human and fallible just like the rest of us, as many of the super-star pastors have shown us in recent years, the impact can be devastating to those inside of the church and very destructive in its impact on those outside of the church.

(2) In success-oriented churches, it is not unusual for those who have had personal success in our society, to be given a high place of prominence.  These successful people are given a higher standing in the church, and all others come to be looked upon as being second-class members of the church, rather than as being equal members of the church.  The type of partiality that James exposes in James chapter two as being the very opposite from what Christianity should be like, can be sadly alive and well in our larger, successful churches.  The rich and successful are prized and those in lower social classes are hardly even missed when they stop attending.

(3) The decisions in the attendance-driven church are almost always made by a mixture of disciples and attenders who have completely opposite goals for the church.  Committees are usually made up of disciples and attenders.  The disciples believe that they should pray and seek God's will.  The attenders usually base their decisions on the following criteria:
a) the way we have always done it,
b) what the most dominant persons in the church want,
c) what has worked in the business world,
d) what makes sense at the time.

In Proverbs 3:5-6, Solomon says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."  The attenders want to lean on their own understanding and the disciples want to trust in the Lord with all their hearts.  A committee made up of disciples and attenders is trying to do both at the same time.  It is, obviously, impossible.  If one side wins, it alienates them from the other side.  Disciples know all too well the frustration of continually being involved in this process.

(4) The elders, deacons, board, or whoever leads the church are often a mixture of attenders and disciples.  In attendance-focused churches, who do not use Biblical guidelines, it is not surprising that there are many very different methods that are used to select the church's leadership:
a) They may be voted on (it can be a popularity contest).
b) They may choose those who have been successful outside of the church (successful businessmen, lawyers, teachers, principals, administrators, etc.).
c) They may choose those who have been in the church the longest.
d) They may choose those who would be offended if they are not chosen.
e) They may choose anyone who is willing to take the office.
f) They may choose those who seem to be the most dignified members of the church (they may be the most qualified people to lead the church, but it is also possible to be dignified and have only an introductory understanding of the Bible and the Christian life).

When the church's leadership is made up of this mix of people, it is going to have the same struggle that was just mentioned.  These leaders, made up of both attenders and disciples, are not going to be seeking together to find God's will for the church.  Instead, though these church leaders may be polite to each other, the attender elders and disciple elders are going to have very different agendas for the church.  There will be a lot of silence from the attenders while a disciple presents what he believes is the Biblical direction for the church.  There will probably be many compromises on both sides to somehow maintain peace.  Neither side will be excited about the decisions that are finally made for the church.

Our country is filled with churches that experience this basic disagreement among the church leadership.  As one person has said, it is like two people facing each other in a canoe and both paddling as hard as they can paddle in opposite directions.  Attender-focused churches usually do not make much progress in accomplishing God's goals, unless of course, the disciples are better paddlers than the attenders!

(5) The mixture of dedicated and growing Christians, nominal Christians (the attenders), and non-Christians is not the type of army that will make a radical impact on our world, nor is it much of a threat to Satan's strongholds.  In fact, instead of this type of a church going out and making an impact on our world, the world has come into the church and is making a radical impact on it.  For example, instead of the church's morality influencing the world's morality, the world's morality is influencing the church!  As someone has said, "We need to get the world out of the church before we can get the church out into the world."

 

WHAT IS THE FINAL PRODUCT OF THE DISCIPLESHIP-FOCUSED CHURCH?

It is not all good:

You may be surprised to hear that there is a negative side to seeking to develop a discipleship-focused church.  The negative side is that there will always be those who are opposed to a church seeking to make disciple-making its highest priority.  Just as there was strong opposition to Jesus and Paul, so there will be strong opposition to those who are effective at making disciples.  The strongest opposition to Jesus and Paul came from the religious Jews.  So, the strongest opposition to obeying Jesus' Great Commission to build disciples can often come from those who are attending church for some other reason than to become a disciple or to make disciples.  It was the religious people who crucified Jesus, it was the religious people who chased Paul from city to city, and it was the religious people who stoned Stephen to death.  Do not be surprised, then, if opposition to an emphasis on making disciples comes from within your own church.  There will be those who see it as a waste of time.  There will also be those who are convicted because they are not ready themselves to pay the cost that discipleship requires.  But, in short, not everyone will be delighted that a church is making Jesus' Great Commission its highest priority.  Facing this type of opposition is part of the cost that we are to pay as we seek to fully obey Jesus' command to go and make disciples.

But, there is much that is good:

(1) This type of church is going to have the great joy of together getting to know Jesus Christ in a way that they could never have gotten to  know Him alone.  As was mentioned earlier, this was Paul's prayer for the church:  "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled to all the fullness of God."  (Ephesians 3:16-19)

A church that is effective in discipling its members will begin to understand the love of Christ and will begin to be filled with God.  Is there a more worthwhile goal in all of our lives than what Paul describes in these verses?  As Christians begin to experience forgiveness, grace, encouragement, patience, kindness, acceptance, and even loving correction from each other, they together will begin to experience a deeper and a more real understanding of Jesus' love for us all.  They will have an experience of God's fullness that they did not know was possible.  As Paul says in the verses that immediately follow, He is able to do way beyond what we think He can do in our lives and in His church! (See Ephesians 3:19,20)

(2) This type of church is going to develop an internal stability. The church at Corinth was full of baby Christians, so it was also full of squabbling and division:  "Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual, but as worldly--mere infants in Christ.....For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?  Are you not acting life mere men?"  (I Corinthians 3:1,3)  A church full of baby Christians is a quarreling church.  A church full of mature Christians is a peace-loving, grace-giving, stable and unified church.

(3) This type of church is going to be stable doctrinally.  "Then you will no longer be infants tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming."  A church full of maturing disciples is going to grow in agreement and discernment about what is the truth and what is a lie.  The members of this church will not be easily fooled by false teachers.

(4) This type of church is going to be filled with teachers.  The author of Hebrews rebukes the Hebrew Christians he was writing to because they were not growing as Christians.  He says that they should be teachers, but instead they still needed someone to teach them the "elementary truths of God's word all over again."  (Hebrews 5:12)

However, if there is regular growth taking place in a church, there will be many in that church who are capable of teaching.  One pastor commented, after participating in a seminar at the exciting and growing church I went to as a brand new Christian, that attending that church's services was like attending a pastors' and wives' conference.  For, many of the people in that church had matured to the point where their commitment to God, their spiritual maturity, their experience in ministry, and their ministry skills were at the same level as what you would normally expect to find in pastors and their wives.  In a discipling and growing church there will be many qualified teachers.

(5) This type of church is going to have a dynamic outreach.  Christians who are dynamically growing in their relationship with God, are going to be effective as salt and light in their worlds.  Whereas a numbers-oriented church will be focused primarily on the building and on filling up the building; a church that is focused on discipling will be seeking to make disciples who will leave the confines of the church building and reach out in love to a needy and dead world.  This type of church will be seeking to make disciples who will go out into the world dedicated to making more disciples.  The church that is effective at making disciples is much more likely to have an impact on a community than a church that is focused primarily on building up the attendance in the church.

In the introduction to this paper a question was proposed about why our society is moving away from God, while our churches are growing larger and more successful.  The early church had the impact it did primarily because of the fully committed disciples of the apostles.  The apostles fully followed Christ even though it meant that most of them died martyrs' deaths.  A church full of those who do little more in their Christian lives than attend services once a week cannot have the type of impact on our world that the apostles and their disciples had on their world.  If our churches do not become truly disciple-building churches, our country will certainly continue its downward slide!

We can have the attitude that we are in the downward slide heading to the last days of this world.  Therefore, it is too late to do anything about the state of our country and our world.  Do we know that we cannot have an impact on our world? Or, at the least, do we know that we cannot have a greater impact on our world than we are having?  Paul fought the good fight right up to the end of his life.  Should we do any less?

 

THE BIBLE'S PLAN FOR DEVELOPING A DISCIPLESHIP-FOCUSED CHURCH

There are Obstacles that Need to be Overcome

Those who want to have a discipleship-focused and a truly successfully church, need to be willing to pay the same cost that Jesus and the apostles were willing to pay.  For there are many obstacles that the church must overcome on the way to becoming a successful, discipling church.  Here are some of them:

(1) We have an invisible and relentless foe.  The Bible teaches us that Satan is totally opposed to God's church being successful.  He uses the temptations of the world to seek to draw us away from God's plan for us.  He sought to tempt Jesus away from the Father's plan for Him by seeking to offer Him that which would appeal to the flesh, the eyes, and the pride of life.  He uses the world to tempt us in the very same ways.  (See Matthew 4:3-9 and I John 2:15-17)  He is the creator of false teaching.  (See I Timothy 4:1-4 and Jude 4)  He is the "accuser of our brothers." (Revelation 12:10)  He is determined to get us off track, and he has gotten the church off track in many, many ways through the years.  In recent years we have seen too many of his victories: well-known Christians have given into sexual temptation, false teaching is invading the church and being accepted in the church, and Christians are crippled by condemnation and guilt.  He will continue his battle, whether or not we recognize that we are being besieged by a powerful enemy who is determined to destroy us.

(2) Legalism is one of the most difficult obstacles that must be overcome.  The book of Galatians was written primarily to overcome legalism.  Legalism is when men arrogantly set up rules that they demand others must obey to please God.  Because Judaism and the Pharisees were legalistic, it was what Jesus needed to overcome to build the church.  It, of course, also can and does take root in the church today.  When it takes root it is very difficult to root out. We can see how serious a threat legalism is to the church by the strong words of Jesus to the Pharisees in Matthew 23 and by Paul's strong words to the Galatians in Galatians one.  In each case, they are some of the strongest words of condemnation that are found anywhere in the Bible.

(3) False teaching is a major obstacle to the church becoming what God desires for it to become.  Many of the letters to the early churches were written primarily to confront some form of false teaching (Romans, II Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians, I and II Thessalonians, I Timothy and I John, for example.)
False teaching which presents a false and distorted view of reality is a cancer that can weaken and even destroy a church.

(4) For people to become full and wholehearted disciples of Jesus Christ, they must put Him at the very first place in every area of their lives, no matter what that may cost them.  The song, "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus" is reported to have been written by a Maharajah's son.  His father said that if he chose to get baptized as a Christian, he would lose his inheritance and his royal position.  He, of course, decided to follow Jesus!  The early Christians died horrible deaths rather than bowing down and worshipping the early Caesars as their countrymen were forced to do.  Sadly, there are many in other religions and with other beliefs who put American Christians to shame by what they are willing to sacrifice for their beliefs.  Olympic athletes often put Christians to shame by the level of their commitment to their personal cause and by what they are willing to sacrifice in pursuit of an Olympic medal.  To have a disciple-making church, we need to call people to a type of commitment that will put all other commitments to shame, for we have by far the highest calling of all and we have power from God to fulfill that calling.  But, there will be those who will deeply resent it when we preach, exhort, and call the people in our churches to this type of commitment.

(5) Churches with large buildings to fill and large budgets to meet are not as likely to be willing to do what they know will drive some attenders away.  Though pastors and church leaders may desire to have a committed and spiritually growing church, they also may not be ready to pay the cost that will come from calling Christians to become truly wholehearted disciples of Jesus Christ.  They may not be willing to do anything that will lose them even a single attender.  They can become slaves within their large monuments to success.

(6) There is a need to develop a totally different standard of success.  Someone has said that "some climb the ladder of success only to find that it is leaning against the wrong wall."  The apostle Paul was a success while he was in prison.  There were elements in Rome who used his imprisonment to try to argue that they were the ones who were successful and Paul was the failure.  We also need to wholeheartedly pursue God's goals even if it means that at times it appears that we are failures.

(7) One of the greatest obstacles to building this type of church is the need to realize that only God can build His type of church and therefore He alone deserves and should receive the credit.  In Psalm 127, Solomon says, "unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain."  Our proud tendency is to want to build a church that we can be proud of.  But, if we build the church it will be an abomination in God's eyes.  It is necessary for God to humble us just like Jesus humbled Peter, so we will see with new eyes our own wretchedness and see that good, purity, and love can only come from Him!

(8) Another great obstacle to building this type of church is that there is often a period of time where it appears as if God's goals for a church are not going to be accomplished.  Sometimes a church may totally reject, and have no desire, to become a discipleship-focused church.  Other churches may appear to reject God's goal for their church, but later embrace His vision.  The church at Corinth was led away from Paul's teachings by false teachers, but after a strong letter from Paul they once again became committed to doing it God's way.  Christ's ministry went from being successful to being an apparent failure.  It is difficult for a church to go through times that are similar to what Jesus and His apostles went through when it appears that everything is falling apart.

(9) One of the most difficult obstacles that there will be against developing a discipleship-focused church is that we can count on Satan using people to oppose us.  He uses people in many ways, even people who are genuine Christians.  Paul said that we should not let the sun go down on our anger, for if we hold grudges against Christian brothers and sisters we give the devil a foothold so he can use us to destroy each other and God's work.  The author of the book of Hebrews tells the Jewish Christians of his time not to allow tough times to produce in them a "root of bitterness."  Satan seeks after those he can use within the church to get a church off-track.  We can be sure that his opposition will increase as a church is functioning more as an effective and fruitful discipling church!

How Can These Obstacles be Overcome?

How can these obstacles be overcome and how can we develop discipleship-focused churches?  Below, you will find a list of what we as a church can do to work toward God's goals for His church.  It is not an exhaustive list, but as will be explained later, it is found in the Bible.  So, for the complete list, look in the Bible.  It is still relevant for building successful churches today.

(1) We need a new standard for success, which is really the old and Biblical standard for success.   We should be concerned about what God is doing in the hearts of people and not about how many people we can successfully get to come into a church building.  When we are seeking to have "successful" churches, we are communicating to our people that being successful in this world is what is of greatest importance.  It is, then, also okay for our people, for example, to make being a financial success the highest goal of their lives.  Those who are not successful in this worldly way are then relegated to being second-rate citizens.  But, listen to James' words: "Listen my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith."  Paul who had made it in the world, became poor in the world so he could be rich toward God:  "If anyone thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: . . . A Hebrew of the Hebrews, . . . a Pharisee, . . . as for legalistic righteousness faultless.  But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them but rubbish, that I may gain and be found in him..."  (Philippians 3:4-8)   Now, is that not an example of creating a new standard of success?

Jesus replaced being served with serving as a sign of greatness.  He demonstrated greatness when He washed the disciples' feet.  We, in our churches, need to create a new standard of success.  And because the world is continually inundating us with its version of success, we can never stop holding God's measurement of success before our people!

(2) We need to look to the Bible as the only fully dependable guide to success in the church.  If we are seeking to build a successful church business, then we can look in many directions for advice and guidance on how to build a successful business.  We, for example, can seek to build our church in a way very similar to the way in which a business seeks to build success.  We can go to seminars where those who have been successful will teach us what we can do to be successful like they have been.  Now, there is nothing wrong with benefiting from those who have been able to successfully apply Biblical principles to the modern-day church.  But, sadly, there has been an emphasis in recent years on looking for whatever appears to be working in "successful churches," even if it is being done by a church that has very questionable Biblical teachings and practices. 

But, if we are seeking to build disciples (which is what Jesus commissioned us to do), and if we are seeking to build up the Body of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, where can we find better advice than in the Bible?  For many years, the church has been seen more as a business (a sacred business) than as a Divinely empowered fellowship of supernaturally born-again believers.  As a result, the Bible's instructions about the church have, by default, been looked upon as being irrelevant.  For some time the Bible has been seen as a private devotional for Christians, rather than a manual or how-to-do-it book for the Christian and for the church.  The rest of the list will be God's how-to-do-it instructions from the Bible.

How do we overcome the difficult obstacles that have been mentioned and develop a discipleship-focused church?  In short, we need to fully follow the pattern of Jesus and the apostles, no matter what the cost. We can feel that the patterns of church building that we see in the New Testament are somehow not relevant in our modern-day world.  The reason, as has been mentioned, is that in too many cases we are seeking to build successful businesses rather than to build churches that are making disciples and are building up the Body of Christ.  If we are seeking to build the church as God wants it to be built up, the Bible has never been more relevant than it is today.  For we need God's guidance as never before, as we approach what appears to be the very last days of the church.

(3)  We need to make "making disciples" the highest priority in our churches. The early church was structured to build disciples.  Too often in our churches today, discipleship, which is our main purpose for existence, is rarely even mentioned, promoted, programmed, or planned for.  The main priority in the early church was to train disciples.  The Navigators and Campus Crusade for Christ are modern day organizations that have made training disciples their number one priority.  But, there are few churches that have made "making disciples" their highest priority.  How important was the training of disciples to Jesus and the early church leaders?

Jesus chose to devote the last part of His ministry on earth to spending time with His closest followers.  Some of that time, He spent with only the twelve.  There were other times that He was alone with Peter, James, and John.  If Jesus devoted the most important days and hours of His life to building a few disciples, should not the most important part of our church's schedule be devoted to building disciples?  We need to devote the prime time in our churches to training a group of men and women who will in turn train and build other men and women (Jesus also spent time with a group of women.  Many of these women were with Him when He was on the cross.)

Small groups were a very important part of the structure of the early church.  "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, . . ."
(Acts 2:46)  They met as a large group in the temple, but they also met in small groups in homes.  We know that the churches that were later started in cities outside of Israel met in homes.  Part of the discipleship structure in our churches needs to take place in homes or small groups.  Jesus' small group emphasis was the twelve. 

There needs to be times set apart for instruction.  In Acts 19:9-10, we learn that Paul took his followers to a lecture hall and taught them there for two years.  This type of instruction may have been similar to our Seminaries, Bible schools, and Sunday school classes.  So, there is a place for this type of instruction.  We need to promote our instructional classes in the church and seek to involve as many as possible in them.

There needs to be living discipleship.  We need to do more than just instruct; we need to pass on a lifestyle.  We need to disciple by becoming involved in each others' lives.  Jesus chose twelve to be with Him.  Our church leaders and the members of the church also need to be choosing disciples to be with them.

(4) We need to create a vision for what God wants to do in the church and through the church.  The book of Acts provides us with a description of God powerfully working in the church and through the church.  Through the book of Acts, God has given us a vision of what He desires to do in and through our modern-day churches.  In the book of Ephesians, Paul describes what God desires for the church.  The vision we find in these chapters is as follows: we see him, praying that Jesus Christ would be at home in their lives, that He would fill their lives, that they might live and love as He lived and loved, that they together might become an expression of every dimension of Jesus' love, and that they might together be Christ's Body through whom He expresses Himself.  Today, we need to confidently, and with faith, declare God's vision for our church.  Where does God want us to go?  And where will God empower us to go, if we fully trust and obey Him?  Without this type of vision and faith, it is very much like starting on a trip with no idea at all of where we are going.  We do not get anywhere, because we do not have any idea of where to go.  Because visionless churches are not seeking God's vision for their churches in the first place, they do not get to where God wants them to go

God gave Abraham a vision of what He wanted to do through Him.  God gave Moses a vision for what He desired to do through him.  We need to pray and ask God what he desires to do through us individually and through our local church.  He will give us the power and resources to do what He desires for us to do.

(5) We need to be willing to fail and to learn from our failures. One of the greatest costs that we must be willing to pay if we are going to build God's church God's way is that we need to be willing to fail.  God's people through the ages have only been able to be truly successful after they failed.  Moses totally failed to deliver the people of Israel from the Egyptians when he killed an Egyptian that was beating a Hebrew.  After forty years in the wilderness tending sheep he was ready to be used by God to rescue the nation of Israel from Egypt.  Peter failed horribly when He denied Jesus, but he was used by God to preach a message of salvation at the Feast of Pentecost; a message that brought Jesus' church into existence.  For us to do God's work, we must first totally fail at doing God's work our way.

Listen to the important place that failure played in Paul's life.  Paul had been forced out of Ephesus by a mob.  Listen to his words at that time:  "We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.  But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead."  "We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.  So, then death is at work in us, but life is at work in you"  (II Corinthians 1:8,9, 4:10-12)
    
Our natural human tendency is to seek to build the church with our own strength, for our own selfish purposes.  That part of us must die, before we can be used by God to build the church with His strength and for His pure reasons.  Real love and real dedication only comes from God's Spirit.  God uses the trials in our lives, His Word, correction by Christian friends, preaching, and His sovereign ordering of events to put to death our old life, so that we can do a new work in the power of His Spirit. 

How can we be used by God to build a church that is truly successful?  We must be willing to become the last before we can be first.  We need to be willing to be poor before we can become rich.  We must become a church full of servants before we will be a truly successful church before God.

(6) We need to do our work in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Listen to why Paul was able to do the work in the early church that he was able to do:  "We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.  To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me." (Colossians 1:28,29)  When we die to our own goals and desires and are fully committed to what God desires to do in the church and the world, then we begin to experience His power to do His work.  We are not going to be empowered by God to build a successful church that will glorify us, but we will be empowered by Him when our motives have been purified by trials and by the word of God.  God's work will be tiring, for Paul says in these verses that were quoted that he struggled or agonized.  But, we will never be alone or powerless in this struggle.  Jesus Himself said He would be in the yoke with us. (Matthew 11:28-30)  In God's work, we need to be continually depending on God to lead us and to empower us.  As was mentioned earlier, if God does not build the church, we will have labored in vain.

(7) We need to love those we are discipling with a father's and a mother's love.  "For you know we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory."  (I Thessalonians 2:11)  Making disciples is a work of love or it is not a work of God.  We care and pray about our children no matter where they go and no matter what they do.  (There are times, of course, when parents become cold toward their children.  But, they do not, then, have a parent's type of love for their children.)  We are to passionately care for those we reach out to in the church and seek to disciple them with a parent's love. 

(8)  We need to seek to obey Jesus' Great Commission in spite of opposition.  Listen to the way Paul worked in one church:  "we dared to tell you this gospel in spite of strong opposition"  (I Thessalonians 2:2)  A regular part of what Paul faced as he sought to establish churches was opposition.  He was stoned, whipped, imprisoned, vilified, and chased, but he never backed off from what he had been called to do.  So, we should not back off from what we have been called to do, no matter how much opposition we may face.

Paul was totally focused on what God desired for His church.  He pursued that goal even against the strongest opposition.  Because he was empowered by God, he was able to persevere in seeking to build God's church God's way right up to his last days on earth.  In the last chapter of II Timothy, the last Bible book Paul wrote before he died, he tells us that he had fought the good fight.  Fighting this good fight would soon cost him his life at Nero's hand, but he was confident that there was a crown on the other side of death.  Can we expect to build God's church God's way with any less of a commitment to God's work?

(9) We need to use God's armor so we can be victorious over our spiritual enemies.  We need to continually remember that our enemies are not men, but invisible spiritual beings who are relentlessly warring against us.  Paul lists in Ephesians 6, our spiritual armor.  Also, throughout the Bible we are given instructions concerning our enemy and how to be triumphant in our war with him and his forces. We need to know the truth so that we will recognize demon-inspired teaching.  We need to resist temptation and pursue what is pure.  We need to remember that there is no longer any condemnation because of what Jesus did for us on the cross.  We need to flee from anything that is part of the occult.  We need to draw near to God, and if we do draw near to Him, we need to be confident that He will draw near to us.

(10) We need to confront false teaching.  Paul did not just accept that there will always be false teaching, and then go on with his work of discipling.  He strongly confronted false teaching.  In the book of Galatians, he strongly confronts legalism:  "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really not a different gospel at all.  Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!"  Should we be softer on false teaching than Paul was?  Paul saw it as a destructive cancer, that needed radical surgery to keep it from being destructive in Christ's Body and to keep it from spreading.  The apostle Paul and the apostle John were continually dealing with false teaching in their letters.  Today, some would discourage us from confronting false teachers.  It is looked upon as unloving.  Is it unloving to expose Satan's lies?  Paul obviously did not think so.  Our churches will not be what God desires them to be if we continue to be soft on the cancerous false teaching that seeks to worm its way into our churches.  Listen to Paul's words in Acts 20:29-31:  "I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.  So be on your guard!"

(11) We need to seek out those who will be faithful disciples, so that they can faithfully disciple others.   Jesus and Paul also focused on those who wanted to be disciples and who were willing to pay the cost necessary to be disciples.  Paul encouraged Timothy to seek out faithful men who would learn from him and then pass on what they had learned from him to still more faithful people.  (II Timothy 2:2)  We, in our modern world cannot find a better way to build God's Kingdom than the method that was used by Jesus and Paul.  They sought out the Peters, Jameses, Johns, Timothys, and they poured their lives into them.  We also need to prayerfully seek out those who are poor in spirit and are willing to leave everything else behind to follow Jesus Christ.  Then, we need to pour our lives into them.

(12) We need to choose godly leaders. An essential component for developing a discipleship-focused church is that we need to choose those who have been true disciples and who have matured in their faith to be the leaders in our churches.  As was mentioned earlier, if we have a mixture or attenders and disciples as leaders, we will bog down; and it is very unlikely that we will make progress toward God's goals for the church.  In I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 there is a list of qualifications for elders and deacons.  It is essential that we use God's list of qualifications for selecting our leaders, and it is essential that we do not use some other method for choosing our church leaders.

We need to choose leaders in the church who have demonstrated that they are servants in their homes and the church.  For the work of being a church leader is not like being on a board of directors of a corporation, but we are to choose those who are committed to serving Christ as a way of life.  Leading in the church means they are to be leaders in service. As will be emphasized in the next section, leading by example is an essential part of  training the church for its work of ministry.  Listen to Paul's final words to the elders at Ephesus:  "In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" (Acts 20:35)  We are not to choose leaders who will lord it over the church, but leaders who have given themselves to God and who will serve and shepherd the church towards God's goals for His church.

(13) Church leaders are to lead by setting an example for the rest of the church.  The two letters to Timothy were Paul's instructions to Timothy about church life, the Christian ministry, and disciple-making.  We should not be surprised that there are instructions in these two letters that will be critical and essential in developing discipleship-focused churches.  Listen to what Paul says to Timothy about the importance of setting the right example for other Christians to follow:  "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity . . . . Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone will see your progress.  Watch your life and your doctrine closely.  Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers." (I Timothy 4:12,15,16)  "But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry." (II Timothy 4:4)  We do not make disciples by just what we say, but it is both by what we say and what we do!  It was not just Jesus' words that influenced His apostles, it was His life.  A godly example is an essential ingredient in developing discipleship-focused churches.

(14)  We need to be continually teaching God's Word:  Listen to some more instructions given to Timothy by Paul:  "Until I  come, devote yourself to the public reading of the Scripture, to preaching and to teaching."  (I Timothy 4:13)  "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."  God's Word, the truth, must take center-stage in the up-building of Christians.  Attempting to summarize each of these subjects in this list is difficult, for a book could easily be written on each of these subjects.  In short, the Bible is the spiritual food that is absolutely essential for spiritual growth.  Secondly, the Bible is our one map for guidance in the spiritual life.  If we do not continually concentrate on its teachings, we will get off course.  In our churches, we should be continually busy feeding our church members with Gods' Word to ensure that each member of the church is receiving the spiritual diet that will most help them to grow, be healthy, and flourish as fruitful Christians.  We should be continually busy giving them the spiritual guidelines in the Bible that will help them to stay on God's narrow way, and that will protect them from being enticed down one or more of Satan's many paths that lead away from God.

(15) We need to lovingly correct and rebuke our fellow Christians.  Listen to Paul's instructions to Timothy"  "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage with great patience and careful instruction."  In Paul's letter to Titus we are surprised by these strong words:  "Even one of their own prophets has said, 'Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.  This testimony is true.  Therefore, rebuke them strongly, so that they will be sound in the faith."  (Titus 1:13)  Even elders are to be rebuked when they sin.  (I Timothy 5:20)

The temptation is for us to only tell people what they want to hear.  The book of Proverbs is clear: a fool despises correction, but a wise man benefits from it.  "Better is open rebuke than hidden love.  Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses."  (Proverbs 27:5-6)  (See also Proverbs 9:7-9, 10:17, and 12:1)   Discipleship will not be effective without correction and rebuke.  Those in attendance-focused churches do little correcting, for their main goal is to keep their attenders coming.  In discipleship-focused churches, rebukes are essential to keep Christians growing.  If they turn away from the truth spoken in love, they are foolish and are unwilling to hear the truth about themselves; but if they receive the correction, they will grow and learn from your loving correction.

(16)  We need to encourage our fellow Christians.  In Paul's instructions to Timothy, he was told to teach and rebuke with perseverance, but he was also told to encourage his fellow Christians.  In one of the best known verses in the Bible, the author of Hebrews talks about the importance of encouragement in the church:  "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."   In most cases, Christians will not become all they can become in their Christian lives without someone encouraging them regularly.  And as Paul told Timothy, we are to encourage others "with great patience."  (II Timothy 4:2)

(17) We need to be continually praying for each other.  Paul often mentioned in his letters that he was constantly in prayer for his disciples  (See Philippians 1:3-6,9-11; Colossians 1:3,9; I Thessalonians 1:2; and II Timothy 1:3)  He also exhorted those in the churches to be continually in prayer:  "and pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kind of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints."  (Ephesians 6:18)  If Paul found prayer indispensable, can we build a discipleship-focused church without a total commitment to prayer?  If prayer was an essential part of Paul's discipleship-building, so prayer must be an essential part of our work!

We have listed and briefly described seventeen essentials that are needed for building a discipleship-focused church.  Can we build this type of church without even one or two of them?  For example, can we build disciples without correction, without encouragement, or without prayer?  Our list is not exhaustive, but everything that has been listed is clearly an essential part of God's program for building his church.

Paul is a prime example for us of what it takes to build disciples and to build the Body of Christ.  He loved, he was compassionate, he forgave, he corrected, he spoke the truth, he was humble and he never gave up.  He was knocked down, but he was never knocked out.  In our modern-day churches, we need Pauls, not corporation CEOs.  We need those who passionately care for everyone inside the church and outside the church, not those who are seeking to make a name for themselves.

There is no easy way to develop a discipleship-focused church.  That is undoubtedly why we are often so willing to be satisfied with something less than what God desires for the church.  It is much easier and less costly to develop a church that, as some have said, is a mile wide and an inch deep.  Are we in our Twentieth Century America, with all our riches and conveniences, willing to pay the cost that is necessary to build a church that truly fulfills the Great Commission?

This type of church dedicated to prayer and to making disciples in the power of God's Spirit will have an impact on our world.  Some will hate the light, but there will also be many who will be drawn to the light.

I will close with the testimony of a pastor in Zimbabwe in Africa written before he died as a martyr because of his faith in Christ:

"I'm part of the fellowship of the unashamed.  I have the Holy Spirit power.  The die has been cast.  I have stepped over the line.  The decision has been made—I'm a disciple of His.  I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.  My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure.  I'm finished and done with low living, sight walking, smooth knees, colorless dreams, famed visions, worldly talking, cheap giving and dwarfed goals.  I no longer need preeminence, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity.  I don't have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded or rewarded.  I now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, am uplifted by prayer, and I labor with power.  My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven.  My road is narrow, my way rough, my companions are few, my Guide reliable and my mission clear.  I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed.  I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the enemy, pander at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.      I won't give up, shut up or let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ.  I am a disciple of Jesus.  I must go till He comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till He stops me.  And, when He comes for His own, He will have no problem recognizing me . . . my banner will be clear."

When is the church truly successful?  We are successful when we are making disciples like this Zimbabwe pastor who was willing to fully follow Jesus Christ, even though it lead right up to the cross and cost him his life.  Is a church of 10,000 successful if it is only producing lukewarm, double-minded Christians?  Is a church of 20 successful if it producing whole-hearted, single-minded disciples like this pastor from Zimbabwe?  Were not Peter, James, and John like this African Christian?  Christian tradition tells us that the eleven disciples that Jesus built all were willing to fully follow Christ no matter what it cost them.  That is the type of disciples Jesus built, and the type of disciple Paul and the apostles built, and it is the type of disciple that Jesus wants us to build today in our churches.  If we are building this type of disciple, we will have successful churches and we will make an obvious impact on our world.