reFUNCTIONation suggestion # 37 : “Make church members” is NOT what Jesus said.

imageChurch membership. A debated topic nowadays. Have it or not? Covenant commitment or not? Membership classes or not? To be upfront, this is not a suggestion slamming church membership, nor is it a suggestion supporting church membership. I am actually for the beauty of making a commitment to one another like family and getting together to talk about what it means to be church family together. So what is this suggestion about?

This post is simply a suggestion that making church members is not the purpose of the church.

Hear me out.

Many a teacher has said we can make church members but not make disciples. However, if we make disciples, it will automatically result in people being the church. As Neil Cole has taught and written on numerous occasions, we have raised the bar of church membership too high and lowered the bar on being a disciple of Jesus. I agree.

We want to tell people how to be a committed church member, but are we equipping people to be devoted disciples who make disciples?

It is not easy to hear, but one of the issues, in my estimation, is how church leaders have emphasized church membership to families rather than equipping families to make disciples of and with their children. As a result, parents typically take their children “to church” rather than to Jesus. Commitment to church programs gets emphasized more than commitment to Jesus and His mission.

“Make church members” is not what Jesus said. “Make disciples” is what Jesus said.

I fear that the “churched” may love what we have considered to be “church” more than we love Jesus.

Being a part of a local community of believers in Christ who live as a family on His mission is crucial in the life of a disciple of Jesus. IE, being a member of a local church family is important. But that will come as necessary when we are following Jesus on mission with Him, making disciples. We will need each other when we make disciples. However, when church membership comes first, then what the church does for me tends to supersede how we were intended to be the church together.

Think about it. How can we emphasize “make disciples” before we encourage church membership? And how will we equip for making disciples in daily relationships more than being committed church members on weekends?

Lord Jesus, reFUNCTION us to be Your disciples who make disciples as we live as Your church together, rather than “going to church” together with “making disciples” as an option for the super-church-goer. Please give us wisdom to equip for it as well as to be family on mission with You together. 

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reFUNCTIONation suggestion # 34 : Stop “planting churches.” Jesus planted the church. Will we make disciples who become His church?

imageWhen I was invited to “plant a church,” I had never really seen myself doing such a thing. During my college years at Union University, I knew someone “planting a church” just north of Jackson, TN. But most of the “church planting” I had heard of up to that point, although it was certainly happening unbeknownst to me, had been “church splitting” – when a group of folks wanted to stop being a part of an already existing group of believers so they go start their own. Not the healthiest form of “church planting.”

“Church Planting” became pretty hip around the same time we were invited into it. Obviously not because of us, it was just the beginning of a trend that by 2010 would become the main focus of almost every single Protestant denomination.

But it begs a typically unasked question: Is “church planting” what we have been purposed to do?

Should we be giving so much attention and resources to it?

I have never been satisfied with the language of “church planting.” It isn’t the language of the New Testament, in my opinion.

Wouldn’t we be more faithful to the language of the New Testament if we considered Jesus to be THE “Church Planter” and Movement Initiator and Chief Disciple Maker? Wouldn’t we represent our purpose described in the New Testament if we considered ourselves as followers of Jesus invited along with Him to go make disciples who make disciples who make disciples, AND when disciple-making occurs then those now who follow Jesus exist as His One church having joined His mission in that specific city or region? Wouldn’t we be more faithful to the cause and effect of the Mission of Jesus as pictured in the New Testament if we “planted” the Gospel into people’s lives in hopes of “on earth as it is in heaven” in their relationships and the Kingdom of God come near through their being the church together in new ways in their communities?

Some would argue my suggestion is only semantics. I would argue it is not. Let me tell you three reasons why:

(1) Because we can “plant churches” without planting the Gospel and without joining the mission of Jesus.

(2) Because people too often regard their own expression of the church (their own local church) as “MY church” and hold it in higher regard than the unity of HIS Church. This is detrimental to the maturing of oneness among those who believe Jesus, which Jesus taught and prayed was vital to people believing in the One who was sent (John 6:29 and John 17:18-23).

(3) Because we can equip people to join our vision and start a new gathering and sustain a new 501-c3 without actually equipping people to be disciples of Jesus whose premier priority is to live sent to make disciples of Jesus.

Argue all you want, but these reasons are descriptions of what has happened far too often when lots of money has been invested in “church planting.”

Here’s what I am NOT suggesting:

I am NOT saying we should quit praying for and “planting” for new expressions of His church. I am saying we should plant the Gospel and send disciple makers who make disciples and see old and new followers unite as His church.

I am NOT saying we should abandon all efforts of supporting and funding what we have called “church planting.” I am saying that if we focused on equipping for disciple-making cultures among existing expressions of His church, then we would see sending cultures send disciple-makers to plant the gospel of Jesus where needed in hopes of new expressions of His church. In other words, we’d need less agencies for funding and less networks for relationships because those would exist among united local church expressions.

I am NOT saying we should quit identifying and equipping and sending and coaching what we have called “church planters.” I am saying we should equip them to see Jesus as THE Church Planter and the Movement Initiator and the Chief Disciple Maker so they can also equip disciples of Jesus to join in on the mission of Jesus and see their local church expression as a unified part of the overall movement of Jesus (as a local expression of His church).

Look around. How many leaders who claim to follow Jesus give their energy to equipping for the sending of disciple-makers more than they give their energy to gathering for the sermon of one preacher? How many small groups ministries are focused on where people AREN’T learning about Jesus rather than where people are? How many local church expressions put the interests of other local church expressions above their own interests?

Planting and growing and sustaining “church” is something God does. Not us. We are to make disciples together. With Jesus and each other.

It’s His church. It has already been planted. It’s His movement. Let’s join Him.

It’s in the New Testament.

Lord reFUNCTION us to be Your church in every way.

reFUNCTIONation suggestion # 33 : Quit treating the culture, to whom the church has been sent, like they are a public restroom.

imageChris Seay pastors in Houston, TX. I heard him speak many years ago about the relationship between the American church and American culture. He used the most appropriate, yet inappropriate, illustration. Here’s my paraphrase summary of it.

Speaking specifically of people who may think and live differently than those who consider themselves “churched,” the “churched” treat those in surrounding culture like a public restroom. Get in. Don’t touch anything. Do what you have to do. Don’t touch anything. Make sure you wash your hands. Get out.

So, I take my four year old son into a gas-station bathroom. First thing I tell him before we go in, “Don’t touch anything.” I use my left-hand pinky finger to open the door. We go in. I use the same left-hand pinky finger to close and lock the handicap stall, the stall of choice.

I grab a paper towel, if they have that instead of the annoying blow-dry machines, or some toilet paper, and I let down the potty seat and wipe it off. I then place a wasteful amount of toilet paper on top of the toilet seat, as though toilet paper has a magic force field for all excremental germs.

My son pulls down his pants, and I instruct him to bend his knees toward his chest so that I can strategically and carefully place him on top of the magic force field toilet paper without any skin contact with the potty seat. “Don’t touch the potty,” I remind him. He looks up at me with a yessir smile.

When finished wiping, I help him down from the incredulously high toilet seat. He pulls up his pants, while I prepare to flush the toilet with my foot. Side-note: if it has automatic flush, there are two other steps. (1) Before putting down the magic force field toilet paper, I place toilet paper over the red eye sensor so as to trick it not to flush, otherwise it would flush just at that moment when unknown-disease-filled water droplets would dampen my son’s derrière. (2) After I remove my wiped-booty son from the toilet seat, I remove the trick-the-sensor piece of toilet paper, while my son and I quickly turn our faces away from the flush so as to prohibit all unknown-disease-filled water droplets and mist to float up toward our mouth and nostrils and be ingested.

We turn on the sink water. We wet our hands. We get some soap. We scrub while singing “Happy Birthday,” because that song, when sung in the exact rhythm and time, lasts the precise amount of seconds it takes for watered-down bathroom soap to kill all germs, known and unknown, from our now tarnished public restroom hands. If there are paper towels, we keep the water running while we grab paper towels to dry our hands. Then, we grab another paper towel to turn off the sink water, slide the latch on the handicap stall door, and open the bathroom door to exit.

If there are no paper towels, we do not waste our time with the blow-dryer, unless it is a Dyson air squeegee. We wipe our hands on the back side of our shirts, because as you know they remain clean all day long. I then use the inside of my shirt to unlatch the stall door, open the stall door, and open the exit door to leave the bathroom. I do this all with the security of anti-bacterial hand gel in the car, which we will use, with no regard as to whether it has been scientifically proven to be effective or ineffective, regardless of whether there had been paper towels or the blow dryer in the bathroom.

One more important step. We both do a wipe-your-feet dance on the front mat outside the gas station convenience store, because this helps to remove all excremental residue from the bottom of our shoes, so that we can step back into our vehicle as well as on our floors back home without worrying about the germs on the bottom of our shoes.

To those who consider themselves “churched,” do you think of and treat what you consider to be a godless, heathen culture like a public restroom?

Thank God Jesus doesn’t treat any of us like that.

Jesus touched a leper. Jesus lifted to her feet a prostitute. Jesus shared bread with a tax collector. Jesus went close enough to touch and dine with and relate with the people of His surrounding culture. And so should we.

We are the sent ones, sent by the Sent One, in the same way He was sent (John 20:21 and John 1:14). Even if we participate in a couple service projects a year, we cannot just go in, not touch anyone, and get out, if we hope to make disciples of Jesus like Jesus did. Even if we participate in a couple of evangelism efforts a year, we cannot just make a helpful presentation about Jesus without going close with the presence of Jesus, if we hope to make disciples of Jesus like Jesus did.

Lord Jesus, reFUNCTION us as Your church to take the initiative to go close enough to build actual relationships with the overlooked and ignored and poor and outcast of our culture, like You did. Help us to treat people like You treated us. Help us to remember that we ourselves are no better than anyone else and are actually as dirty if not dirtier than any public restroom, even that one I stopped at in the middle of nowhere in the panhandle of Florida. Teach us how You made disciples. Help us to make disciples with You.

reFUNCTIONation suggestion # 30 : When it comes to “discipleship” & “church growth,” you reap what you sow.

imageIt is a principle only broken at a singular point in history. “You reap what you sow.

Jesus dying on the cross killed the wretched existence and sinful consequences of knowing good AND evil. Jesus then rose from the grave inviting us along with Him to be born again into His life. This undeserved, loving invitation allows us to know good in spite of our own evil, because the One who is good freely offered us the righteousness of His Son.

Put simply – in Christ we don’t reap the condemnation for which we have sown.

It’s the only moment in history when the sow-reap principle was overturned. Otherwise, we reap what we sow.

The purpose of this reFUNCTIONation suggestion for those who consider themselves “churched” is to highlight that sow-reap principle in regards to our typical efforts toward discipleship and church growth. Please consider these scenarios:

  • We sowed for bigger crowds. We reaped a smaller sense of relational community.
  • We sowed for many attractive ministries. We reaped many who were attracted to being ministered to rather than going to minister to others.
  • We sowed for lots of consumers of our church programs. We reaped lots of consumers who “go to church” for what they think they need rather than who go to be the church to love others in their need, ignoring that this is when we really grow.
  • We sowed for event-driven disciples. We reaped people who don’t stick around without the next cool event.
  • We sowed for intimate Bible study groups with Christians. We reaped intelligent studiers of the Bible who struggle to relate with non-Christians.
  • We sowed for assimilation of strangers. We reaped a severe lack of mentoring inside of what would have been already-established discipling relationships.
  • We sowed for more people to come and see. We reaped less people who go and be.

How did all of this help us make disciples together the way Jesus made disciples? How did all of this help the church be sent ones rather than just gathered ones? How did all of this grow us to be disciple-makers rather than making those who are already disciples misunderstand growth.

Lord Jesus, please reFUNCTION us to sow for what you sowed – disciples who go near together to make disciples among those not yet disciples by loving like you have loved us.

reFUNCTIONation suggestion # 28 : When it comes to “make disciples,” be learners, not the learned.

imageFollowers of Jesus must shift from thinking of themselves as having to be LEARNED to make disciples, and instead think of themselves as having being a LEARNER who makes disciples.

You may not have even thought about it before. But I actually hear it a good bit from people when we stress that each and everyone of us as followers of Jesus should “make disciples” as we are going among both neighbors and nations. I hear this very significant excuse:

“…but I can’t do that because i don’t know enough.”

I recognize that it is a valid excuse, but only because it is a real fear for people. But I would suggest that although it is a valid excuse due to fear, it is an invalid excuse due the meaning of the word “disciple.”

The word “disciple” does NOT mean “I know a whole lot, so much in fact that I can teach you all the ways of King Jesus so you should come sit in a classroom and listen to me teach and also grow to know enough one day so that you can go and teach in front of a classroom.”

I am by no means discounting the importance of teaching in discipling, even teaching in a classroom. It is one of two key words in Matthew 28:18-20 – “to teach all that I have commanded you.” But we need to be cautious of only thinking about teaching His ways in classes with curriculums under florescent lights to people in uncomfortable chairs. Instead, we must look to Jesus and how He taught the ways of the Kingdom under the light of the sun and the moon through everyday conversations and in everyday rhythms.

The word “disciple” also does NOT mean “I don’t have to learn anymore because I have earned my Jesus PhD and have my not-gonna-go-to-hell tenure and actually don’t have to work hard anymore at teaching His ways to others.”

The roots of the word “disciple” actually imply a meaning more like this one –

I am a learner and will always be a learner, more like an apprentice, who learns from a Master and then invites others along with me to learn from the Master everyday.

Consider this: the Truth is Jesus (John 14:6). Therefore, the Truth is beyond that of which I can become learned. Therefore, learning the Truth will never end. Therefore, I am a disciple of the Truth that Jesus came close enough to embody and explain (John 1:14-18).

Therefore, not knowing enough, then, is not a valid excuse, if we understand the word “disciple” and the nature of learning Truth.

What if we moved from being a “teacher” to being a “learner?” What if that actually is teaching – when learning happens? What if we prioritized learning the ways of Jesus with others who are also learning His ways along with those who have not found their way in Christ yet?

What if we defined who we are as the church in these terms:

…a people who learn and live the ways of Jesus together, helping each other to believe His Gospel, declaring and demonstrating His Gospel in everyday rhythms, and inviting others along to learn the Gospel of Jesus (Truth) with us, in hopes that they will then go and do the same.

I don’t have to be LEARNED to make disciples. But I do have to never quit being a LEARNER who goes and learns Jesus with others.

Jesus then is the Rabbi, the teacher, rather than me. That’s always gonna work out better.

Hopefully it encourages many of you to move beyond what you see as a limitation (I don’t know enough to teach) toward what is actually an opportunity – to learn and live the ways of the Kingdom within community together in the midst of a world longing for “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Lord Jesus, reFUNCTION us as your church to be learners of You.