In a new survey by George Barna, he suggests that a vast majority of believers experience little transformation in their lives and what changes they make tend to be based on generic influences rather any deeper intellectual or spiritual struggle.
Despite technological advances that have increased communication, Barna suggests Christian leaders are not provoking people to think deeply and practically about how their Christian beliefs should influence major issues in their lives.
The question we need to ask is, “Are we making disciples?” Would you say that the people in your congregation are growing vibrant followers of Jesus Christ?
Here are five insightful questions and some great comments that writer Jon Walker (Saddleback Church) uses to help churches evaluate their discipleship strategy.
1. Will this teach people to trust Jesus more or try harder to act Christian?
We already know we can’t ‘try harder’ our way into heaven. Being a believer is about trusting and following Jesus, not adhering to our own image of what a Christian looks and acts like. We can try harder, work harder, pray harder, and study harder; yet, all the while, Jesus keeps asking, “[Are you] worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me … Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” (Matthew 11:28b-29 MSG)
Jesus calls us to a greater trust, not a perfect walk. When Peter stepped out of the boat, planted his foot on the water, and DID NOT sink, it wasn’t because he tried harder to follow Jesus; it was because he trusted Jesus to empower him to walk on the water. And when Peter’s fears chased away his faith, he wasn’t saved from drowning by trying harder, he was saved by the One whose character Peter was learning to trust.
2. Will this teach godly obedience or simply good behavior?
When we over-emphasize good behavior, we keep people from developing a greater trust in Jesus, who leads us into good behavior. Jesus doesn’t want us to become good people; he wants us to become God people.
When we focus exclusively on right or wrong behavior, we pridefully keep the decision of what is good and evil under our control. If we teach people to trust Jesus and to obediently follow him, then he will always lead them to godly behavior. Godly behavior emerges from godly obedience; never the other way around.
3. Will this teach people to make Christ-connected choices or independent decisions?
When we are connected to Jesus, we bear fruit; when we are not connected to him, we cannot bear fruit (John 15). When we make decisions independent from Jesus, we deny the power of God in our lives, no matter how noble or sacrificial those choices are.
Consider this: When we ask, ‘What Would Jesus Do?,’ we are trying to answer the question without actually asking Jesus. It is like having a conversation about someone even though they are sitting in the room with you! Can you see the difference in asking, “Jesus, What Would You Have Me Do?”
4. Will this teach the Incarnation as tangible fact or teach it as abstract?
Did Jesus die so we could follow a doctrine? Did he suffer a cruel and bloody crucifixion to give us a code of conduct? Did he give up all he had, take on the nature of a servant and walk through Palestine as a human being so we could give an intellectual assent to the grace he freely gives? (Philippians 2:8)
When the forgiveness of sin is proclaimed as a general truth and the love of God taught as an abstract concept, we depersonalize the incarnation; yet, it is nothing but personal. The Incarnation is the God of the universe launching a rescue mission for you, his beloved creation, at the expense of Jesus, his only begotten son. Jesus didn’t come in the abstract, as a nebulous idea of love, grace and forgiveness; rather, “he became like a human being and appeared in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:7b TEV)
Jesus paid personally to provide us with free grace and our faith in Jesus must be personal, calling us to real and tangible steps toward Christlikeness.
5. Will this teach that grace can never be separated from truth?
The apostle John tells us that Jesus is full of grace and truth and, now that we have the life of Christ present in our lives, we are full of grace and truth (John 1:14-16). Jesus didn’t come to show us ways of grace and truth or give us definitions of grace and truth. He came to be all the grace and all the truth we will ever need and to freely offer both to us in the gift of Himself.
The only reason to live legalistically or licentiously is unbelief in the adequacy of the indwelling Lord Jesus Christ who freely supplies grace and truth for my every need. Or, it comes from an unwillingness to let Jesus be who He is in and through me.
Keep the Son in Your Eyes,
Jon Walker’s book is entitled: Costly Grace: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship