As a local church pastor, I am tasked with developing mature disciples of Jesus Christ, and as a Christian for almost 40 years, I have been taught that the best way to do that is primarily through Bible-study programs; The thinking being that if people know more, they will act accordingly. Yet the pandemic, and the subsequent and increasingly divisive behavior of many, have driven me to re-examine that narrative: If our existing discipleship pathway was so effective, why is it that today we see such disunity in the wider church? Why do we see a great dropping off in church attendance and even less regard for Jesus in our communities?
When Jesus went about forming His band of disciples, He didn’t do that by renting a building and holding classes. He did that by asking folks to follow Him while He was on mission. That simple observation seems to have gotten lost on us. Sure, Jesus taught them everywhere He went. But He also sent them out long before they were spiritual mature. Read Luke 9 and 10; The path to spiritual maturity does not lead to becoming a witness and subsequent missional engagement. The path to spiritual maturity IS witnessing and missional engagement!
One could even say that is how the Christ-life begins. Romans 10 says in part, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” If you read that carefully you find that Scripture is very clear on this point – a saving faith is a communicated faith. So then, the Christ-life starts with a personal confession of a private faith, and it is sustained as we testify of what God is doing in our lives and saying to us.
Moreover, the risen Christ said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem AND in all Judea AND Samaria, AND to the end of the earth.” The Lord means that each of us are to have a witness in multiple places at the same time. That is not as impossible as it might sound – we all have family, friends, co-workers and random folks we come across every week, so we can know we have multiple circles of influence at the same time. God has providentially provided us with manifold opportunity, because our Father wants us to grow in Christ.
It is helpful that the church teaches evangelism from time to time. But perhaps in this season we as church leaders should resist the urge to pick up all of the programs we dropped during Covid, and use that time instead to practice and mentor evangelistic witness. If we are want to have a better and greater impact for our Lord in the years ahead, we need to spend a whole lot less time preaching denominational distinctives and a whole lot more time coaching and mentoring others to be better and more fruitful witnesses. In this post-pandemic environment, every local church must be a missional church, and the local church leadership must consider the equipping of God’s people for works of missional service their primary task.
After all, that is the primary way in which true discipleship takes place.