Many followers of Christ feel there is something fundamentally wrong with their church, but cant quite put their finger on it. In all probability, the general level of spiritual maturity is woefully weak. The majority is undisciplined in the word of God and prayer, and is in dire need of help in living holy lives separated unto Christ. Few give evidence of the fruit of the Spirit, much less fruit bearing. Few, if any are being truly discipled and equipped for life and ministry. As a committed participant in my local church, which I dearly love, this reality is a source of grief to me.
In the following eight Facts, I would like to make observations as to why the church is generally failing in its calling to make disciples. 1
#1 Christian leaders have been diverted from their primary calling of equipping believers to do the work of the ministry.
Jesus commanded us to make disciples, and informed us that he would build his church (Matt. 16:18; 28:18-20). It appears that we have it backwards in that we are building the church and leaving the discipleship to him. Certainly he demonstrated this priority of discipleship, given the fact that he gave 90% of his time to the training of the Twelve. In Ephesians 4:11-16 Paul clearly spells out the responsibility of spiritual leaders to equip believers so that they, the believers, do the ministry: And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head–Christ– 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (NKJV)
The Greek word for equipping in Ephesians 4:12 is katartizo and means to equip for service. Put another way, these gifted men (vs. 11) are to specialize in equipping the saints for the work of the ministryIn short, Christian service (vs. 12). 2 When the laity is equipped, believers grow into the stature of the fullness of Christ (vs. 13), become spiritually stabilized (vs. 14), and prepared to minister the truth in love (vs. 15). In this environment, all the gifts naturally function to the effect that the body grows (vs. 16).
During the early formation of the church, pressure built on the apostles to meet the physical needs of widows. Rather than divert their attention to this important but secondary task, they chose spiritual men to address this need, thus freeing them to fulfill their calling to the ministry of the word and prayer: Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word." (Act. 6:3, 4) Today, many church leaders under pressure to build the church, have been sidetracked from their primary mission of disciple making to becoming program directors, administrators and care givers.
QUESTION: Where are you putting your primary ministry efforts? In running programs, or in equipping people for the ministry? The former is busy religious toil; the latter is the Lords work of making disciples. The former produces hay, wood, and straw; the latter gold, silver, and costly stones. The former will fail the searing test of the Refiners fire; the latter will not only survive the fire but will be rewarded for its labor. (See I Cor. 3:10-15)
1 These key ideas are drawn from Greg Ogdens Transforming Discipleship – Inter-Varsity Press, pages 40-55. The expansion on Ogdens ideas in these articles is mine. 2 Wuest's Word Studies – Wuest's Word Studies Volume 1: Word Studies in the Greek New Testament.