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Go Therefore and Make Disciples …
Not Church Members

Pr. Jaynan Clark

photo of Pr. JaynanFor years I have lived here in the Northwest corner of this country which I lovingly refer to the “Pagan Pacific Northwest” and have heard the same sentence from the mouths of many. It begins like this, “I believe in God but …” What comes after that to complete the sentence was never “really” heard by me. For years I internally rolled my religious eyes while I probably fixed them in an ecclesial stare that inevitably would end up with me going back to the church and them running the other direction.

Father, forgive me for I have sinned. In your holy name I recruited members and did not make disciples. In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ:

  • I allowed the faith to become religion,
  • church to become institution,
  • the call to discipleship to become membership,
  • church attendance to be directly related to perceived faith,
  • service to be reduced to minimal contribution,
  • grace to become less than the cost of a life,
  • forgiveness to become acceptance of what is instead of healing of what was,
  • ministry to become people pleasing instead of God pleasing,

Father, forgive me for I have done my time as a church person and I have in so doing neglected your ministry that calls us to make disciples, not members, and to teach them what you first taught us, not just that which will keep the peace.

Have you also engaged in such?

When Jesus arrives on the scene He never does so to keep the peace. He has a long, clear history of getting in the face of “church people.” He doesn’t worry about rocking the boat but seems gravely concerned for His followers who always fear the movement. He doesn’t gather passively around the table, He turns it over. He doesn’t sit quietly with His adversary; He invites him to proceed with his dark intentions in order for God’s will to be revealed. He didn’t tolerate the sin; He confronted the sinner. He didn’t just heal the body; He forgave and freed the soul too. He didn’t zap the Devil; He took him on with that which we have ourselves, the Word, — for it is written.

Jesus commissioned you to make disciples and to teach them what He has first taught you. How many times have the church and the people of the church been those who have perpetrated the inevitable end to the quote,”I believe in God but … I just can’t stand church people?” In the name of Jesus, what is it that we have done that has led to so many being so turned off and disenchanted with “church” that they plan never to darken its doors? Has the story of Jesus been the offense or has it been us and our institutions?

The cross of Jesus Christ, actually Jesus Himself, from before His birth until now — 2 millennia after His resurrection, is for sure an offense. His Word preached as Law and Gospel is a knockdown, drag out, death and life event. No sinner is left standing on their worth alone or sent home on their own recognizance. Meeting Jesus is an in your face encounter that promises one will be left standing; one will not die.

If this is the reason many do not want anything to do with “church” then they are running from their Lord and opportunities for evangelism abound as life without Him is senseless and without meaning. They are open to having existence be replaced with life in Him. However, if they run and hide from “church” and “church people” because they have only met up with an institution, only been invited into a semi-closed community, only heard that being a part will require nothing of them, only been allowed to participate according to their seniority, only known the stifling of the crisis of the cross and the honoring of the false prophetic voices for “peace, peace” (but there is no peace just denial of reality) and real life … well then, any program called evangelism which is only a membership drive into such in order to improve one’s parochial report and bump up the budget will certainly fail. Perhaps it will not be a failure by those earthly standards of measuring success but perhaps by the lack of faith and “disciples.”

If Jesus commanded us to “Go therefore and make church people” then we have enjoyed moderate success; however, if we take seriously what faith is, what discipleship costs and what following a Crucified One will surely bring into your life and community … then we have failed.

We have many members but few disciples; much religion but little faith; tons of institutions but few churches; many professional pastors but few evangelists; all contributing to our current state of lukewarm, non-confrontational, anti-boat rocking, duplicitous, pretend communities that pretend to follow a Crucified and Risen Lord but avoid getting engaged in the ministry He commands by His very presence.

The harvest is truly plentiful but we have fewer and fewer laborers as we continue to “play church,” be members, and decommission the baptized while elevating the ordained.

How long shall we grieve our Lord and pretend that we have fully engaged in His commanded and great “commission?” How long until we stop pretending that we are “church” together and drop to our knees in repentance for the fact that we don’t yet know what it means to be disciples ourselves?

Our comfortable padded pews and our baseless promise to potential members and “volunteers” that they don’t have to do much, that nothing much is required of them, that it won’t take much of their time away from their “real lives”-- has brought us to this moment. Have we passed on the faith that we were given through the Word or have we substituted a religion that worships and serves the self and its interests and comfort?

The grace of God is not cheap—it is costly to the point of being a “life for a life” exchange. Jesus demands from all of you as He held back none of Himself in full payment to buy you back from the dead and the devil. You owe Him nothing and therefore everything. Your life is His---free to serve Him alone.

Jesus doesn’t need any more “members” unwilling to stand up for Him, in His name, under His cross. He calls for disciples who will be His “Salt.” He comes to shake you up! He hears the cries of those who confess … “I believe in God but …” knowing fully what we have done to “church” in His name. Beginning with repentance, personal examination, honest evaluation, prayers for healing and the will to engage –let us be greatly “recommissioned” together.

Next Week: “Being Unchurched is Not Necessarily the Problem”

SALT, Salvation, Life and Truth, is a new emerging ministry of WordAlone that prayerfully engages in the one-by-one calling of “making disciples, not church people” and that always starts with you.