112 – A Call for a Discipleship Reformation of the Church
Many leaders have expressed astonishment over the December, 2003 Barna statistic that only 4% of Americans and 9% of born again Christians hold a biblical worldview.
Given the vast amount of money spent by the church each year—approximate $31 billion in 2001 (churches representing 49,401,571 members, Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, 2003, p. 386)—one is tempted to ask, “What has the church been making, because it sure hasn’t been making disciples?”
The consequences are staggering. A whopping 40% of the Buster generation were raised by divorced or separated parents. Now the sins of the fathers are being visited on the next generation: Tonight, 33% of America ‘s 72,000,000 children will go to bed tonight in a home without a biological father. And only 34% of them are expected to live with both biological parents through age 18. We are now bearing the full brunt of our failure to disciple men.
A Personal Story
It’s a story heard too often. In 1926, when Bob was two years old, the youngest of four children, his father abandoned him. His Mom moved the family in with two of her sisters, and these three women began the work of raising Bob and his siblings.
When he turned six Bob went to work with his older brother, Harry on a bread truck and paper route before school. They would get up at three a. m. and had a permanent tardy slip to school.
When a man fails he doesn’t just ruin his own life, he usually takes down a good woman and two, three, or four children with him.
When Bob became a man he had to decide if he would repeat the sins of his father or break the cycle. He chose a different path than the father he never knew, and he became a straight arrow. Eventually, Bob had four boys of his own. He and his wife recognized they needed help to raise Godly sons, so they became part of a local church.
Their church did a good job enlisting Bob to help build the church. A good worker, Bob eventually became the top lay leader. Unfortunately, his church did not disciple Bob to become a Godly man, husband, and father. As a result, without warning, at the age of 40, when his four sons were in the 10 th , 7 th , 5 th , and 3 rd grades, Bob and his family left the church and he never returned.
That single decision put Bob’s family into a tailspin from which, 40 years later, the sons have still not fully recovered: two high school dropouts, drug addiction, alcoholism, employment problems, and divorce. One son died of a heroine overdose.
I know because I am one of those sons. I will always wonder how my family may have turned out differently if we had belonged to a church with a vision for discipling men to be Godly men, husbands, and fathers. Obviously, I will never know, but the men in your church can.
God brought the gospel into my family line through my wife’s family line. My wife led me to Christ and, I in turn, was able to help introduce my Dad, Mom, my deceased brother, and one other brother to the gospel of Jesus. Our two children can tell you they’ve never known a day when they didn’t love Christ. They have both married Christians spouses. So, we did break the cycle, but it took two generations instead of one.
My Dad and Mom died in 2002. If Dad was alive I would tell him, “Dad, I know you wanted to break the cycle. I know that things didn’t turn out like you dreamed about. But Dad, we have broken the cycle. Sure, it took two generations instead of one. But God has done it.”
To the church in which I grew up I would say, “If Dad was alive he would say, ‘I am responsible for taking us out of church.’ And I respect that. However, the church must accept culpability. As a church you had a vision for putting my Dad to work, but you didn’t have a vision for discipling him to be a Godly man, husband, and father. You used him up. Dad was a good man. He didn’t want to fail. If he could have seen what was coming around the bend he would made a different decision. He never saw it coming. You, on the other hand, should have seen it coming. Now you must fix it for future generations by making disciples of your men.”
To you, my reader, I would like to say, “As you read these words it would not be surprising if you have a man in your church just like my Dad. A good man, full of good intentions, full of hopes and dreams for his family, a man who wants to break the cycle, a man who is looking to you for guidance. Please, for the sake of Christ and His kingdom, identify him, disciple him (and every other willing man) to be a Godly man, husband, and father. The mission of the church is not to make workers. It’s to make disciples. If we will make disciples we will have plenty of workers, but not the other way around. I know. That’s my family story. On this one error my family has suffered needlessly for 40 years”
The “Portal” Priority
Jesus said, “Go and make disciples.” That’s interesting, because he could have picked anything. He didn’t say, “Go and make worshippers.” He didn’t say, “Go and make workers.” He didn’t say, “Go and make tithers.” Is Jesus interested in worshippers, workers, and tithers? Of course. But he knew we wouldn’t get worshippers by making worshippers, and so forth. We get worshippers, workers, and tithers by making disciples.
Suppose a family has attended your church for three months. What will they think is the first priority—the organizing idea—of your church? One week they heard a sermon about the priority of worship. The next week they heard that they need to be cheerful givers. The following week they heard in Sunday school that committed believers go on mission trips. The week after that they were asked during the service to attend evangelism training. The next week in the small group they joined, they learned about compelling needs at the crisis pregnancy center. A weekend seminar greatly emphasized the importance of private study and devotions. This can be very confusing to the average person sitting in the pew. It often looks like an undifferentiated blob of disjointed activities:
Discipleship is the portal priority through which all the other priorities of a church can be achieved. We can organize the church by putting discipleship in the center, and then draw arrows out to each of our other priorities like this:
We must still account for the methods by which we make disciples. How can a church implement discipleship as the ‘portal’ priority?” The last figure illustrates most of the traditional methods we use to make disciples:
America has many systemic problems: divorce, fatherlessness, unwed mothers, drugs, alcoholism, abortion, crime, suicide, poverty, truancy, cheating, disrespect for authority. They all need attention. Beneath everything, though, is the need for a discipleship reformation of the Christian church. I pray we see it in our lifetimes.
Business leader, author, and speaker, Patrick Morley helps men think more deeply about their lives, to be reconciled with Christ, and to be equipped for a larger impact on the world. David Delk is the COO of Man in the Mirror © 2002. Patrick Morley and David Delk. All rights reserved.