Thursday, April 28, 2016

Commissioned to Make Disciples, Not Church Members

By Robin G. Jordan

While this phenomenon is not confined to North American Anglicans and Episcopalians, it has become characteristic of the churches in a number of North American Anglican jurisdictions. Once a new church is up and running, it focuses on its own needs even though it is surrounded by numerous opportunities to multiply new disciples by multiplying itself and planting more new churches. It quickly becomes inward-looking. One hears such excuses as “we’re not big enough,””we can’t spare the people,” “we don’t have the money,” and so on. A tragic statistic is that if a new church does not plant a new church within the first five years after it was planted, it is not likely to plant one any time in its lifetime.

In the Episcopal Church one finds dozens of struggling missions. A number of churches have been a mission for more than a century. Or they became a parish at some point in their existence and then reverted back to being a mission. In some instances they are the wrong kind of church for the community or neighborhood  in which they were planted. In other cases the theological climate in the Episcopal Church has created barriers to their growth.

In a number of instances the demographics of the community or neighborhood in which a church is located have changed. The church is tied too closely to a shrinking population base and to shriveling relationship networks.

But likely as not, most of these missions suffer from a common malady. While they may have experienced numerical growth at various stages in their life cycle, they have not grown in the vital area of disciple multiplication. They have added new church members to their membership rolls but they have not added new disciples.

Church members and disciples are not the same thing. Someone can be a church member, attend church services, hear sermons, pay tithes, receive communion, and not be a disciple. A disciple of Jesus Christ  makes Christ the focus of his life and seeks to please Christ in all areas of his life. He follows Christ’s example and teachings. As he surrenders each area of his life to Christ, his life undergoes a noticeable change. He becomes increasingly more like Christ in his thoughts, words, and actions. He not only evidences a deepening love for his fellow disciples but he also shares the good news of Jesus Christ with others and makes disciples of them. 

This malady besets the Anglican Church of Canada and other North American Anglican jurisdictions, including the Anglican Church in North America. Churches may be multiplying new members but they are not multiplying new disciples. I would hazard that it is the single greatest reason for the waning influence of Christianity in North America and the decline of the various denominations.

Disciples at the local level do not rationalize away their failure to plant new churches and to multiply new disciples. They ask questions like “How can we reach and engage this population segment?” “How can we reach and engage that one?” They are always looking for additional ways to close the gap between their church and their community or neighborhood, to penetrate its relationship networks, and to be salt and light to its people. They are deeply involved in the life of the community or neighborhood, intimately aware of its people’s hopes, aspirations, and dreams. They share in its people’s struggles and minister to them in time of need.

Disciples at the judicatorial level are constantly seeking better ways to mobilize the resources of the judicatory in support of disciple making and church planting. The multiplication of new disciples and new churches is their number one priority. They do all in their power to foster a strong culture of disciple making and church planting in the judicatory.

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