In my opinion (I have to say that up front for any contrarians who may be listening) the great failure of the church over the last 100 years has been the failure to make disciples. House churches in the earliest Christian years focused on discipleship. The monastic movement through the centuries often ran contrary to the “official disciples” of the Priesthood in the attempt to bring discipleship to the people. The early reformation was, in many ways, all about making disciples – people able to read and apprehend the Word of God in their own language, and apply it to their lives.
(Speeding through history at stellar blog speed), the Methodist church started as small disciple-making groups. The whole Sunday School movement, which grew out of the Methodist movement and the great Revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries, was meant to supplement preaching with follow-up teaching in what it meant to be a disciple. So, what happened in the last 100 years?
1. Loss of vision: Sunday School became an end in itself and the teaching transformed from teaching discipleship to reviewing the gospel and other Biblical stories in an historical and literary context. It all just became an interesting lesson with no impact on people.
2. Loss of application: After the Sunday School lesson was over there never seemed to be enough time to encourage application of the lessons in life or even to discuss how this might apply. In many cases, the application part of the lesson was deliberately dropped as the bad attitude of the twentieth century world reared its ugly head in:
3. Loss of sense: It was assumed that each person would apply the “lesson” as he or she saw fit and that each person could take away from any given lesson something different…….and who are we anyway to judge which is the right way and which is wrong?….. I said, loss of sense.
So then, is there no hope? People are hungry for more. Many people come to church on Sunday and think, is that all there is to it? Some are glad to think that is all there is to it. But some still know better and understand they are missing it, somewhere, somehow. They understand that sitting through a lesson or listening to a sermon does not in itself mean anything.
I once (briefly) taught a venerable Sunday School class. The class, mostly women, was also mostly over seventy. Some of these people had been in this class or one just like it for over fifty years. So I had a vacation week and asked who wanted to lead the class while I was away. No, they did not dare. They did not know enough. This was not modesty. It was also not a general unwillingness to lead because many of these people had control problems and given a chance they always took control. No, this was honest. After “studying” the Bible for over fifty years not one of these people “knew” the truth well enough ON ANY SUBJECT to lead a discussion. Sad. Extremely sad. But not atypical in the church in our day.
Still, there are some (hopefully the ones reading this) who understand that there must be more to Christianity than they have been given. They understand that somehow this stuff is supposed to be applied and lived. They understand that there must be some real truth here because everybody can’t be right – and the Pastor at least would be offended if you suggested he is just standing up on Sunday morning spouting his opinion – an opinion no better than anyone else’s.
Actually, the advent and upswing in the establishment of house churches and small groups over the last thirty years or so has been an attempt by people to rectify the problem with the church and the problem with Sunday Schools. People want to be disciples – at least Christians do. And they are helping each other approach the goal, encouraging each other in the task, and I say, great! The problem is wading through all the wrong and irrelevant material the church has produced in the past 100 years in order to glean the nuggets of discipleship.
I want to help, in so far as I am able to help, and let me begin with this nugget: Disciples make disciples. Oh, you may not be the one doing the actual research or teaching. You might not be the one mentoring someone in their faith. You may be inclined to hospitality or encouragement as some “talents inventory” (things of limited value) might have suggested. But basically, disciples are in the business of replicating themselves and thereby extending the kingdom.
The kingdom will never be grown by people stumbling down front at some revival preaching.
Let me also say this. There are hundreds of millions of people presently in this world who call themselves Christians. There are far fewer disciples. Disciples follow Jesus, witness to Him, tell the gospel, baptize the heart, teach obedience and make new disciples. Calling yourself a Christian means absolutely nothing these days. Being, or at least striving to be a disciple means everything. Disciples belong to God in Jesus Christ. I am not generally sure who the Christians belong to.