Well, I really don’t think that title statement is true, but now that I have your attention..
Over the course of most of my life, whether as a child in church or as a leader/staff member of a church, the up-front or behind-the-curtain message has predominantly been “Invite your friends to church and we will tell them about Jesus.” You’ll hear phraseology like “Invest and Invite” and we’ll even do very seeker-friendly type initiatives for getting people in the door, such as free t-shirt days or iPad giveaways. Sounds simple and effective enough, right?
But what if that whole mentality is actually hurting the fulfillment of one of Jesus’ clearest instructions? In Matthew 28:19, Jesus tells us to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations..”. What we know is that he was speaking directly to the handful of disciples physically present with him that day, and indirectly to the millions of disciples that would follow him as a result of the present-disciples’ ministry (John 17:20). We also know that this is an instruction for ALL followers of Jesus, not just the ones that get paid for it. Yet, it’s estimated that some 98% of followers of Jesus in North America are not currently involved in any sort of disciple making effort. Clearly, something is wrong with this picture.
Since I’ve probably already made few folks mad, or risen the anxiety of others, now is probably a good opportunity for a time out, so that I can explain what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that getting people to attend a church service is bad, or that we shouldn’t encourage people to invite their friends. I’m not saying that constructing the flow and feel of our church services so that it speaks to the consciousness of the non-believing world around us is bad, so long as we make Jesus the star of the show and not the guy with skinny jeans and a hair bun. I’m not saying that glitz and lights and lasers are a bad thing, although they do personally annoy the fire out of me (some people are like me, and some people are not), but I’ll even sit through that if Jesus is championed and people are invited to join him in his family and mission.
Here’s what I am saying.
For the past few decades the church has been telling its people to get out and build relationships with their non-believing friends so that they can invite them to church (and we’re going to make it super friendly and relevant for them) and once they’re there, the professionals would take over. This was a major part of much of my ministry focus over the last 15 years or so both as a student pastor and a lead pastor, and it was misguided. Even once I tried to turn the ship, so to speak, the boat had a hard time crossing the current.
Instead, we as pastors need to center the thrust of our efforts in ministry on training and equipping the people who follow Jesus to do the work of a disciple of Jesus. That means that the more conversations need to happen after the sermon, amongst believing and non-believing friends on what the text says, and whether God is to be trusted or not. That means more gospel conversations need to happen in living rooms than in worship centers. And it means that churches should aim to deprogramatitze their ministries so people are better released to go and live on mission, with one another.
The statement remains true, that the church carries the hope of the world, so long as that hope is not confused for a building, a church service or even a professional staff. Every believer, each one a disciple, all carrying out the great commission. Now that’s some flash.