Okay, so I have had a week to reflect upon the "take away" from our incredible Beeson Pastor experience in Houston. During that four day trip we were exposed to more than a dozen churches and ministries of all shapes, sizes and styles. I have prayerfully reflected upon that experience and asked God to bring to the surface of my heart and mind what He wants me to "get." I am not usually the mystical type, but I do sense that God is saying to me through my Houston advenure "Len, have the courage to give people the dignity of discipleship."
While one of my top spiritual gifts is the gift of evangelism, I wrestled often during that four day trip with discipleship issues. Several churches we were expoused to were good at meeting people where they were (evangelism) but didn't seem to invite people to experience the dignity of discipleship by living the Christ-life in Christian community. One of these churches met in a cafe/bar. The pastor's commitment to do whatever it takes to reach unchurched people is absolutely commendable, especially in a time when Christianity is becoming a sub-culture that does not seem to effectively engage the unchurched culture. However, the pastor seemed to have no intentional plan or even desire, in my estimation, to see these unchurched seekers become radical followers of Christ.
Another church we visited had a similar struggle. It was a very large church, unlike the cafe/bar church. They are meeting tens of thousands of people where those people are but, in my opinion and the opinions of many, not challenging those people with the words of Christ who described the discipleship journey this way: "if anyone desires to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me...for whoever desires to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Instead the consistent message voiced through this highly visible "church" is: "God exists to make your dreams for a promotion, health, wealth, and success come true. As long as you have enough faith and a positive attitude, everything in your life will come up roses." It seems highly unlikely to me that someone could buy into this message and still experience the dignity of discipleship. I say this because the gospel of Jesus and the "gospel" of this church seem entirely too incongruent.
It was refreshing to encounter several ministries on the Houston trip that were serious and intentional about having the courage to give people the dignity of discipleship. One of these churches is a house church that exists in a neighborhood full of drugs, prostitution, street kids and homosexuals. The leader of this house church leaves his door open for any and everyone who wants to come inside his house and share life with him and his family. His goal is to meet people where they are but he believes that through the sharing of Christian community those same people can become committed followers of Christ. He gives people the dignity of discipleship by being in intimate relationship with those who are seeking a grace-filled community.
Another church we encountered was serving people who are in recovery from addiction. They meet people at the point of their need in order to give people the dignity of discipleship. The pastors of this church don't tell people in recovery what they want to hear but what they need to hear and receive in order to be transformed into disciples of Christ. The leaders of this church also believe that when people share life together in a community committed to loving Christ and living Scripture that discipleship happens.
I don't have all the answers about discipleship, though I am becoming more and more haunted by its extreme importance. The pastor of the house church posed a question that I just cannot escape (nor do I want to). He asked us while we sat in his living room, "are you a disciple who makes disciples who are advancing the kingdom of God?" The answer for me, I think, is both yes and no. But I want the "no" to be no more! While I am still working my way through this question, I am already convinced that disciples who advance the kingdom are made when leaders are disciples who have the courage to give people the dignity of discipleship through authentic Christian community. Unfortunately, many of our discipleship strategies consist of informational transfer alone without transformational community. God help us!