Two questions: Why did the number of disciples explode in the first three centuries after the establishment of the church on that wondrous Day of Pentecost? And, why isn’t similar growth occurring now? Once we have answered these questions, we will have the answers for everything. So what are the differences between then and now and us and them? I can think of a few:
1. They were Holy Spirit motivated and driven. Too many of us are ignorant of the Spirit’s provision, power and His primary legacy: inspired Scripture. It is within these God-breathed words we will find the answers we seek, not in some book on church growth.
2. They were not building-oriented. We are. We spend millions on structures we mistakenly call “churches” with a “sanctuary” and classrooms. Try finding that in Scripture! What a classic misappropriation of time, energy and money!
3. They did not have a “professional class” or clergy. We do. We spend millions on their salaries and benefits. Then we work the hound out of them. This too is alien to Scripture. As Lisa Sells has written,
…the pastor (“preacher” for us restorationists-DW) is expected to both nurture the mature and win the lost through a one-way monologue (i.e., the weekly sermon-DW). Then through the week the pastor is expected to satisfy member needs for personal love and concern.
“The result is often a membership that watches the pastor try to do all the ministry as well as a pastor that is overextended and skating on the edge of burnout. (Lisa Sells, “Avery Willis’ Last Dream,” Mission Frontiers, USCWM, 1605 E. Elizabeth St., Pasadena, CA 91104, 626-7971111, www.missionfrontiers.org. January-February 2011, p. 9)
4. They were not assembly-oriented. We are. Assembly has been called, “The Sunday Morning Show.” It has replaced The Great Commission as the focus of our resources and energies. Assembly an essential part of our Christian walk but it must not become our major focus. As Steve Smith wrote,
The Great Commission says we are to go, not invite people to come to us. We must go to where the lost are, and train the new believers to also go to the lost, into factories, homes, shops and neighborhoods (Steve Smith, “Training for Trainers Process,” Mission Frontiers, January-February 2011, p. 11)
5. They understood what “making disciples” was and how to do it. We don’t. They proclaimed the word, lived the gospel, baptized those who came to belief and taught them to observe all that Jesus commanded. Those disciples made more disciples who could make disciples and multi-level discipling was born.
6. They knew that their mission was to follow Christ. We know it too, but we get distracted by stuff that has nothing to do with our primary mission. They didn’t get involved in peripheral diversions. Since Jesus came to seek, serve and save the lost, they knew that was their job too. It’s all right there in the Gospels and the Letters.
It is time to dump the ineffective inventions, innovations, diversions and distractions that have gummed up the simple process of seeking, saving and discipling the lost. It is time to stop wringing our hands in despair and to fill those hands with a copy of Scripture. It is time to quit looking around wondering what to do and to fill our eyes, mind and heart with the teachings and examples of Jesus and the apostles. There we will find what to do. There we will find the answers to everything.