A friend and I were having coffee a few weeks ago and talking about some old friends from church back in Tallahassee. Something we touched on was how we, as a church, put a lot of emphasis on outreach, getting people into the doors, and leading them to begin a relationship with Jesus. Some traditions may even include getting people baptized, as if that is the end goal of their ministry – their baptism numbers.
But then we just let them fall off the radar. It’s as if they’re all good now and don’t need any further guidance. It makes us think, what is the mission of the Church? Is it to make as many Christians as possible? Is it, perhaps to others, a social institution designed to provide services to those in need? Or is it perhaps to be a growing community of common believers in the world?
Honestly, I’m sure it is all of these and more, each in different ways. But I’ve seen so many churches focus on getting people “saved”. I hate the phrase “getting people saved” – I’ve heard it in so many evangelical and fundamentalist circles, but what does it even mean? Saved from an eternity in Hell? Saved from sin in this life? Saved from social injustice and oppression? Saved from personal evils? Saved from ignorance? Saved from a difficult life? But of course we Christians still deal with sin, injustice, fears, troubles, and hurts.
Surely most people would want to go to Heaven, but where did some of these churches get the idea that saying a single prayer and intellectually acknowledging a few statements of doctrine provides a free pass into Heaven? Where is that in Scripture? Even demons believe and acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, but they’re not “saved”. I remember Jesus saying that the path to Heaven is narrow, and that we must deny ourselves (surrender everything, even our own identity), take up our cross (embrace the scorn and death that may come), and follow Him.
Of course leading people to know Christ and having assurance of their salvation through grace is important! But if “getting people saved” is the endgame, the highest goal, then I think there is a major problem in our ministry plans. It misses the fullness of life in Christ and neglects the growing in personal holiness, social justice, and maturing in the Christian life – everything that comes after meeting Jesus. Where, then, are the means for people to mature in their faith? “Congratulations, you’re saved! Now since you’ve been introduced to Jesus, just come to church, do good things, and live a prosperous and successful life (and don’t forget to tithe).”
Is this not a ridiculous attitude to have toward new believers? Yet so many churches organize their ministry with these priorities. Becoming a Christian is like being born again. A new infant needs to be cared for, nourished, loved, held, fed, changed. An infant can’t feed itself, clothe itself, wash itself, teach itself. Yet we expect this of a spiritual infant, someone new to the faith, and then we judge them when they don’t grow, and even more when they backslide.
Belief, confession, and baptism is the starting point. Sanctification is the race – the process of being made holy, of the sinful human heart being transformed to be more like Christ. It is a lifelong journey of discipleship, personal and spiritual growth, biblical study, worship and prayer, fellowship and community, service and social justice, and all the other means by which we run the race of the Christian life.
This is where we grow. This is where we build a personal relationship with Jesus. This is where we learn to move in our spiritual gifts, grow in discipline and self-control, and find peace in the midst of turmoil. This is how we learn to love the least of these, wait patiently on the Lord, discern between truth and error, and remain faithful in all circumstances.
What good is being born as a spiritual infant if no one cares to nurture you, lead you, and sustain your life?
Here is the point: This is why discipleship and small group ministry is so important. This is why the Methodist movement was so powerful in the 18th century with Wesley’s classes and bands. And this is just one reason among many why the church in America is so weak today.
About the Author
Kevin Cook is a 4th year student at Asbury Theological Seminary and an Aspirant for Ordination in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). After graduating, Kevin hopes to plant a contemporary three-streams Anglican Church. He and his wife Nicole attend Wilmore Anglican Church in Kentucky.
Kevin holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Master of Business Administration from Florida State University. Kevin enjoys playing music and leading worship, reading fiction and spiritual classics, drinking coffee, and spending time with family and friends.
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