For better or worse, I’ve grown up in the church (sometimes I think its worse). The Covenant has been my psychological/ecclesiological “air” since childhood. In fact, I don’t remember when I didn’t know God. I’m not attempting to make a soteriological point, just giving you my reality. And frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m glad I don’t have a history of severe addiction and dysfunction to overcome, and I’d very much like my kids to have the same experience. When grace works its way into hearts, it is good for children! In addition, I’ve now led in the church for my entire adult life (closing in on 20 years), for the most part in large, growing churches (1000+). In that time, I’m fairly certain I’ve encountered, been through, heard about or seen the predominance of what American church culture has been able to produce that is meant to “make disciples.” And here’s my read on the whole thing.
Most people who’ve been around church world for any length of time have been discipled into that particular church culture and not to Jesus.
Before you shut me down, think about it. What does your denomination/affiliation/network measure? What do you get rewarded for as a pastor? If it’s anything like mine, you are rewarded for the number of denominational additions you’ve made. In my denomination, our reporting very muddily asks about the number of new Christians, but very clearly asks about the number of new denominational groupies. Frankly, that’s jacked up. We say we want “A” (disciples), but measure for “B” (number of new denominational groupies). But I don’t think we are alone.
Now some of that ecclesiological enculturation is a given. After all, part of Jesus’ valedictory speech tells us we are to baptize people in the Trinitarian reality–which in context means we are to bring them into the community of faith–the church. But somewhere, we’ve lost our way. Church has meant adopt our cultural norms (in sociological speak this is a “bounded set”) and not become like Jesus (in sociological speak, a “centered” or “open set.”) What invariably happens is that we create barriers to entry. People have to become like us before they can become one of us. A cursory reading of the gospels, particulary who he chose to be his disciples and we discover that’s not how Jesus did it.
The question that is a game changer for the American church: How do we make sure our church culture is a culture where people naturally and normally follow Jesus? How do we make sure that as people become like us (the inevitable process of enculturation) they are at the same time becoming like Jesus? In a phrase, how do we create a discipling culture?