Thursday, January 11, 2007

Disciples vs Converts

After the comments from anon about disciples on the last post, I found this timely blog post without even looking for it...

It is from badchristian blog, and deals with Matthew 28 'the great ommission'


***Spoiler warning: This is a non-academic treatment of the great commission. I don’t know the original greek and thus can only comment on my observations of the text in translated form. I’m not a seminarian, nor am I, well, particularly smart. My comments seem, to me at least, to be pretty obvious…so, don’t be surprised if you don’t find them bright, well-informed, or anything of that nature.

Seems to me that the modern Church tends to translate “make disciples” pretty loosely. I mean, if you think about it, Jesus seems to be giving some pretty seminal (pardon the sexist language) instructions as to what we (Christians) are supposed to do from here on out.

As I see it, here’s how “make disciples of all nations” tends to play out in the modern Church:

  1. Get as many people as we can to show up regularly at Sunday morning worship.
  2. Once they’re in the doors, get them to be “born again”.
  3. Once they’re born again, get them to conform to the sub-cultural model of what “Christian” is.
  4. Once they’ve conformed to the model (e.g. they listen to all the “right” music, read all the “right” books, drink all the “right” drinks, can speak using the “right” lingo, and appear to be “into” worship on Sunday morning), we can then say they’ve been made into disciples.
  5. Once they’re disciples, they’ve been completely self-actualized and can engage in the work of “making disciples” and the whole grand order starts all over again.

I know this is a shocker, but I’m not entirely comfortable with this mechanism for a number of reasons.

The first reason is that it leads into the notion that if a church is “big” it’s somehow doing a better job at making disciples. I would argue that this is bullshit. Big churches make clones, not disciples. Dander up yet? Here’s what I mean: By virtue of their size big churches can’t really know their constituency. Sorry, it’s true. Say what you like about small groups, but I’ve yet to experience a big church small group that was doing anything but trying to make me into a “better” big church-goer.

But, you know better don’t you? YOUR small group is different. I can hear you constructing your apologies to my argument already. But, before you dot your “i”’s and cross your “t”’s, think about these questions. Does your small group meet regularly? How regularly? Is it regularly enough that you REALLY get to know your fellow small groupers…like, say, 1 or 2 times a week? What do you study in small group? Do you use a devotional, a guide? What does that guide seek to shape you into? Are there predetermined answers to that devotional that you really should be able to get?

What I’m getting at here is that small groups aren’t really in the business of fellowship. You see, fellowship is the cheap alternative to study…or at least that’s the overarching opinion. The point of small groups is most often not to talk about lives, but to answer questions…with specifically predetermined answers. See what I mean: Cloning.

Another reason I’m not comfortable with the big church mechanism is that “making disciples” is seen as a linear process with a predetermined end-point. I’m not sure that this critique can be so roundly asserted at only big churches, though. Small churches seem pretty good at this one too. If the making of a disciple is a linear process with a specific end goal (i.e. a picture of the perfect disciple), then it seems plausible that we should emulate that character. The linear model has a fatal flaw, however. It assumes that a “perfect disciple” is a static construct–in fact, most Christians hold this “end target person” to be Jesus. The thing is, Jesus doesn’t tell us to become Jesus. Jesus doesn’t tell us to become divine. Jesus tells us to be disciples, followers, dynamic creatures whose hearts’ desire is the kingdom of God.

Jesus tells us to be people of direction, people of pursuit.

This is a pretty uncomfortable thing for the church entrenched, sub-culture worshiping, Christian music listening, drug-free, rich, white, Christian. Here’s why: Being a disciple doesn’t require you to find a place of peace, it requires you to find a place of war and be peaceful. It requires you to find a place of of hurt and be comforting. It requires you to find a place of darkness and be light. Disciples aren’t necessarily the ones who’ve “achieved holiness”; disciples are the ones who PURSUE holiness. A disciple is a traveller. A disciple seeks answers rather than bears answers.

Disciples are people who are hurt and broken and imperfect.

That’s uncomfortable, man. Frankly, I’d love nothing more than to sit around in a white upper-middle class haven and just, you know, be holy and shit. But, it doesn’t work that way. I’m not sure they’re telling us that in big churches. And now that I think about it, I’m not so convinced I’m hearing it in little churches either.

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