The Hard Truth About Our Difficulty Moving Forward on Discipleship

Do we have the will to make the changes that are necessary to change the culture of our churches?

In my heart of hearts I want to see our churches be part of a movement. I caught this bug when I was a kid and I heard we are the church we find in Acts. I read Acts and loved what I read but didn’t see much of that in what we were doing.

I want to see us at our best. I want to see us on the move. Making a difference. Making disciples. Shifting from consumers to producers. I want this!

But

I am not sure we have the will to pull it. I hope we do but I am not certain we do. Change is hard. We are an especially hard group to make changes.

Then the thought hit me, what if the movement has begun but it isn’t happening in our walls? Then another thought hit me. We have lost so many young people (some have left the faith completely but not all of them). I hate to say this out loud. But what if “our loss” was the gain of something else…a kingdom movement? I have known a lot of young people who left because they were spiritually minded and were disturbed by what they saw in our fellowship. They went looking for Jesus, meaning and purpose elsewhere. Some weren’t finding the biblical movement among our fellowship and so finally found it somewhere else.

I don’t believe we in Churches of Christ are the “only ones going to heaven.” So what if the movement out of our churches (our decline) was a movement into something that was going to make a real difference? What if? I believe that is possible and it hurts me to say it because selfishly I want this to be among  US not THEM. But that isn’t the right attitude to have about these matters.

That should bother us and it shouldn’t. It should bother us that God would be on the move and we didn’t jump in. It shouldn’t bother us in the sense that we often think if God is doing something we are the only ones fit enough for him to use to do it because the rest aren’t real Christians anyway. What a sad mentality but I have seen it in real time my whole life.

Here is a way to illustrate this from Missions history:

Years ago, Churches of Christ (amongst others) sent missionaries all over the world. They converted people from various cultures and countries. Little did we know those were seeds planted that would eventually send missionaries back to a secularized United States today. We now have missionaries from other countries in the U.S. to do mission work!

What if this was something similar? What if people who grew up in our churches left us to learn kingdom movements elsewhere to then produce things that would help us come around to these same ideas?

We chafe at this because we are supposed to be the ones who have it right and everyone else has it wrong. We have it all to offer and they need to receive our truth and doctrine. The thinking goes…it is time to move beyond that thinking. It is actually biblical to move beyond that thinking!

What if we had that backwards? What if?

Part of me hopes (not a good part) I am wrong but that is foolish. That is still being territorial. It is in my blood. But it is selfish. It is short sighted. It might just be a rejection of the Spirit’s work elsewhere. It might lack the vision to see how we might have a better future due to learning from others.

What if the movement has already begun and it largely hasn’t included us?

Can we be a part of this without doing a better job getting along with “others?” I don’t think so.

It is time we open our eyes to the broader kingdom. It is time to let go of our sectarianism (the idea we are the only real Christians) and humble ourselves to open up conversations with those God is sending us to learn from them. They have a lot to teach us.

Better days can be ahead but, wow, it is going to take a major adjustment. If we don’t want to play along I can assure you God is doing this apart from us anyway. But I sure do want to be a part of what God is doing and I want to do it with our people too! This is my hope. This is my dream. I don’t know if we have the will to do it. Seeds of sectarianism past may prevent us from partnering.

If we don’t, our young people will find it elsewhere and we will just accuse them of looking to be entertained. But maybe we are the ones who are being entertained (we like what we do). Maybe they aren’t the issue. Maybe us older people are. They aren’t in leadership, we are. Can we at least consider that and pray over that for a moment?

There is a segment of our churches that have already embraced these things and I am praying that will grow. We will be healthier for it. That doesn’t mean we have to junk our convictions. We just have to make sure our convictions are actually biblical.

This will require to Spirit’s help! This will require us to be in prayer. This will require us to go back to the Bible with a fresh set of eyes and this time, instead of looking to confirm what we already know to win arguments, we look for Jesus.

It both pains me and excites me to write this but I feel compelled to. Blessings.

11 Responses to The Hard Truth About Our Difficulty Moving Forward on Discipleship

  1. Rudy Schellekens says:

    And you have just, for all practical purposes, removed any and all reasons for evangelism.
    After all, the Kingdom is bigger than what “we” recognize, so who is to say that we are not all in the Kingdom, dismiss truth all together.

    • Matt Dabbs says:

      Replied on the wrong comment. Please explain your point in more depth. I don’t see how one gets from what I said to what you said. So help me understand the connection you are making.

  2. I feel your pain, but I do not like to blame the Church of Christ for the situation. In my view, the problem lies in the diversity of humanity, human thought, and human experience. No offense to Jesus, but it is impossible to unify humanity in Christianity or in anything else (for example, politics or hair styles). Individuals seek out what appeals to them as individuals, what makes sense to them. Some young people leave churches of Christ, others stay. It depends on their mindset. Some people like tattoos, others don’t. It depends on their mindset.

    We in churches of Christ are wedded to the idea of rationality, that is, to the perfectly reasonable idea that in order to become a Christian, one must do exactly what the Bible says (for example, be baptized). Most of the Protestant world thinks the New Testament teaches that baptism is a good thing but not essential to salvation. So who is right? People think differently. God will decide. Meanwhile, I follow the path that makes sense to me and try to persuade others to join me. I leave the judging to God. BUT meanwhile, I do not fret about getting everybody on the same page. It is impossible.

    • Matt Dabbs says:

      I wrote a lengthy response that got an error. So I will get to the point – I have watched some of our best people, hardest workers, best leaders hold on for decades while getting shot down at every turn when they try to bring life to things. It kills me to see our best people go somewhere else because it is hard to use their talents due to red tape and poor leadership culture. Some of our issues do have blame we can acknowledge and shoulder so we can change and get healthier. Thanks for your thoughts. I hope this makes sense.

    • Dwight Haas says:

      Just a thought here, but we in the churches of Christ are hung up on who is right and we generally think we are right in all points. The problem is that us thinking we are right is in itself a wrong and it is one of the worst wrongs, because it self-righteousness and it makes us blind to how we may be wrong in other places.
      In terms of baptism… we think we must be baptized to be saved, while others think that you must be baptized because you are saved and baptism is the first act of obedience. In reality both groups are baptized…for obedience sake, although one group seems to place more faith in the baptism as the savior, then in Jesus the savior. Peter said, “Repent and be baptized”, but he didn’t place a litmus test on baptism beyond faith in Jesus as the Son of God and savior of mankind.
      In reality if Jesus was here, he would probably look at all of our groups and consider them wrong, because they are made of people who are undoubtedly wrong, even when they are very close to being right.
      You are right God will decide. But many of us have already made our decision.
      And you are right again…we will never get everybody on the same page, but we must get everyone to Jesus.

  3. Tim Brown says:

    Matt,

    This is Tim. You and I spoke on the phone recently. I love where you are headed here. I am concerned that though I would hope to think our young people are leaving and finding kingdom somewhere else, the stats I’ve read is that they are leaving the church in large numbers and not coming back to God at all. Which, if true, shows the absolutely necessity that we do this now and join God in what He is doing. The truth is young people today crave genuineness, not ceremony. Realness, not 2 songs, a prayer, and a sermon. They want to see kingdom LIVED out in community, not talked about, while sitting behind the heads of others in pews.

    Here’s my question. Have we become so institutionalized that its time to nail our 95 Theses to the Church of Christ door (and work internally toward this), or is it time to obey the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 9:16-17 and not show any more unshrunk cloth on an old garment, or (as the namesake of this website suggests), no longer pour any of the new wine into the old wineskins (and work externally toward this).

    • Matt Dabbs says:

      There certainly are people who leave to never be a part of Christianity again. Many return in some form a decade later when life changes. It is essential that we make some adjustments in our focus, our priorities, our vision, etc. None of this is done to please any particular group. That has been one of our issues in the past and we see how it turned out. We don’t just want to please the young people so we do this. We do this because it is right, biblical, Spirit-led, etc.

      To your question our autonomy makes this so tricky and that is why articles like this one are hard. We are fairly homogeneous but aren’t perfectly one size fits all. So the answer to your question may depend on your context as we have no overarching denominational authority (which is a good thing). Here is what I think we do. You decide to get with someone and disciple them. I am doing the same. Another person does it and another. Then it is happening regardless of what the current culture is in your congregation. With enough work and time and Spirit’s help, things will change from the inside out. Does that make sense? Thanks for the comment.

      • Dwight Haas says:

        Matt, I think this question of autonomy is a really a product of our institutional thinking. We as a closed off group structure don’t think we should be told what to do by anyone else.
        In reality no one can tell us what to do unless it is someone telling us that we need to not sin.
        And it is not a matter of autonomy, but a matter that no one can make up and enforce laws out of thin air to control us.
        If we look in the scriptures we do have the church at Jerusalem (with the apostles) telling others what to do (gentiles) and it was only a short list and in line with the scriptures. And we have Paul and the apostles telling whole congregations to do things, but only in line with the Holy Spirit and what they should have been doing anyway.
        Paul didn’t make up new laws to bind on any, people or groups of people.
        But in reality I cannot tell you what to do and you cannot tell me what to do, unless I am sinning and this goes for congregations as well. I think it would have been within the right of a congregation or elders or anyone to write to the church at Corinth and tell them that they were sinning by allowing the man to have his father’s wife. Again this isn’t about control, but about sin and righteousness. And the fact we are supposed to be family and looking out for one another no matter where we are at.
        And how can we be autonomous when we as individuals are part of the body and we are bound to the King and there is no church structure in between. That is why we can as you say disciple regardless of the current culture of your congregation. We are not connecting people to the congregation, but to Christ.

  4. Remember Mark 9:38-40? “John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.”

    This is a passage that I’ve never heard a sermon on – or preached on myself. I have raised it as a matter we need to give consideration to. And maybe (if I am bold enough) I will mention it in a sermon I will be preaching this Sunday.

  5. Mark says:

    The cofC has an issue with most of Christianity preferring to ignore it by pretending it does not exist. By mentioning so little about Jesus, too many people are left to wonder why and then progress to think that his teachings might be contradicted by the sermon topic. By not ever mentioning the Jewish and Christian martyrs, who were killed through some heinous methods for the faith (mere belief in God/Jesus), the ties to the ancient faith become even weaker. By not mentioning the fights in early Christianity, they ignore the amount that blood that was tragically shed over a simple point and why repeating that or its modern-day equivalent of name calling, ostracizing, and running people out of the faith was not and is still not worth it.

    How can you disciple if you have no faith to teach?

    • Matt Dabbs says:

      The sad irony was that we didn’t go to the Bible to let the Bible tell us what it takes to be a Christian. Instead we created a whole system of interpretation that no one had for 1800 years that led to conclusions that weren’t in the Bible itself. That should tell us something!

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