I recently had a conversation with a friend who is part of a church that has invested a lot into their worship. They have the newest songs, upbeat worship, a sweet powerpoint setup, full time worship staff, a praise team, and contemporary songs. In spite of all of that this church has basically lost all of their young adults and they want to know how to get them back. Faster songs is not a guarantee of a vibrant church. Less old songs and more new songs is not the newest discipling strategy. Powerpoint is not the secret to success…never has been, never will be. Those things can all be used as supportive elements of deeper and richer teaching and ministry but were never meant to be the primary means of discipling people.
Some say it is about doing a better job keeping them. Others say it is all about sending them. Here is what is first and the part we have missed – We have to teach people how to die. That isn’t my opinion…that is what Jesus taught comes first. He said, “Then [Jesus] said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” – Luke 9:23-25
Dying isn’t a very popular starting point but that didn’t keep Jesus from pointing it out and it shouldn’t keep us from saying it either. Instead, some have trained people to think you can basically be the same person you always have been, add Jesus to it, and “get to heaven” just fine. That is not what Jesus taught. He taught first we have to deny ourselves, die to ourselves and then follow him in order to embrace the abundant life that only he can give us. The temptation is to skip they dying part and get right to the “good news” living part. You cannot have one without the other. Do you want the Christians you know to have life through Christ? If so we have to teach what Jesus taught. If you skip the first two steps you end up with Moral Therapeutic Deism of the worst sort. You cannot just teach morality and ethics without the underlying foundation of spiritual transformation and identity in Christ and expect people to be more than people who might have slightly better behavior than non-believers.
In order to embrace Christ you have to first empty self by dying to life as you knew it. If you don’t teach that expect to develop Christians who can have one foot in the world and one foot in Christianity. It is hard to step out of faith if you have two feet with Jesus rather than just one. It is easier to step back into the world from on top of the fence than on the other side of it. Inadvertently, our lack of teaching has communicated that fence sitting isn’t all that bad.
Churches are dying because Christians aren’t. Once you start teaching that and embracing that, the church will have the right starting place to grow into the life God is calling the world to.