Let me suggest another reason our discipleship of others is so shallow, and may even be non-existent.
2. Our churches are seeker-sensitive, but believer-insensitive.
No church has done more to research and develop “seeker-sensitive” services than Willow Creek in Chicago. They first started tailoring their church services toward “seekers” 30 years ago.
But in 2008 they published the results of a four year survey on how effective they had been in fulfilling Jesus’ call to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). Their conclusion was that after three decades, they needed to shift from seeker-sensitive services, to services which focused on enabling believers to grow in their faith; from seeker-sensitive, to believer-sensitive.
What they realised – and stop me if you’ve heard this before – is that we cannot serve two masters. If our focus is always on trying to please seekers, on serving warm milk only, then we will not be growing disciples. Or our discipleship will be puddle deep.
To be clear, I’m not saying there isn’t a place for one-off services where there is a particular focus on the outsider. Carol services, for example. But if that’s our general approach every week, Christians will not be hearing the deeper things of God, their discipleship will remain shallow, and as a result they’ll be practically incapable of discipling anyone else.
Incidentally, we needn’t fear that, in making a shift to believer-sensitive services, our churches will no longer speak to non-Christians. We will still, after all, be preaching the gospel. Or at least, we should be.
When Paul writes to the Christians in Rome, what is he eager to do?
I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. (Romans 1:15)
As far as Paul is concerned, the gospel is more than a gateway for non-Christians to pass through. It is – to inelegantly switch our metaphor, and split an infinitive – a Christian’s life support machine. The gospel gets us started, yes; but it is also what sustains us. We never graduate from the gospel.
So we should be preaching the gospel every week, in every service. If Jesus spoke of the whole Scripture as testifying about him (John 5:39), you can be sure you’re preaching the text wrongly if you don’t talk about him. I don’t care if you’re lurching through Leviticus, preach it the way Jesus did: as pointing to the salvation that is in him.
Of course, if we’re fixated on trying to be seeker-sensitive, there’s a good chance we won’t be preaching from Leviticus anyway – or from any other part of Scripture that might startle the unsuspecting. This is not good. As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 reminds us:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
In other words, we need all of Scripture to make disciples. Neglect certain parts of it because we’re worried we’ll drive away non-Christians, and the quality of our discipleship will sharply decline.
Stay with me. Next week I’ll suggest a third reason we don’t disciple.