Saturday, June 11

For all our talk, we are not about making disciples of the nations

After reading the dismal 2010 church growth indicators for the Southern Baptist Convention as published by Lifeway, I am embarrased by how distracted and disobedient I have become towards making disciples of the nations.

The LifeWay article reports a total of 332,321 baptisms from 45,727 churches. That comes out to an average of 7.3 baptisms per church per year, or a 49:1 baptism ratio. It took 49 S. Baptists an entire year of work and ministry to baptize one person.

Saying it another way, it took one disciple twelve months to see one new person added to the Kingdom through baptism, while the other 48 of us "disciples" did nothing. On top of that, the cost of that single baptism was $35,270!

I know many might point out the flaws in my over-generalized and unfair playing around with the reported numbers, but the figures speak loudly for themselves. For all our talk, we are not about making disciples of the nations.

The only number that did not show a negative from the previous year was church plants. According to the report, 717 new churches were started in 2010. From our own experience of seeing the vast majority of baptisms coming from new church starts; I dare say, without these 717 new church starts, the SBC numbers would have indeed fallen into the "F" range--failing big time at what our Lord commanded in Matthew 28:18-20.

While our own baptism ratio has fluctuated over the past decade from a high of 3:1 (three believers for every new baptized convert) to a low of an embarrasing 8:1 ratio, the fact remains that the house churches we relate to are far more serious about evangelism, baptism, discipleship, and church planting than our Stateside brothers and sisters. I have said it many times, but our people here have a lot more to teach their Stateside counterparts, than the other way around!

What differences are there between our Ecuadorian national brethren and their Stateside counterparts? Why are the folks here so much more effective with their evangelism than Stateside Christians?

I can identify at least seven overlapping things I see house church believers consistently doing that are not usually seen in most Stateside churches:

1) Praying daily for the lost. Talk to believers in a Guayaquil house church and they will show you their list of people they pray for daily of unsaved family, friends, and neighbors.

2) Active regular sharing of the Gospel. It is a very natural part of their Christian walk to share the Gospel with people they encounter in their daily lives. Christ has made such a difference in their lives, and they cannot help but share with those they come in contact with.

3) Planning regular evangelistic events. The house churches plan regular evangelistic events inviting those they are praying for to attend (concerts, outdoor street meetings, special programs, family conferences, DVD/Videos, invited guest speakers, neighborhood evangelistic door-to-door blitzes, meals, etc.)

4) Visiting the sick and personally ministering to lost friends, neighbors and family in times of crisis. They are very good about visiting sick people outside of their church family, praying for healing and ministering to lost family and friends during difficult times.

5) Not distracted by a lot of secondary theological issues. We certainly have our share of problems and distractions, but they are more along the lines of things like: can unmarried couples who get saved be baptized? How to counsel people with difficult problems? How to discern if someone is demon possessed or just emotionally unstable? How to handle tough theological questions. Why doesn't God always heal someone when they are prayed for?

6) Intentionally focus on evangelism as a life priority. Talk to them and they will tell you that their ministry is to win/disciple at least four people to Christ this year. They expect God to give them these souls and are consciously praying and working to achieve this goal.

7) They maintain friendships/relationships with lost friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc. They play soccer on the street with their neighbors, visit them in their homes, minister to them in times of need. How are we ever supposed to win people to the Lord if we have little/no relationship with the lost? How is a Christian supposed to win lost people if they do not even know any? Folks here know plenty of lost people whom they are burdened for their salvation.

Southern Baptists, and Stateside churches in general may be doing a lot of neat things, have wonderful church programs, great worship services and solid Biblical preaching, but if we are not winning people to Christ, baptizing, making disciples, and teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded, are we really healthy N.T. churches?

18 comments:

Darrell said...

You are LEGIT Guy! Amen! No doubt some will be offended by this...BUT the KING will be well pleased!

Arthur Sido said...

Maybe stateside the church is by and large mostly interest in maintaining the institution instead of advancing the Kingdom?

Anonymous said...

Guy, thanks so much for sharing from your heart and your experience. This is what we need to hear. I am pleased to see more and more churches, yes at great cost, doing more to reach the lost.

Rick Carr said...

Excellent word. I stand convicted as well as blessed and challenged.

GuyMuse said...

Darrell, Arthur, Anon., Rick,

I think this is a challenge that all of us need to wake up to. We seem to be very distracted with a lot of "stuff" but the truth of the matter is, we are not making disciples. May God help us all to be obedient, intentional, committed to see His name glorified throught the earth.

Bob Cleveland said...

I'd add one item. Teach our members to simply live as what they are, happy to be so.

First Deacon Meeting of this year, I asked various of our guys to tell me about their jobs, their kids, their wives, etc. After 5 minutes of that, I asked them how many classes they had to attend, how many outlines they had to memorize, how many doors they had to knock on with a "trainer" in tow, to learn how to tell me that.

We wear a wedding ring to let folks know we're married, we wear Alabama or Auburn or whatever T-Shirts to let folks know we're fans ... so why don't we simply live openly as what we are? Christians, followers of Jesus, and happy to be so?

Maybe that's part of being a disciple. We may be plainclothes soldiers in this war, but that's a whole lot different from being in the Secret Service, which we're not.

Only then is it a natural part of our walk to share the gospel. Which is apparently is not for the vast majority of our "members".

GuyMuse said...

Bob,

Excellent point. I think my #7 comes closest to expressing what you are rightly saying is key to making evangelism a lifestyle rather than some kind of church program. Are you at the SBC in Phoenix? I remember running into you at Indy one evening a few years back.

David Phillips said...

Guy, I might add something else...In the US, we are not concerned with spiritual matters - we're too engrossed in modernity (reason, knowledge, etc) and too busy in our lives. I would think that in Ecuador, there is a greater understanding of spiritual things and life is a little slower (I'm making a guess based on what I know of Latin American culture, which isn't a lot.) Here in the US we are so pragmatic that unless we need to pray or call on God, we don't.

I would also suggest that our US Christianity is too easy, sin is not a big deal (in our own minds) and our gospel understanding is weak. We are also more concerned about quantity than quality and the only number that matters is conversions and membership. Discipleship is knowledge-based not mentor-based. We don't train people for discipleship as Jesus did. We make them sit and listen to a lecture or a slideshow.

I agree with your premise and think this is a really good post. Appreciate your work in Ecuador! Blessings on you and your family...

Stephen M. Young II said...

Thanks for pointing this out. I've been posting on http://beyondoutreach.blogspot.com about this very same topic.

Something needs to change.

Aussie John said...

Guy,

Confusion reigns amongst Christians today. There are far too many strident voices demanding adherence to rules, laws, programs, methods, prominent preachers, etc., instead of following the simple advice given by God Himself,“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

GuyMuse said...

David,

You write, Discipleship is knowledge-based not mentor-based. We don't train people for discipleship as Jesus did. We make them sit and listen to a lecture or a slideshow... so we shouldn't be surprised with the kinds of results we are seeing.

I think we have confused knowing the Gospel, with obeying the Gospel. To me discipleship is more how much we practice what it is we know of the Gospel, and less how much we know of the Gospel.

GuyMuse said...

Stephen,

You were indeed right on in your 50:1 estimate! You have some great thought-provoking material on your blog. Thanks for sharing the link. For those interested, I recommend clicking over to Stephen's blog here.

GuyMuse said...

John,

We cannot hear,“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” simply because His voice is being drowned out with all the other voices you mention. Each of these clamor for center stage and in a real sense compete with the only voice that matters!

Anonymous said...

Ecuadorians are more friendly and less fearful to invite others, is part of the culture; also house church vs church base makes a big difference with the connection, there is more intimacy in a home church. Maria

Anonymous said...

Excellente, Guy, Te aplaudo, Maria

GuyMuse said...

Maria,

You are right about Ecuadorians being a more relational culture than say, the U.S. This of course makes house churches even more appealing in that there is a lot more intimacy and openness in a home, than sitting in a pew not really knowing the others. But overall, I think the key is first working on relationships, and then sharing the Gospel (see Luke 10:1-9for Jesus own way of instructing his disciples in how to be about the ministry.)

Alan said...

I'm enquiring about the air-fare to Equador! What are house prices like? It seems that is where the blessing of God currently rests..and, of course, where His people are obedient to His word. Perhaps we in the 'developed' countries need to be discipled by those we once sent missionaries to...

GuyMuse said...

Alan,

How about a 6-month swap? We'll go to NC? and live in your house, and you can come to Guayaquil and live in our house? :)

Seriously, God is indeed at work. It reminds me of the Phillip Yancey quote, "As I travel, I have observed a pattern, a strange historical phenomenon of God 'moving' geographically from the Middle East, to Europe to North America to the developing world. My theory is this: God goes where he's wanted."