Rebuild to Generate the Right Product

rebuild to generate the right product

Jesus came and told His disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

I recently read a great blog post from Carey Nieuwhof entitled, “When the pastor becomes the product.” In it, Nieuwhof reminds us of how easy it is for both mega churches and small churches to mistakenly make the pastor the center of the church. Indeed, the pastor ends up being the “product” a church offers to consumers (and potential customers) inside and outside of the church. Nieuwhof rightly reminds us that the church, not the pastor, is the Body of Christ. He illustrates how making the pastor the center places way too much pressure on the pastor. Lastly, he admits that pastors can enjoy being the center of the church way too much (and resent the pressure that comes from it at the same time).

I quoted Matthew 28:18-20 above. The Great Commission of Jesus reminds me that all authority has been given to Jesus. He is the center of the church (read Colossians 1 on this), not me. The product that He wants us to invest in are disciples who are taught to obey everything Jesus commanded. In Paul’s language from Ephesians 4, that would be mature disciples who are equipped to do “works of service.” Gifted celebrity preachers and omnicompetent parish chaplains are not the product we try to sell to the world and to sheep currently residing in other sheepfolds.

We are not rebuilding post COVID to manufacture the best programs, spiritual packages and personnel so that more sheep will be attracted to our sheepfolds than to the church down the road. The product is a mature disciple.

It’s not that the pastor and the programs aren’t important. In fact, pastors need to be at the center of helping a local church discern what a mature, fruit of the Spirit disciple looks like. The pastor also needs to help a local church design disciple-making pathways that help disciples become “conformed to the image of His Son.” This actually necessitates that pastors think through carefully what the Sunday morning worship service can accomplish as part of the disciple-making pathway. Then we need to ascertain what other parts of the church program help a disciple mature and produce “fruit of the Spirit” “works of service.” Simply telling folks what they are doing wrong and what more they need to do on Sunday morning is not enough. Jesus didn’t intend us to “teach them to obey everything He commanded” exclusively from behind a pulpit (from a safe distance). Jesus walked with disciples for the better part of three years, and His teaching was mostly informal and situational – in the context of whatever was going on in life at the time. Yes, Jesus occasionally had a more formal “sermon” (on a mount), but most of His “Word-working” (as Lee Eclov calls it), was in informal everyday life contexts.

Steve Sharpe and Neil B have insightfully highlighted that there is a great difference between accountability to law and accountability/discipling by grace. Discipling by law means I tell disciples what they should or should not do – but I don’t walk alongside them to help them succeed (or restore them and encourage them to try again once they have failed.) Discipling by grace means someone commits to walking alongside me and helping me succeed. It’s like two people who want to lose weight and agree to be accountability partners. Accountability by law means we will check in once a week and share how we ate junk food and didn’t exercise and we will promise to do better next week (but we know deep down that we will fail again because we are on our own). Accountability by grace means that we will agree to go grocery shopping together to make sure we don’t buy junk food. One of us will pick the other up on our way to the gym and we will exercise together. If we want to rebuild the right product, we need accountability partners who will help each other succeed. We need to build systems where disciples are accountability partners of grace. Sunday morning services will be important for some things, but if the product we are trying to build is a mature disciple, then we will need to “teach them to obey everything I have commanded” not only in sermons, but in incarnational pathways of grace.

Bill Taylor
EFCC Executive Director