… the Solution Outside the Room

The statement, “The problem is never in the room, and the solution is never outside the room” is meant to be sarcastic. The reality is that the problem is usually in the room, and the solution is just as likely not to be.
 
James Emery White wrote:
 
“When applied to ministry, few things can be more deadly. […] If you are completely opposed to doing things differently than you are now, but would never even consider that the way you are doing things now is the reason you are doing poorly, then you will forever be exactly where you are now.”[1]
 
(Please read White’s full article here.)  
 
After reading this statement, I realized that White had put into words something I had be observing in church for a long time. The first time I can remember having an inkling that there might be a problem in the “room” is around 1995. I looked at what we were doing as the church in my culture and context, and thought, “We should probably be more serious about this…” And by “this,” I meant Jesus.  
 
Over the next almost 20 years, I progressively began to realize that the problem in the room was worse than I ever imagined it could be. However, even as I slowly grew aware of the depth of the problem in the room; I also continued to look for the solution to the problem within the same room.  
 
That might not sound that bad… but the reality is that spending 20 years searching for a solution where there was not one to be found, was destructive to my life. Yes, I just stated that 20 years of church was actually destructive to my life (and I know for a fact that I am not the only one who has experienced this).  
 
Then, in early 2014, I found the solution outside of the room. By providence, I found the solution in an elective, introductory discipleship class in seminary. But I didn’t find the solution all at once. I then spent the next five years passionately seeking out what it really means to be a disciple of Jesus, and how to make more disciples of Jesus.  
 
(I would like to clarify that I am not saying that the solution is outside of the church universal; but that the solution was outside of the church of my culture and context. I had to look at the church outside of my culture and context [which would be frowned upon by my culture and context] to find the solution.)  
 
And even while I intently studied discipleship over these last 5 years; I have also attempted to have conversations with pastors, church leaders, and church members in order to convince them that the problem is in the room and that the solution is outside of the room… (usually to no avail).  
 
As White also noted:  
 
“It’s maddening, to be honest. Whenever you suggest new ideas or different approaches, they’re shot down with a thousand ready-made reasons why they won’t/can’t work. Then, when you probe further to learn why things aren’t going well, they point to a thousand things – all circumstantial – that excuse the current state away. So they are closed to anything outside of the room, and closed to any causes of decline that might be inside the room.”[2]  
 
So, to those that might be honestly beginning to realize that there might actually be a problem in the room; might I implore you to begin to look outside the room for a solution. Please do not spend 20 years (or more) as I did, searching for a solution where there is not one to be found; it is not only destructive to you, it is destructive to those who are close to you.  
 
One of the most practical places I can tell you to look for the solutions is in the books and ministry of Jim Putman and the Relational Discipleship Network. Beyond there, read the works of Bill Hull. And beyond there, the works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dallas Willard, and A. W. Tozer. Those will give you a good start.  
 
But at the same time, go back to the foundation of being a disciple of Jesus… go to Jesus.
 
Reread the Gospels paying special attention to what Jesus really said and did. Understand that you are called as His disciple to keep all that He said and did (Matthew 28:19-20).  
 
After 5 years of sorting through all the information outside the room of my culture and context; we distilled the solution down to 4 principles that we use as the foundation for everything we do at His Words His Ways Fellowship:
 
  1. The Image of God as the Basis of Discipleship. The ultimate goal of the Gospel is that men bring glory to God by being re-conformed to the image of God that they were originally created to be (Genesis 1:27, 1 Corinthians 11:7, Matthew 5:48, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Ephesians 4:22-24, 5:1, Colossians 3:9-10, 2 Peter 1:4).

 

  1. The Purpose of Imitating Jesus as His Disciple. The goal of men being re-conformed to the image of God is accomplished by men imitating Jesus (who is the perfect image of God) as His disciple; through the empowerment and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:29, 1 Corinthians 11:1, 15:49, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Galatians 2:20, Philippians 2:1-5, 3:7-11, Colossians 1:15, 1:28-29, 2:2-3, 2:9-10, 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 2 Timothy 3:12,Titus 3:4-6, Hebrews 3:1, 6:1, 12:1-3, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:1-4, 2-21, 2 Peter 3:18, 1 John 2:6, 3:3, 4:17).

 

  1. The First Century, Biblical Understanding of Discipleship. Imitating Jesus as His disciple begins (but does not end) with specifically learning and then keeping the words, teachings, commands, and example that He gave during His earthly ministry. It is simply impossible to imitate someone without knowing what they said and did (Matthew 7:24-29, 10:24-25, 11:25-30, 12:41-42, 13:16-17, 13:34-35, 17:5, 24:35; Mark 4:24-25, 4:33-34, 6:34, 8:38, 9:7, 13:31; Luke 6:46-49, 9:35, 10:24, 10:38-42, 11:31-32, 17:10, 19:47-48,  John 3:31-36, 4:25-26, 4:40-42, 5:24, 5:38-39, 5:46-47, 6:28-29, 6:63, 6:66-69, 8:31-32, 8:51, 9:26, 10:27, 12:48, 13:34-35, 14:12, 14:15, 14:23-26, 15:7-17, 15:20-24, 16:6-8).

 

  1. Biblical Discipleship in a Relational Environment (Relational Discipleship). Being conformed to the image of Jesus by imitating Him as His disciple is not a passive process, but an active/interactive process that occurs within a relational environment; which was established and demonstrated by Jesus during His earthly ministry (Acts 2:42-47, 1 Corinthians 14:40, 2 Timothy 2:2).
 
Please consider that these principles may be part of the solution that you are looking for (please, read through the Scripture references we provided for each principle). Furthermore, spend some time studying discipleship on your own (you may find an even better set of principles to guide your church members to be and make disciples of Jesus).
 
White closed his article:
 
“The place to start looking for causes is inside the room, and the place to start looking for answers is outside the room.”[3]
 
 
 
[1] James Emery White, “The Problem with the Room,” churchandculture.org, retrieved  6/28/2019, https://www.churchandculture.org/blog/2019/6/27/the-problem-with-the-room.
 
[2] Ibid.
 
[3] Ibid.