An Incomplete Message Produces an Incomplete Church

In my culture and context, an increasing number of people have given up on church because they have been hurt and/or disappointed by churches, church members, and church leaders.
Interestingly, many would like to go back to a church; if they could be guaranteed that they would not be hurt or disappointed so grievously again. They don’t expect it to be perfect; just not a constantly reoccurring train wreck.
But here is where this gets really interesting; they want to do church the same way it was done before, but with a different outcome.
They don’t realize that doing church the same old way is what caused it to be a raging dumpster fire that burned and hurt them.
In their mind, there is some magical way to continue to do the same things with a different outcome.
They think, “If we just had a different pastor or leadership.”
Or, “If just this person or that person would change or leave, then it would work.”
Meanwhile, the pastor, the church leaders, this person and that person are thinking the same thing about them.
What no one seems to realize is that the church has to be fundamentally different in order to not hurt and disappoint people in the way it has over the last several decades.
Not only must the church fundamentally change what it is doing, it must fundamentally change what it is teaching. Because what a church does is a direct result of what it teaches.
And this is not to argue that the church must teach something in addition to Scripture; but rather that the church has not been teaching the full measure of Scripture. And as a result, the church has been teaching and acting upon an incomplete message; which results in an incomplete church which hurts and disappoints people.
So then, what scriptural truths have churches not been teaching that when taught, will fundamentally change how a church acts toward people?
I’m glad you asked, because I would like to argue that not only have churches not taught the full measure of Scripture; but in doing so they have actually failed to teach some of the most fundamental and important principles taught in Scripture.
Which if that is true, would explain why churches in my particular culture and context have hurt and disappointed so many people over the last several decades.
Thus, clearly teaching and then living out these principles is what must fundamentally change in our churches in order for them to become the kind of churches that can reach out to the hurting and the wounded and bring them back to Jesus.
As you read through these four principles, ask yourself:
“Have you heard all four of these principles taught in an explicit, understandable manner in a church before?”
“Have you heard them taught in such a way that the whole church knows them and is living them out?”
The scriptural support for each principle is clearly given and it can be demonstrated that these principles have been taught throughout the 2000 year history of the church. It is only in the recent history of the church that we have not explicitly and clearly taught these things. Which would then seem to explain why the church in general has failed to fulfill its calling and purpose to “go make disciples of all nations, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded.”
These principles are:
  1. The Image of God as the Basis of Discipleship. The ultimate goal of the Gospel of Jesus Christ 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).


This doctrine has been clearly, plainly, and explicitly taught by great men of God such as Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement, Athanasius of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, Augustine of Hippo, Basil of Caesarea, John Calvin, John Wesley, A.W. Tozer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and C.S. Lewis (among others) throughout the 2000-year history of the church. This first principle then leads directly into the next principle:
  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 1:3, 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).


This principle demonstrates why, at its core, being a disciple of Jesus requires study and imitation of the Master. Re-conformity to the image of God is only practically accomplished by imitating the perfect image of God as His disciple. This leads to the third principle:
  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


This point has been argued by Dallas Willard:
[A pastor] should focus his preaching on the Gospels. One should begin preaching what Jesus preached. I would plan to spend two years just preaching from the Gospels. Remember, the gospel as Jesus brought it to earth is the most powerful thing that has ever hit the world. If you preach what he preached, you will see it beginning to pop around you. And you’ll find your people asking the right questions: How about this blessing those who curse you? How about loving your enemies? Can we really do that?[1]
Moreover, it has been argued by Dave Earley:
Could it be that a forgotten element of discipleship is that, while not ignoring the rest of Scripture, the fruit-bearing disciple focuses especially on the words of Christ? […] As we read, study, memorize, and meditate on the words of Jesus, the Holy Spirit will use them to cut us with conviction.[2]
This then leads to the ‘where’ of discipleship: 
  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).


This point is of course the most familiar. Unfortunately, it is also where we tend to begin with discipleship, without laying the groundwork of the first three points. This is also how churches are able to use Relational Discipleship to make disciples of something other than Jesus (and still call them “disciples of Jesus”).
What we have found is that teaching and establishing these principles gives new disciples of Jesus a basis of understanding as they study Scripture, learn what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, and discover how to practically live out the life of Christ in their daily lives. Teaching these principles fundamentally changes both what we teach and what we do as a church.
The link at the bottom of the page is to an article which is our argument for what it means to be disciples of Jesus in our culture and context. The article is an overview and then there is link at the end of it to another article which is an exposition on the first principle of discipleship; The Image of God as the Basis of Discipleship. At the end of that article is a link to to the article on the second principle; and so on…
However, reading the articles is just a starting place. We would also invite you to visit us at His Words His Ways Fellowship if you are serious about being and making disciples of Jesus, so that we might disciple you to be able to do so properly.
Here is the link:

[1] Dallas Willard, “The Apprentices,”, accessed June 6, 2019;


[2] Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making is… How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2013), 72, 73.


Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash