Bare Minimum Effort…

I would argue that the immediate culture and context of His Words His Ways Fellowship is possibly one of the most difficult areas of the United States in which to make disciples of Jesus. The only areas of the world where I believe that it might be more difficult to make disciples of Jesus are those places where it is illegal to proselytize or doing so will get you killed.
 
However, it is not difficult to make disciples of Jesus in our immediate culture and context because people are generally opposed to Jesus; but rather, because people think they have already accepted or rejected following Jesus as His disciple.
 
But in reality, most people in our culture and context (whether they feel that they have accepted or rejected following Jesus as His disciple) probably have no concept of what it means to follow Jesus as His disciple. Most people probably believe that following Jesus as His disciple means that they believed He died on the cross for their sins and that they agreed to try to live by Judaeo-Christian morality.
 
Some people who believe that they have accepted Jesus take it a step further and believe that God is somehow changing them from the inside out through the power of the Holy Spirit. They have no idea how that really works, but they believe it is happening.
 
Therefore, what makes our immediate culture and context the most difficult area in which to make disciples of Jesus is that people believe it is not difficult. Think about it; if you believe that something that you want to accomplish is difficult, you will approach it entirely differently as opposed to if you believe that it is easy.
 
Because our immediate culture and context was previously a predominately, overtly Christian culture, many Christians believe that it should be easy to make disciples of Jesus in our area. But the reality is that certain cultural, sociological, and economic factors shifted the foundation of our culture away from being overtly Christian. Instead, our culture became increasingly materialistic and only retained a thin veneer of Christianity which disguised it.
 
But most cultural Christians accepted this thin veneer as the real thing and never acknowledged the drastic cultural shift that had taken place. It is only now, as the thin veneer has begun to fall away, that people realize that something has happened. However, their response has simply been to attempt to reapply the veneer rather than accept that our culture has fundamentally changed and that a more serious response is needed.
 
Furthermore, because the area was once predominantly culturally Christian, Christians and their churches held social favor; and thus, they and their churches largely got by with the bare minimum effort. But, as the culture shift that had steadily occurred beneath the veneer of cultural Christianity rapidly began to expose itself; those that were still embedded in cultural Christianity attempted to fix the situation by simply continuing to get by with the bare minimum effort.
 
However, as stated, getting by on the bare minimum effort is only trying to reapply the disintegrating Christian veneer rather than making the deep systematic changes that need to be made in order to make disciples of Jesus who imitate and obey Him.
 
At some point while reading this, you will probably think, “Wow, they are being really critical of the church!”
 
And you would be correct.
 
Have you ever read the New Testament?
 
Large portions of the New Testament are extremely critical of the first century churches.
 
In fact, the reason that we are so critical of the modern church is that we have read the New Testament through multiple times and we realize how far off base modern churches have fallen.
 
The book of the Revelation opens with Jesus addressing seven churches in Asia Minor. Of the seven churches, He criticized five of them. The first church that Jesus addresses, the church in Ephesus, is commended for several things; including having correct theology in the face of false apostles. However, Jesus criticized them for having “forsaken the love you had at first.” He further warned them, “Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.”
 
But what if they didn’t? What was Jesus going to do about it?
 
Jesus warned, “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Revelation 2:3-4).
 
Jesus stated that He will cause the church at Ephesus to cease to exist. In case you did not realize it, the church at Ephesus no longer exists. None of the churches mentioned in the second and third chapters of the book of the Revelation still exist. There are hardly any Christians at all in the area of Asia Minor where these seven churches once existed.
 
This is the same mistake that the churches in our immediate culture and context are making. They believe that because they exist, God will do whatever He must do in order to allow them to continue to exist. As a result, the people of these churches only put the bare minimum effort into being and making disciples of Jesus. They expect God to do all the hard work.
 
But, Jesus can and will remove the lampstands of churches in our immediate culture and context just as easily as He removed the lampstands from the churches in Asia minor. And having good theology makes less difference than one might believe. The church at Ephesus apparently had great theology, and it is the only church of the seven that Jesus openly threatened to remove its lampstand.  
 
Again, let us state our position. The immediate culture and context of His Words His Ways Fellowship has shifted so dramatically within recent history, that churches will not be able to make disciples of Jesus who imitate and obey Him by only exerting the bare minimum effort. Instead, it will require a maximum effort which includes a high level of structure, order, and oversight.
 
In the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote: “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33).
 
And then: “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Corinthians 14:40).
 
Paul is specifically writing concerning maintaining order during a worship service; but God does not change and therefore the principle carries over to other areas of the church.
 
If “God is not a God of disorder but of peace” and “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way;” then everything we do as churches should be orderly and structured; especially how we make disciples of Jesus who imitate and obey Him.
 
Making disciples of Jesus who imitate and obey Him is the greatest endeavor ever undertaken by men, and we should approach it as such. It should therefore be the most orderly, well-thought out, and systematically structured human endeavor as well.
 
But, if we honestly observe what is going on in the churches in our immediate environment; disciple-making is anything but orderly, well-thought out, or systematically structured; if it is even being done at all.
 
Instead, if disciple-making is even being attempted; it is being attempted with the bare minimum effort; along with the expectation that the God of order and peace is going to bless our disorder and chaos in order to keep our church’s doors open because He is in some way indebted unto us to do so.
 
But just as easily as He removed the lampstand of the church at Ephesus, and the lampstands from the other churches in Asia Minor; the God of order and peace will remove the lampstands from other churches which do not do what they are supposed to be doing; making disciples of Jesus who imitate and obey Him in an orderly, well-thought out, and systematic manner.
 
Look again at Jesus’ warning to the church at Ephesus:
 
“You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Revelation 2:4-5).
 
The problem is not what the church believed; they apparently had great theology. The problem was what they were doing; or rather, what they were not doing.
 
So what were “the things you did at first?”
 
The most logically answer would be that they did what they were specifically commanded by Jesus to do:
 
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
 
Notice that the specific instructions for making a disciple of Jesus is “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Therefore, the Great Commission covers all the bases when it comes to keeping the commands of Jesus.
 
In other words, if you keep the Great Commission, you will keep all of Jesus’ other commands; but conversely, you could attempt to keep just some of Jesus’ commands without keeping the Great Commission. Therefore, the most concise, straightforward explanation of what the church is to be doing is “keeping the Great Commission of Christ by making disciples of Jesus who imitate and obey Him.”
 
Therefore, “the things [the church at Ephesus] did at first,” most likely refers to keeping the Great Commission by making disciples of Jesus who imitate and obey Him.
 
The church at Ephesus had fallen into the trap that many modern theologically conservative Evangelical churches in our immediate culture and context have also fallen into; the erroneous belief that all they need to do is have good theology and everything else will work out fine because God will bless them and do all the hard work Himself.
 
But again, the church at Ephesus was in danger of having its lampstand removed for what it failed to do, not for what it failed to believe.
 
So, what is the bare minimum effort?
 
  1. Having good theology. Again, this is not the end all be all; this is a bare minimum requirement.
 
  1. Regular church attendance. Unfortunately, we have made regular church attendance out to be an above and beyond discipleship performance. Regular church attendance is a bare minimum effort.
 
  1. Having and/or attending some sort of Bible study such as Sunday school, small group, et cetera. Once again, we have made it out that if someone attends a Bible study, they are going above and beyond what is required of a disciple of Jesus. But attending discipleship small groups are a bare minimum part of following Jesus and imitating Him as His disciple.
 
  1. Personal Bible study. Again, bare minimum discipleship.
 
Will people “get saved” if we do these things? Sure; but people will get save simply by the shear grace and mercy of God despite our ineptitude.
 
We are not commanded just to “get people saved.” We are commanded to make disciples of Jesus who imitate Him by knowing and keeping all that commanded.
 
Moreover, our immediate culture and context is an adverse environment in which to attempt to make disciples of Jesus who imitate and obey Him. Therefore, we should not be satisfied that a couple of people “got saved.” We should be satisfied with nothing less than starting a disciple-making revolution. We should be satisfied with nothing less that God getting the maximum amount glory that He is due by men being re-conformed to the image of God that they were originally created to be by being conformed to the image of Jesus (by imitating Him as His disciple).
 
So, if those things are just the bare minimum discipleship efforts; to what extent do we need to go in order to make disciples of Jesus in our immediate culture and context; in order to start a disciple-making revolution?
 
First, organization, organization, organization… Again, God is a God of order and logic; everything we do should be logical and orderly; especially how we make disciples of Jesus.
 
Given that the church has the most important job on the planet, the church should be the most orderly organization on the planet. We should take our job more seriously than any company, school, charity, et cetera.
 
But let’s be serious. How many churches do you know that are organized on that level in our immediate culture and context? If companies or other organizations were run like most churches, they would go under.
 
The level at which we organize our discipleship efforts as a church is a direct indication of how seriously we take the command of Jesus to make disciples of Him (who keep His commands). And even more importantly, our level of organization is a direct indication of how concerned we are that God receive the glory He is due.
 
Read that statement again.
 
No excuses. Do you take the commands of Jesus seriously? Do you take the glory of God seriously?
 
If so, then organize like you take it seriously.
 
Second, be qualified and prepared. In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul wrote that Christ gives as gifts to the church, “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service” (Ephesians 4:11-12).
 
Logically, only a minority of men have been called and endowed by God to be leaders within the church. And the result of these men doing what they are called to do is that the rest of the church members “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
 
Therefore, given that only a minority of men have been called and endowed, then we must make sure that only these men hold these positions. The ultimate proof that these men are in the positions that they are meant to be in, and that they are doing what needs to be done; is that disciples of Jesus are conformed to His image by imitating and obeying Him.
 
The pastorate is not an amateur hour; especially the senior pastorate. We should not put an unprepared man in a senior pastor position. If a man is not yet prepared, he should take an associate pastor position until he has been discipled and proven himself ready. Hiring a project instead of a pastor is a recipe for disaster.
 
Jesus discipled the Apostles for 3 years before He released them to lead full-time. The resurrected Jesus personally discipled Paul in the desert, and he was discipled by other disciples in Damascus, for a total of three years before Jesus released him to lead (Galatians 1:11-18, Acts 9:19-25). Paul discipled Timothy and Titus for several years before he released them to lead. Never in the New Testament do you see Jesus or the Apostles giving the reigns of a church to an unqualified or unprepared man.
 
Neither should we place people in other leadership positions, even leading small groups, until they have proven themselves qualified and prepared. And qualification and preparation only come through an organized training process.
 
And again, how seriously we take our discipleship process is indicative of how seriously we take keeping Christ’s commands and how seriously we take the glory of God. If we take them seriously, then act like we take them seriously.
 
Third, be committed. The level of commitment required to make disciples of Jesus in our culture and context goes beyond regular church attendance, Bible study, and having good theology. The commitment level required to make disciples of Jesus who imitate and obey Him in our culture and context is life disrupting.
 
If the leadership and members of your church do not find the commitment to making disciples who imitate and obey Jesus to be seriously disruptive and inconveniencing, then you are probably not actually committed to making disciples of Jesus who imitate and obey Jesus.
 
If you are trying to disrupt the status quo of the culture and context around you; it should first and foremost disrupt your church and the lives of its members.
 
Finally, teach. And we don’t just mean teach something from the Bible. Just teaching something from the Bible is bare minimum effort. You can preach and teach from the Bible and never address anything of any consequence.
 
Instead, we must be willing to teach from the Bible exactly what needs to be taught in our immediate culture and context in order to address the specific issues of our immediate culture and context that are impeding us from being and making disciples of Jesus.
 
This might mean preaching and teaching things that have not been taught in our culture and context in decades and perhaps even centuries. But that is the point. The reason that we are in the mess we are in is because there are things in the Bible that we haven’t been teaching and emphasizing.
 
In fact, we would argue that we have not been teaching and emphasizing some of the most important things taught in Scripture in our culture and context.
 
To see what we are referring to, start here: The Four Principles of Discipleship…
 
If you are unwilling to preach and emphasize these things that Scripture clearly teaches and emphasizes; then you are just putting forth the bare minimum effort.
 
So, here’s where we get really harsh…
 
If you are not willing to be organized, be qualified, be committed, and teach Scripture at a level that is disruptive to your own lives and the life of your church; then you are not willing to make disciples of Jesus who imitate and obey Him in our immediate culture and context. Because, that is the cost of making disciples of Jesus in our culture and context and the bare minimum effort will simply not accomplish the task.
 
As Jesus said: “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish’” (Luke 14:28-30).
 
You might be fooling yourselves, and you might be fooling the members of your church; but you are not fooling Jesus.
 
Consider again the warning that Jesus issued to the Ephesian church:
 
“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Revelation 2:3-4).
 
So, how’s your lampstand?
 
 
 

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash