Everybody knows that we have a supply chain problem in America in 2022. It’s irritating. It’s frustrating. And it’s hard to put a finger on exactly what the problem is. All I know for sure is that there are a lot of items “missing” when I go to the store.
After twenty-two months of the COVID pandemic in America, the church has its own supply chain problem:
A few decades ago, very few churches thought seriously about disciple-making pathways or leadership pipelines:
- Some churches put their faith in the spontaneous evangelizing and one-on-one discipling work of their The people were the most important program.
- Other churches put most of their eggs in the basket of their church’s program which had almost always been inherited from their fathers and their fathers. You know the drill: Adult Sunday school classes, Sunday morning worship services, Sunday night services, Wednesday night prayer meetings. We never thought much about whether our new converts were getting what they needed to grow up in Christ. We threw people into our congregations and hoped that they would learn the things they needed to learn to make it to Christian maturity. In many cases, people just learned how to “behave like Christians,” and we assumed that they were spiritually mature.
A few great thinkers came along and challenged our assumptions. I’ll mention only one of them here, but many more could be listed and lauded:
Dann Spader helped us see that Jesus’ command to “make” disciples invites comparisons to educational institutions and manufacturing processes. How are disciples made? Spader’s understanding – based on Matthew 28:18-20 – was: winning the lost, building up believers and equipping workers. The founder of Sonlife Ministries discovered that most evangelical churches were expending almost all of their energy on one of those three activities: building up believers. The same people were being endlessly “built up” (or fattened up?) with Bible knowledge, but they weren’t winning the lost and most of them weren’t interested in being equipped for leadership either.
Spader’s work was a real eye-opener. We went to work on creating systems for making disciples: curricula, pathways, pipelines. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m a big believer in this. We should think long and hard about the disciples we’re seeking to produce – for God’s glory – and just what it takes to help lost and irreligious people become church leaders. (Next week I’ll write more about the enormous value of having a good discipleship pathway in your congregation.)
And then, instead of getting the church back to the paradigm of disciples making new disciples, who are helped along in their journey by church families which have thought carefully about what is needed to help new believers grow, we went right back to trying to “front-load” our systems with converts whom we draw in our doors with ever more attractive Sunday services.
I’m not advocating unattractive services. I like sharp web sites, newly paved parking lots, nice buildings, great welcome centers, top-notch coffee, excellent worship bands and easy-to-listen-to sermons, just like everybody else.
But there were two big problems with our attractional (win the people we get in our doors on Sunday) philosophy:
(1) As above, there’s no substitute for disciple-making disciples infiltrating the real world. In many churches, the paradigm for a mature disciple does not include an evangelism component. The Navigator’s “wheel” diagram assumed that seeking to make new disciples is a normal part of a healthy Christian life. Not so, in many of our congregations. Our “best” people are too busy doing church to even pursue any contact with non-Christian people.
(2) Our attractional strategy isn’t attractive enough anymore. Here are just a few of the reasons why this has happened: (a) “The church” is increasingly disliked by the American public (b) America’s political divide has frightened away many who associate the church with a single political perspective (c) People are afraid of coming to church and catching COVID (d) We accidentally conveyed the idea that watching a worship service at home is an acceptable substitute for actually assembling with “the assembly” (the church) (e) The end of cultural Christianity has removed the incentive, for many, to attend a church (f) Many churches are now struggling to provide their former Sunday morning “attractions,” especially staffed nurseries and children’s ministries.
So what do we do now? Is the supply chain problem going to kill us?
Absolutely not. It might even be doing us a big favor. Next week’s post will explore ways we can reverse our supply chain crisis.