By Michael C. Mack
“If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you try to build the church, you will rarely get disciples.”
This quote from Mike Breen jumped off the page as I read his article, “Why the Missional Movement Will Fail,” several years ago. Apparently many others also found it compelling; the last time I checked, the article has more than 20,000 shares online.
As a discipleship and small groups guy, I’ve read lots of articles and have been involved in many discussions about whether churches and groups should emphasize discipleship or being “missional” (or discipleship vs. evangelism)—as if they are somehow diametrically opposed. Rather, I believe a strong commitment to discipleship—our mission—will lead us to serving our communities better, reaching lost people with the gospel, developing more and better leaders, and multiplying our churches and groups.
If you’re good at making disciples, you’ll get more leaders than you’ll know what to do with. If you make disciples like Jesus made them, you’ll see people come to faith who didn’t know him. If you disciple people well, you will always get the missional thing.
I think all church leaders would agree with that, so why are so many churches struggling to make disciples? Why are so many not growing, not bearing fruit, not winning the lost, not multiplying?
As I read our November issue about missions featuring the story of J. Russell Morse and his family, I kept coming back to the word commitment. I believe commitment is the missing ingredient in many American churches and small groups.
Churches struggle to carry out the Great Commission for a number of reasons, but I’m starting to think lack of commitment to biblical endeavors—or a fear of asking others to make such a commitment—is a primary cause.
Do we sometimes become distracted or overwhelmed by other lesser priorities?
Are we often afraid people may walk away if we ask for too much commitment?
I wonder if we sometimes lack the all-in, totally surrendered, self-forgetting, wholehearted devotion to God and his will that the early church had. Jesus calls us as he did them, “Come, follow me.” Jesus beckons us to a high call and high commitment. We know how his first disciples left everything to follow him (Matthew 4:19, 20; 19:27). And we remember that when want-to-be disciples chose not to make that kind of commitment, Jesus loved them but let them walk away (Mark 10:17-22; John 6:66).
The words that describe the actions of Jesus’ earliest followers after his death, resurrection, and ascension are vital: “They devoted themselves . . .” (Acts 2:42).
These committed followers devoted themselves to the right things, and the result was, “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (v. 47).
What will it take in today’s church to restore that kind of costly commitment?