By David Roadcup
This month I want to stir the church leadership pot with three pertinent questions:
1. What does God want from us with regard to shaping the lives of church members? In other words, what is to be the ultimate outcome of our ministry?
Someone might say, “Why, evangelism, of course!” Evangelism is absolutely critical in God’s plan, but we need to go deeper. Someone else might say, “Discipleship and nurture.” Also true. Evangelism and discipleship are the two engines that drive us to fulfill God’s plan for his people.
But God’s ultimate goal for his church is found in Paul’s personal mission statement for his ministry. Paul had a laser-like focus for his work in the churches. He communicated this ultimate goal in Colossians 1:28, 29: “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.”
The apostle said his ultimate purpose in ministry was to be able to present every person complete or mature (teleios) in Christ at the final judgment when all of our works will be tested by fire (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). Note that Paul did not say evangelism (as important as it is) was his ultimate goal. Nor were preaching, teaching, and other forms of ministry (as important as they are) identified as his ultimate goal. Paul said his ultimate accomplishment was to present each convert complete or mature in Christ. And spiritual maturity is always expressed in dynamic transformation of life in Christ. Without transformation, there is no maturity. This is our ultimate goal until Heaven.
Paul described this transformative process for each believer in Romans 12:1, 2:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Paul was referring to the transformational process when he stated, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The word transformed in the Greek is metamorphousthe. We recognize metamorphosis, a derivative of this word, from high school biology class. It is the description of a caterpillar entering a cocoon, fulfilling the gestation period, and emerging as a beautiful butterfly. Or tadpoles transitioning into frogs. A truly amazing work of nature and magnificent demonstration of God’s handiwork!
It’s interesting Paul would use this word to describe what happens when a believer becomes a Christian. The key is this: Just as there is a change in the nature of a caterpillar as it becomes a butterfly, there should be a change in the nature of a person as he or she becomes a Christian. There is little change on the outside. Rather, the miraculous change is on the inside, in a person’s mind and heart.
When we genuinely come to Christ and yield our lives to him in obedience, our nature, our hearts, our interior worlds change to reflect the mind of Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul added yet another point of clarification: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” Paul reminded us that our new life in Christ involves a change for the better. After Christ, we are not the same. There is a change. A dramatic change. The old is gone. The new has come.
2. Do the lives of the people in our church truly reflect the transformational change of nature and life Paul described?
This is a hard issue for us to face. One of our struggles is that for decades, possibly without knowing it, we have developed an “easy believeism” in many of our churches. We have communicated to people that coming to worship, giving an offering, and being somewhat morally good is all that is required for transformation. The ideas of dying to oneself, surrendering to the lordship of Christ, giving up sin, obedience, fellowship, and service have not been taught in many congregations.
You may find it interesting that students of evangelism have identified classifications of people who need to be reached with the gospel. They are identified in the following manner:
E-1: Evangelism that reaches people who are geographically near and of similar culture to the congregation
E-2: Evangelism that crosses ethnic, cultural, and class barriers
E-3: Evangelism that crosses linguistic barriers
E-0: Evangelism that reaches the unconverted members of the congregation (also called “intra-evangelism”)
In type E-0 evangelism, people in need of being reached are sometimes called “notional members.” These are folks who attend services, give financially, and would count themselves active participants of the activities and ministries of the church. The true situation is, while being active and attending services, they have never undergone an authentic conversion experience, having been transformed in their interior worlds. George Barna’s research indicates that in today’s typical congregation, approximately 44 percent of all adult Americans who participate in church life are unconverted!
3. What can we do to lead believers to a true, personal, transformational experience in their spiritual journeys?
We must consider several key points:
A new approach may be necessary. If our past ministry approaches have not developed spiritual transformation, we must work together to develop a new approach/paradigm to ministry. Change is hard, but if changing our approach to ministry will create authentic, transformed disciples, we must make that change. To take our people to places they have never been in their spiritual lives, we must consider doing things we have never done.
Scripture conveys what we need to know about creating personal transformation. Teaching people about cultivating a desire for a personal relationship to Jesus, personal surrender, dying to self, Bible engagement, heartfelt obedience, fellowship, and service are all keys to the transformation of the hearts and lives of believers. The key question is, “What would this look like in a new paradigm?”
A relational approach to personal transformation is available. Discipleship.org is based on Jesus’ teaching and training methods. Jesus had a clear method of connecting with people and transforming their lives. When we use his methods, we see amazing results. Go to Discipleship.org, read about their annual training conference (the National Disciple Making Forum), and check out their free e-books. All of this will give you an excellent overview of Jesus’ relational method of discipling and how it can work in your church and ministry.
The following books are some of the best on this topic: The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman, 4 Chair Discipling by Dann Spader, Transforming Discipleship by Greg Ogden, and Growing Up by Robby Gallaty. Each will provide you with great information.
Elder brothers, Jesus is calling each of us and each person under our spiritual care to genuine, spiritual transformation. Let us proactively move forward to be able to present to the Great Shepherd, upon his return, spiritually transformed followers, their hearts filled with Jesus and his grace.
David Roadcup is cofounder and outreach director for e2: effective elders. He also serves as professor of discipleship and global outreach representative with TCM International Institute. He is on the board of directors of Christian Arabic Services.