(This is the first in a series of classic columns by David Faust we are sharing to commemorate and celebrate his 25th anniversary of writing weekly essays. These writings are some of Dave’s favorites. Read a different “classic” column every day through Aug. 3.)
DAVE INTRODUCES THIS COLUMN FROM MAY 4, 1997: “Cloning was big news in the late 1990s when scientists in Scotland announced they had successfully cloned a sheep named Dolly. (She was named for the singer Dolly Parton. It’s true—you can look it up.) Jim Eichenberger, my coworker on the editorial staff at Standard Publishing, led a devotion for our employees and used Dolly the sheep as an illustration about how the Good Shepherd adds people to his flock. Jim’s insights prompted me to write the following article about the basics of discipleship.”
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By David Faust
DO YOU WANT your church to grow? Most Christians immediately say “yes.” But do you want growth badly enough to accept the changes, take the risks, and get personally involved in the work?
Why do you want your church to grow? To impress others? To mimic other “successful” churches? Does the plight of lost people weigh heavily on your heart? The Lord told us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . . and teaching them” (Matthew 28:18, 19). What other motivation do we need than love for Christ and the people for whom he died?
How will you help your church grow? New Testament Christians grew up in their relationship with God (by devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer). They grew together (by helping the needy and gathering regularly for worship). They grew stronger (as the Spirit worked powerfully among them). The grew out (by meeting in homes and spreading the gospel across the Roman empire). And the church grew bigger (as the Lord added to their number those who were being saved).
Dynamic church growth occurs not merely when preachers or missionaries do their work, but when the whole body of Christ labors together. Most people come to Christ because a trusted friend or family member sought, brought, or taught them.
Do you know someone like the Ethiopian who reads his Bible but needs someone to explain it? Do you know someone like Saul who angrily opposes the church but might turn around if confronted with Jesus? Do you know someone like Cornelius—a responsible citizen and family man who prays and gives to charity but hasn’t heard the gospel? Do you know any business people with receptive hearts like Lydia? Or people like the Philippian jailer who ask earnest questions about salvation during moments of crisis? Do you know some deep thinkers like the leaders of Athens who need clear-thinking Christians to challenge their worldviews and confront their doubts? Or sincere students like Apollos who would gladly attend a Bible study in your home?
Folks like these, from varied walks of life, all accepted Christ the same basic way. A trustworthy person told them the truth, and they listened. Someone lovingly encouraged them to believe and repent, and they responded. Someone forthrightly told them about baptism, and they welcomed it. And as their freshly-found hope and joy overflowed, these newborn disciples themselves became messengers of grace.
Not long ago, scientists cloned a sheep in England. But you can’t clone God’s sheep. Instead, God asks us to find, feed, love, and nurture unique people made in his image. We can benefit from attending seminars and reading articles and books about evangelism and church growth. But none of our knowledge will matter if we don’t connect with real people who need Christ. No magic formula, no technique dreamed up in a church growth laboratory, can replace the power of personal discipleship.
God isn’t looking for clones, but for committed Christians who will pour their lives into others one by one.