CHALLENGE TO DISCIPLESHIP
Ralph Rittenhouse

Chuck Colson once described the American church as "3000 miles wide and one-inch deep." Despite a large evangelical presence, its impact on society is minimal.


The issue, according to Cal Thomas, isn't external forces but undisciplined, Biblically ignorant Christians. In contrast, Christianity thrives in countries like China and India. U.S. churches are closing at an alarming rate.


The problem may lie in misinterpreting the Great Commission—making disciples. The Camarillo Community Church embraced discipleship in small groups.


Priorities of Jesus

Jesus prioritized a few over crowds. His final command was to make disciples who, in turn, make more disciples. Authentic faith is demonstrated through active obedience to Christ's commands—discipleship.


The late Chuck Colson, a well-known Christian leader in our country, said the church in America is 3000 miles wide, and one-inch deep. Basically, we’re a country of spiritual lightweights. Surveys show that as high as 49% of Americans, identify themselves as evangelical or born again. But Christians are having tragically little effect on the moral climate of the culture.


Newspaper columnist, Cal Thomas, who is a Christian, challenged the church to look at the quality of its discipleship. He wrote that the problem in the culture isn’t the abortionists. It isn’t the pornographers or drug dealers or criminals. It is the undisciplined, undiscipled, disobedient, and Biblically ignorant Christians.

 

The number of divorces inside the church, is only 1 percentage point better than the number of divorces outside the church. Instead of expanding numbers of new churches, and increased attendance, we’re closing churches in our country, at the rate of 3000 per year.


But a surprising thing is, that in countries like China, India and Africa, Christianity is flourishing. Churches are multiplying, and the number of committed Christians is growing rapidly.

 

Churches have lost 40 million people in the last 25 years. Pastors across the country are asking the question, what are we doing wrong?

 

I think the problem is that we have mistranslated the Great Commission. 2000 years ago Jesus told his followers, to go into all the world and make disciples.


If I asked a hundred pastors in America, what Jesus’ last command to his disciples was, few, if any of them would not be able to answer. In fact most could quote his command word for word. Matthew 28:18-20,

 

“I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth, therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all that I have commanded you. And be sure of this, I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 

Most pastors would probably have no trouble with the question. Jesus’ last command was to go into all the world and make disciples. Now if I asked them to name his disciples, I think most would be able to name nine or ten.


But, if then I asked them to name their disciples, I might just get blank stares. Some might name a deacon or two, maybe even a few. But I know if you had asked me that question, a few years ago, I would have found it difficult to offer up any real results.

 

This is our great omission in the Great Commission – making disciples. In the early months of 2010 the ministry leadership team, at Camarillo Community Church, read a book by Dr. Greg Ogden, titled Transforming Discipleship.


Completing his doctoral work at Fuller Seminary, in southern California, he stumbled onto an amazing discovery, discipling in small triads or quads.

 

THE BEGINNING OF THE CHURCH IN THE WORLD

 

In Luke 5 Jesus was preaching to a great crowd on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus offered his bold invitation, to join him in fishing for people, they left everything and followed him. Jesus spent the next 3½ years discipling them, and then sent them out to do the same. He sent them out to disciple others. Jesus was calling them out of their vocation and former life, into a new lifestyle; a lifestyle of discipleship.

 

“Come, follow me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.”

-Mark 1:17 (NASB)

 

This was the invitation and challenge, to leave everything else behind; to abandon their nets, their boats and possessions, their relationships, vocations, aspirations, dreams and plans, to pursue something completely new and different.


In essence, it was asking them to join with Jesus, to do the work that he had been sent to earth to do. And not everyone followed that he invited. There were some who walked away because the “ask” was just too big; the challenge too great. That’s why he assured us, that he would be with us always. He doesn’t abandon us, leaving us out here on our own, to do this job.

 

Sometimes we have to make a choice. Do we invest in the crowd or do we invest in a few? Most pastors I know, if they were attracting crowds the size Jesus was attracting, would immediately launch a building program.

 

Jesus is seen here resisting the lure of the crowd; crowds being the primary goal in most ministries. Instead he chooses to invest in a few men.


Now He didn’t completely ignore the crowd. In fact, he demonstrated great compassion for them, but he was obviously convinced that the only way to reach the masses, was to build into the lives of the few, and trust the multiplication miracle, that occurs when we use the biblical method.


He still requires total abandonment of self, and full adoption of His earthly mission; the complete release of this life, with unrestricted dedication to the one he gives.

 

THE INTENTION OF THE CHURCH

 

In his final moments before his ascension back into heaven to be with his Father, he gives his final instructions, his final command.

 

“I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth, therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the command I have given you. And be sure of this, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

-Matthew 28:18-20

 

This is Jesus’ final command. It summarizes his purpose for coming to earth, and his purpose for the church for centuries to come. It concisely states his complete intention, for every sincere Christ-follower. Of all things happening in heaven and on earth today—this task is most important.


There is no higher authority. It comes from the mouth of Jesus, the incarnate Son of God. There is no greater calling; there is no more important activity or vocation. Discipleship is not an option. And it is not complete, until the new disciples are obeying all his commands. And his final command is what?


Jesus prioritizes our lives for us. He’s not saying other relationships aren’t important. He just wants to be sure that you get it; that you understand which is most important. This is the primary indicator of a true follower of Christ. This is the tell-tale distinctive sign of someone obedient to Christ. This is the mark; the characteristic that distinguishes the fan from the follower: making disciples.


Now look what happens: the miracle of multiplication. If you were a zealous evangelist and you could lead one person to Christ every day. At the end of one year you would have 365 new Christians.


If you led only one person to Christ that year, but spent the entire year teaching that person how to make disciples, at the end of one year there would be two of you. Follow the chart and you’ll see the genius of God’s method.


By year 16 the discipler has reached far more people. If you continued the multiplication process another 14 years, a total of 30 years, you would disciple every person on the planet.


“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my father in heaven will enter.”

-Matthew 7:21

 

Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount with a powerful illustration about the wisdom of obedience and the foolishness of ignoring his instructions--it’s the difference between building a house on rock or on sand. German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,

 

“Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”

 

Believing without discipleship, isn’t really believing; it’s just verbal or intellectual agreement. Real faith is a faith that follows; that obeys Christ’s commands. Discipleship, following Christ and embracing His mission, is the proof that our faith is authentic.


-Ralph Rittenhouse

Excerpt

Chuck Colson once described the American church as "3000 miles wide and one-inch deep." Despite a large evangelical presence, its impact on society is minimal.

"The problem in the culture isn’t the abortionists. It isn’t the pornographers or drug dealers or criminals. It is the undisciplined, undiscipled, disobedient, and Biblically ignorant Christians." - Cal Thomas

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