Success in the Early Church and Today

              In this 21st century we seem to be convinced that numerical growth of the church is the only evidence of real success.  In the United States especially the “numbers” thing dominates our idea of a truly “successful church”.

I am personally convinced that this is a deadly error.

It is the deadly error that causes church leadership to lower its discipleship standards for church membership.   Because we must have numbers to be successful, we must be extremely careful not to expect members of the church to be serious disciples.  Such expectations could limit membership growth statistics, budgets, and building programs.

It seems easier to attract “clients” than disciples.    The evangelism and disciple-making of previous years has produced a generation of professing Christians, sometimes merely nominal Christians, who are looking for a church that “meets their needs”.  Business management leadership in the church, therefore, is responding to “clients” rather than to serious disciples.  “Client” Christians are pleased when the church they find provides an outward show of orthodoxy without challenging them to the kind of serious commitment that real discipleship requires.  The pews become filled with “customers” and “club members” and the pastor is serving them as their “chaplain”, willing to pronounce his blessing on any life-style they happen to choose.

This may sound cynical, but how do we account for the fact that divorce is almost as common in the evangelical church as it is among non-church members and even atheists.   I still remember a 1999 headline in the Huntsville Times (our local newspaper) giving us statistics indicating that Baptists (so numerous in our Southland) were right up there with the Atheists in their divorce statistics.

And how do we account for the fact that many of our evangelical churches take no disciplinary action against members who are guilty of unbiblical divorce?  Too often this is even true in the PCA (my denomination), as in those Baptist churches noted above.  And the issue is not just divorce.  Abortion is frequently ignored.  Pornography goes unchecked.  Members allow their children to watch X-rated movies and to associate freely with unchristian and undisciplined friends.  Nobody seems to care if membership entirely ignores family worship and regular church attendance.  Is there any discipleship standard at all for present day church membership?

O.K., so this blog has turned negative, critical, unsympathetic, even legalistic.

Before you make this conclusion, be sure you look honestly at what is happening in the church.

Then, look again at the alternative this blog has been offering – RADICAL RESURRECTIONISM!

The Apostle Paul was a “radical resurrectionist”.   He met the Risen Lord on the Road to Damascus and he never “recovered”.  Paul was so awed by the wonder and the joy of that first meeting with Christ that his mind and heart were forever filled with that grand experience.  He could write whole chapters of the Bible on the resurrection of Jesus (I Corinthians 15, for instance) and when he wrote on any other subject Paul’s resurrection perspective was inescapable, giving beauty and meaning to everything he touched.

Sin had been a cruel taskmaster that ruled the life of Saul of Tarsus.  Astounded by the Resurrection and Ascension, overwhelmed by forgiveness through the crucifixion, overjoyed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, captivated by the Sovereign Lordship of Jesus Christ, he became “the righteousness of God” (II Cor. 5:21), a “new creation” (II Cor. 5:17) dedicated to leading others into the true freedom of genuine discipleship.

And so did Paul the Apostle set the example for all pastors and church leaders from that day to this.

Resurrectionist leadership is discipling leadership.  It produces Godly membership, joyful participation in serious service to Christ, happy living in anticipation of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

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