By Robby Gallaty
We’re standing at the end of centuries of Christian tradition that has crippled the body of Christ. We’ve started treating the church like it is a place you go as a believer, not a people you advance the kingdom with.
We’ve viewed church only as a hospital to bring people to instead of an equipping outpost to send people out from.
A Barna poll from 2018 revealed that 51% of churchgoers said they had “never heard of the Great Commission,” and that 25% of those polled can recall hearing the words but not knowing what they meant.
This means that the primary mission of the church—the mission that Jesus himself gave to his disciples—has been either watered down or replaced entirely.
Instead of making Jesus’ final words our first work, we’ve relegated them to instructions for staff members, thinking that our sole purpose is to come and sit, not go and serve.
The effect of this is undeniable and measurable. Three years ago, I headed up a task force to study the current state of my denomination and found something troubling: Over the last 20 years, we’d baptized around 7 million people, but the total number of people involved in our churches had dropped by 20,000.
Our task force proposed a single remedy: discipleship with Bible engagement.
No More Bystanders
Discipleship is at the heart of the Great Commission; it’s the last command that Jesus gave us before His ascension.
Here’s a functional definition of discipleship: intentionally equipping believers with the word of God through accountable relationships empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to replicate faithful followers of Christ.
When we start making disciples, we’ll see people—who once thought they belonged in a pew—begin to understand that their purpose is to reach a world that desperately needs Christ.
We’ll see people who view salvation and baptism as the beginning of a lifelong journey, not the finish line. The more we engage in disciple-making, the more vividly we’ll see the difference between someone who is just a gospel consumer and someone who is a gospel contributor.
Our churches are filled with both kinds of people. It is our job as leaders, disciple-makers and those who want the entire body of Christ to be healthy help move people from the first category to the second.
1. Consumers are spectators. Contributors are participants.
I’d guess that most Christians, at one point or another, feel inadequate to contribute to advancing the kingdom of God.
It’s not entirely their fault.
Every one of us is the byproduct of centuries of Christian tradition where clergy performed all of the ministry duties separate and apart from church members. As the catholic (universal church) became more Roman, the chasm between the pulpit and the pew widened.
However, Paul clearly stated the purpose of the clergy is to “equip the saints (believers) for the work of the ministry” (Ephesians 4:12).
The goal of ministers/leaders is to equip others, not execute all the ministry themselves.
As believers—and as contributors—we can help those who are young, stagnant or unstable in their faith get off the bench and start carrying out Jesus’ commands.
2. Consumers see themselves as cisterns to store truth. Contributors see themselves as channels to bestow blessing.
Every Christian could be compared to one of two bodies of water: the Jordan River or the Dead Sea.
The Jordan River is an active body of water, flowing from north to south. The Dead Sea, on the other hand, has no outlets. Water comes in from the north to the lowest point in the world, and it doesn’t flow back out. So the water is stagnant; it just sits there.
You’re either flowing, like the Jordan River, as God uses you to impact the lives of other people, or you are stagnant and lifeless, like the Dead Sea.
If we’re continually growing closer to and learning more about the Lord, we have one of two options: We can hoard what we’ve learned for ourselves, or we can use it for the benefit of others.
We can read all of the theology we want or copy all of the methods great people of God used to become who they were, but if we do it for the edification of nobody but ourselves, we’re proving to be unfaithful stewards of what God has given us.
3. A consumer criticizes everything that doesn’t line up with his or her preferences. A contributor appreciates what God is doing in the church.
Have you ever met someone with the gift of constructive criticism? If you’ve been in church long enough, I’m sure you have.
How many times have you heard of churches splitting over trivial matters? Picking fights over inconsequential details? Arguing about style rather than substance?
When we let things that aren’t the main thing divide us, it reveals exactly what we think about the body of Christ: It exists to cater to our own personal preferences.
When believers are not investing in others and being invested in, idle time affords them the opportunity to criticize others.
Discipleship groups force them to take ownership of their faith. These groups are incubators for spiritual growth, both for the person and the people they are investing in.
4. A consumer comes to “sit and get.” A contributor looks to go and serve.
There’s no conceivable way any church staff member could accomplish all the work for the gospel that needs to be done. They were never intended to be the ones doing that work in the first place.
As a gospel contributor, you’ll understand that the first word of the Great Commission wasn’t said to only one category of person; it was said to anyone who calls Jesus, “Lord.”
It’s completely fine to sit and be filled by biblical teaching or edification. But contributors will take it a step further. They know they’re being filled for the specific purpose of filling others who are still empty.
Think of the potential army of contributors sitting shoulder-to-shoulder each week in your padded seats or pews. What could God do if you mobilize them into the community to reach lost people and impact your city?
5. A consumer only takes in for themselves. A contributor pours out to others.
With the understanding that the work of the ministry isn’t reserved only for those engaged in it vocationally comes the realization that ministry is hard.
People can be taxing. That is why it’s increasingly crucial to be sure we are being filled from the only source who can sustain us to do his work: Jesus.
The gospel came to you because it was heading to someone else. You’re never learning for yourself, but for the people who will come after you.
If we continue to believe a half-gospel—that salvation is the finish line—those in our churches, in our communities, and in our homes will be comfortable being consumers instead of contributors.
We must ensure that we understand the critical nature of the work of the gospel in the life of believers after salvation. When we understand that the gospel is not only for the lost, we will be able to lead people to Jesus and teach them to be like him.
Making disciples is not something that only seminary-trained professors or pastors can do. You have the ability to create a disciple-making movement right where you are today.
ROBBY GALLATY (@Rgallaty) is the senior pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee. He’s the founder of Replicate.org and is the author of several books, including Growing Up: How to Be a Disciple Who Makes Disciples.