I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don't want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Does this sound like any Christians you know? I've met many in my lifetime. In fact, I've encountered entire churches filled with such believers. A few years ago a pastor called to tell me he was leaving his church for another. Since I would be working with the pastor search committee after he was gone I asked what he felt this church needed most. He immediately replied that many in the congregation needed to become more serious about being disciples of Jesus Christ. Most were content to attend Sunday services when convenient but were not interested in doing much more than that. The pastor said that a number in the church could be classified as mean-spirited. I had met them in the past and mentally agreed with that assessment. If you asked them they would tell you how they were growing as disciples, but there was little spiritual fruit evident in many of their lives. They also could not understand why their church could never seem to accomplish much good or grow.
This church isn't alone in their lack of discipleship. A few years ago I spoke with a leader in a different denomination who was concerned about the low level of spiritual development seen in many of the churches he served. He said even in the churches that are growing, many of them were only growing in numbers on Sunday morning. Discipleship training opportunities were rather poorly attended even in their faster growing churches. His concern was that a few years from then, when this new crop of Christians became leaders in their churches, they would not have the spiritual maturity to provide good leadership. He saw many of their churches being led with a CEO mentality rather than a servant mentality due to the lack of discipleship training many of their new converts were receiving.
One of the many challenges facing the church today is raising the expectations for our membership in the area of discipleship. As in many things in life, we tend to get what we expect. If you expect little you usually receive little. If you expect more, and let people know you expect more, you often get more. The church needs to raise the bar on discipleship expectations, and that is not going to be easily done in many of our existing churches. It will be difficult to convince a congregation to approve expecting more from new people than they've been asked to give in the past. Their fear will be they will now be expected to meet the new standards! Despite the difficulty, such higher expectations must be developed. Even a cursory reading of the words of Jesus will reveal that He did not hesitate to set very high demands for anyone who would call themselves a disciple. We really do not have the right to change those demands even though we have.
I encourage you to spend some time this fall thinking about the discipleship training your church now offers and the expectations you have for that training as well as the expectations the church has for the spiritual growth of its membership. If you find this area of ministry lacking in your church, can you find two or three things you could do in 2013 to begin to turn that around? How can you best implement them? What results would you hope to get if your implementation was successful?
One last word. There have been times when I've been content with $3 worth of God myself. My guess is that most of us could identify similar times in our own lives. Let us never be content with that level of relationship with our Lord and Savior. If you are already not doing so, identify what you need to do in your own life to grow spiritually in 2013. Just because you are in the ministry doesn't mean that such growth will happen automatically. Be intentional about your own spiritual development. I already have a book in my library that I plan to start studying on January 1: Why Jesus?: Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality by Ravi Zacharias. I read the book earlier this year, but I want to dig a little deeper into it as I begin 2013 for my own personal growth.
Much of this post was adapted from my latest book The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision.