Last week I was swimming at our local rec. center, and somewhere around lap thirty, I made an interesting observation. Swimming down one end, I had a goal to fix my eyes on, there was an easily identifiable mark that I was swimming to, but when I turned around and went the other way, I would veer off course and go into another lane. On the home stretch, there was no clear marker and I found myself off course. Without constant focus on every stroke, I found myself on a collision course with another swimmer.
And as I thought about it, we’ve done that a bit with spiritual disciplines and direction in the church. We’ve made it easy for a whole generation of Christians to love the church and not know Jesus. We’ve created systems for people to thrive under disciplines but never experience the one for whom we practice the discipline. The church has made a living off of selling goods and services yet never told people the cost of following.
What we need to do is take a step back from the adopted policies and procedures and see if they are actually fulfilling their intended desire. Sunday School classes, Bible studies, and most forms of Christian education have a noble desire: to teach people more about God and faith. But I’ve also noticed that many of them have the end goal of knowledge, and not implementation. What we’ve missed along the way is that real faith should inspire (and demand) a change in attitude, belief, or practice. For people to have actually encountered the risen Christ, they must be different somehow. Anyone that can sit through a class or Bible study, and not have been changed in the process, has not met Jesus.
Our educational practices, much like my swimming, has gone off course. We proceeded into uncharted territories (post-modernism and post-Christianity) and not kept our eyes on the goal. We’ve allowed our direction and focus to change, from the one thing that matters (Jesus) and onto a whole host of other things that are good, but not the goal.
We’ve made it easy for a whole generation of Christians to love the church and not know Jesus. We’ve created systems for people to thrive under disciplines but never experience the one for whom we practice the discipline. The church has made a living off of selling goods and services yet never told people the cost of following.
What we must realize is that any venture into the future renewal of the church must be done by reclaiming our focus into a single solitary goal: discipling people into the ways of Jesus. We must learn to say ‘no’ to anything that doesn’t meet that goal. We must be willing to deny ourselves the temporary self-gratification of accomplishing tasks for the greater eternal pleasure of having advanced the Kingdom. We must create systems that don’t feed peoples need for consumption, but get them to count the cost and choose God’s greater desire. We must venture away from a peddling of wares and into the loving embrace of the Savior that wants to be with us. We must reclaim the lost art of true discipline: an encounter with the resurrected Jesus.