Making Disciples by Keeping Our Heads Down

Wesley before Easter 10:45 worship 2010

That old cartoon image of the ostrich with his/her head in the sand whenever danger is around is always used as an image of someone who just doesn’t get it.  When your head is in the sand, you are unaware of the challenges and dangers around you – you are oblivious as the world passes by.

In a lot of blogs and articles about making disciples, there seems to be a lot of discussion about what disciple making actually is and how disciple making actually occurs and where disciple making takes place and who it is that actually makes good disciples.  Then there are those that don’t like the term “make” disciples.  They want to form them or mold them or spontaneously combust them or magically cultivate them like a ch-ch-ch-chia pet.

There are also a lot of voices out there discussing how older Christians over 50 don’t know what it takes to make young disciples under 40.  There are those who insist “traditional” worship can’t reach new, younger disciples.  There are those who say the church isn’t “missional” enough, or “emergent” enough, or (insert-latest-catch-phrase-word-here) enough.

I read the blogs and the articles and the critiques all over the internet regarding making disciples and the United Methodist Church and Call to Action, and to be honest, most of them actually create in me the desire to stick my head in the sand. When did making disciples become nuclear particle physics??

Author Robin Sharma recently posted,  “The amateur adores complexity, the professional cherishes simplicity.”  So is my head in the sand, or am I keeping my head down?  They mean two completely different things.

Reading blogs and articles online, one would think that only new, emergent, contemporary churches are growing and successful.  I will admit, I am bothered by this assumption many people have in the United Methodist Church.  I don’t have anything against new churches.  Many are growing at amazing rates making many new disciples.  I am concerned about what we are modeling to our clergy and churches.  Are we communicating that we are ‘incapable’ of making disciples unless we throw out tradition?

Many traditional churches are growing and making disciples effectively.  For example, the vast majority of new members joining Wesley United Methodist Church at Frederica on St. Simons Island where I serve (a traditional church) are under 40 years old.  While we are a traditional church, we are not “conventional” to use Thomas Merton’s term.  We strive to be authentic, relevant, creative and relational.  I wish I could tell you we were trying to be “different”, but we’re not.  In essence, we just do what we do.  We are not trying to over think it or over analyze it.  Can we do better?  Sure!  But we learn more through trial and error, which is a more dynamic yet simple way to learn than policy statements, strategic models, and prescriptions.  Statements and prescriptions are merely secondary reinforcing mechanisms.  They merely reinforce culture that already exists.  If a church isn’t making disciples, you can have all the mission statements and strategies you want, they won’t really change anything.  People have to model making disciples – it happens person to person, in real time…in real life.  Sorry, but that’s the only way it works.

What we do at Wesley isn’t flashy, but it’s working.  Of the 70 new members who joined in 2011, almost 60% were under 45, and most were under 40.  We are learning from our mistakes.  We are loving one another.  We are caring for one another.  We are growing in our knowledge of Christ.  We are growing in our service of others.  We are meeting in nurturing groups.  We are inviting others to participate.  That’s it.  That’s the list.

I’m going to keep my head down.  If you want to say its in the sand, that’s okay.  I don’t mind…really.  I just hope we will all keep in mind that if we are truly concerned about the transformation of the world then let us recapture the beauty of simplicity.

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