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by David Moran

Mortgages of any amount require us to fill a building. Facilities create an obligation to gather a crowd, not (make) disciples. Our energies are exhausted in providing some- thing suitable to get (and keep) a crowd.
When it comes to the subject of discipleship, it is easy for Pentecostals to put an article down and assume too much. Before you do that in this instance, consider this: Our Pentecostal churches are filled with a crowd, not disciples.

Offended? Ponder this penetrating statement: “God will offend my mind to reveal my heart.” The offence we may sense in our mind serves to reveal the assumptions of our heart. As Pentecostals we presume that we are making disciples because of all our ministries. For the early church in the Book of Acts, the only ministry was disciple making.

The issues
In considering the issues, we must first begin with leadership. The Pentecostal Fellowship is primarily a reflection of combined leadership at all levels. As Pentecostal leaders the issue is about us and, more pointedly, me.

Our conferences have the proportional few at prayer times, as do our church prayer meetings. We behave at conference the same way our people behave at church. As leaders, when we are not in charge, we do not sense the same necessity to participate. It is no different from our local assembly. It is our spiritual passion and our discipleship as leaders that we must first inspect. We must begin by examining our own hearts.

A second issue is that we have developed a construal of success in ministry which is neither biblical nor conducive to disciple making. What we celebrate becomes a corporate value.

Million dollar mortgages require a crowd; however, the crowd is not the purpose of the church. You may have a crowd — even the largest crowd — but not be successful in ministry. Mortgages of any amount require us to fill a building. Facilities create an obligation to gather a crowd, not (make) disciples. Our energies are exhausted in providing some- thing suitable to get (and keep) a crowd.

Even more sinister is the realization that, as pastors and leaders, we are addicted to the crowd (to be honest). There is a propensity to have our insecurities assuaged and our egos massaged by the masses. Without the crowd we would be bankrupt in more ways than one.

Our goal must be toward transformed disciples, not just more people. Obedience to the Great Commission does not mean filling an auditorium; it is evidenced by making disciples. Jesus did not call us to gather a crowd, build facilities, or have the most fascinating technologies; He called us to make disciples. None of the other things are intrinsically wrong, but they must never replace making disciples as the priority.

The final issue is that true discipleship requires transformation, and only the Holy Spirit can do that. Out of our own wit and genius we can build buildings, preach passionately, and provide powerful productions, all to gather a bigger crowd. Yet we cannot change the life or lifestyle of another. We can make disciples only with the help of the Holy Spirit. That is why Jesus promised to be with us always—because we need His help to do it. That is why the Great Commission is really the Great Co-mission!

To ease the tension, we choose the path of least resistance. We default to familiar ways and to our giftedness. We continue to do church as we always have.

The discipleship dearth
Research indicates there is a disconnect between belief and behaviour, which demonstrates the discipleship dearth.

Consider some of the research in the area of faith and behaviour. The Barna Research Survey, Faith Has a Limited Effect On Most People’s Behavior (including born-again believers), concludes that “many Christians are hard-pressed to convert their beliefs into action”:

“The ultimate aim of belief in Jesus is not simply to possess divergent theological ideas but to become a transformed person. These statistics highlight the fact that millions of people who rely on Jesus Christ for their eternal destiny have problems translating their religious beliefs into action beyond Sunday mornings.”

In the online publication TheoCenTriC, author Richard Vincent drives to the heart of this issue.

The most important question that can be asked of a Christian church in order to discern the effectiveness of its discipleship is not ‘How many people are present?’ but ‘What are these people like?’ This has significant relevance for the watching world.

In Jesus Christ, Disciplemaker, author Bill Hull presents an important observation concerning the Greek word for disciple. It means learner, pupil, someone who learns by following. The word implies an intellectual process that directly affects the lifestyle of a person. Dick Foth said it best when he quipped: “We believe exactly what we practise; all the rest is religious froth.” The proof is in the practice.

The Great Commission is the reason for the church’s existence. It is important to
understand that the intent of Matthew 28:18-20 is quite definitive. We have used this verse to support the missions incentives of the PAOC for many years, and rightly so. But the scriptural directives to go, baptizing and teaching, are subordinate to the command of the main verb in the passage, which is to disciple or make disciples. Evidently, God called us to one thing and one thing alone—to make disciples!

If the church fails to respond to this focused call, we will have misunderstood our raison d’e╠étre. It would be the same as a pastor becoming so enthralled with the activities of the church that he or she failed to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. Again, Bill Hull speaks directly to the issue in a solution-oriented approach.

“Since discipleship indeed is the primary thrust of the commission we have been given, we must stop trying to ease our guilt by tacking it onto our existing structure as a subordinate program. Discipleship must function at the heart of church ministry.”

Meaningful solutions cannot be reduced to a programmatic approach toward discipleship.

The first solution begins with leaders and leadership. We must begin to inculcate a new understanding of what constitutes success in ministry. Jesus was never impressed with the crowd, but His disciples always had His attention. Who is the most successful pastor in the PAOC? Is it the one with the largest crowd? No, it is the one who is making the most disciples. The church growth movement has inadvertently helped us create a culture of
success that is predicated on the size of a church.

Second, spiritual formation must be restored as a primary goal for every believer in the church today. Ministry must demonstrate an emphasis on Christlike character and behaviour. This needs to become our focus and expectation.

Third, an intentional approach to discipleship must become the focal point of all our pastoral and church ministries. As myopic as that may appear, every ministry in the local church must be viewed through the single lens of discipleship.

Discipleship is not sexy enough to sell, so we massage our ministry with new language and adopt new emphases. The practice of the Pentecostals in Acts was that of whole life discipleship, which altered their values and priorities—even how they employed such resources as time and money.

Intentionally making disciples will determine our destiny, give us one priority, and make us truly missional—or perhaps “co-missional.”e
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DAVID MORAN—Along with pastoring in the PAOC, David Moran also served as the Assistant Superintendent-Ministries of the Eastern Ontario District. David's teaching and preaching ministry has enabled him to share in many churches and camps across Canada. He also ministers with his wife Heather in marriage retreat settings.
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