Actions really do speak louder than words. It's not a cliche; it's spot on. Yeshua himself asserted, "...by their fruit you will recognize them" and "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Mt 7:20, 21).
In the coming months, I'll be teaching a course titled Growing Disciples Intentionally at a local seminary. During the course, we'll be juxtaposing Alan and Debra Hirsch's book Untamed with Jim Putman's book Real-Life Discipleship. Having already read the books, I find it fascinating how two authors/practitioners (I'm lumping the Hirsch's into one) can make precisely the same diagnosis, but prescribe two entirely different remedies. While some do not see a problem in this, I do. I'll explain more below.
More is "Caught" Than Taught
Excerpted from Real-Life Discipleship: Building Churches that Make Disciples by Jim Putman
Most pastors in the United States long to teach to a huge crowd of excited people on Sunday mornings: people packed into pews, pens and notebooks in hand, waiting for a download of all kinds of top-rate, inspiring information from the Bible. Amazingly, this kind of learning environment is exactly what a good schoolteacher would hate: a big classroom and a one-size-fits-all lecture style of teaching. Classroom teachers know that most people don't learn best by listening to lectures. Yet many pastors believe they are making disciples by preaching sermons that teach their congregations what the Bible says. They see discipleship as simply a transfer of knowledge from teacher to student, and the result will be a changed life. What makes this even less effective than a classroom environment is that church is only one time a week for most Christians. According to some assessments, Christians go to church only 1.6 times a month. No wonder most believers don't have a biblical worldview. Many pastors lament the fact that most Christians are too busy to come to more than a worship service, so they pour all they have into that one venue. As a result, they have created a knowledge-based environment for discipling; they put all the emphasis and focus on the worship service and sermon on Sunday morning (2010:47).
I should note that while I favor the Hirsch's ecclesiology, for multiple reasons I favor Putman's tone. Regardless, both books present valuable insights.
Someone once told me that inappropriate content-minded conservatives and liberals don't see Rated R movies for different reasons. Conservatives pass on R movies because of sexually explicit content. Liberals don't go because of violence. Interesting: two entirely different thought patterns. Similarly, conservatives and liberals often see the treatment of the AIDS virus in juxtaposing ways. While liberals want to spend millions on a cure, conservatives would rather focus on prevention (i.e., hygiene and abstinence).
In the excerpt above, Jim Putman (a megachurch pastor in Idaho) is clearly aware of the Sunday "show" as he calls it (2010:19). At the same time, Putman seems to be anti-organic. Putman asserts somewhat sarcastically, "So where did the church go wrong, and what is the solution if not the trend toward the 'organic' church movement?" (2010:11) Hmmm. It looks like we have a difference of opinion here. Both the Organics and the Conventionals seem to be aware of the problem, but significantly differ on the solution. The question is, Are there two solutions? At least part of the answer is yes. To use a metaphor, while I fall on the side of AIDS prevention, I am certainly not anti cure. But the bigger question remains. What's better? The cure or the no-cure-necessary cure?
These questions, to be sure, are complex. While both the Organics and Conventionals contextualize the gospel for their hearers, both seem to have differing views on what is over-contextualizing. For the Organics, the "show" plays too much into consumer ideology. For the Conventionals, the idea of subversive "house" churches flies in the face of a holy and visible church.
While space will not permit me to fully articulate my thoughts, I contend the larger a church, the more aware its leaders need to be aware of what I call the "feedback loop." Something akin to the feedback process on a sound system (that awful screeching sound), the congregation "sounds back" to the leadership what it hears, sees, and feels. If any semblance of a co-dependant relationship exists, the screeching ensues in the form of nominal Christianity. Like I said, it's quite complex and am now realizing the topic is much too big for a tidbit. No matter, it's food for thought.