I have lots of thoughts swirling in my head about sterility, reproduction, and organic versus artificial life and growth. Let’s see if I can pull them together into anything coherent. I will start with a story…
When our kids were little, we raised butcher chickens so that they (the kids) would have daily chores. In the spring, we would get a box of cute little chicks in the mail. We kept them warm under lights and fed them high-octane feed. In a matter of months, the chickens that survived were fully grown and plump. Then we brought the chickens in crates to “visit” Fred.
These chickens were genetically engineered for fast growth. I am not sure if they would be classified as hybrid or mutant. My husband, Farmboy, says that in crops and grains, fast-growing hybrids also lack reproductive ability.
How this relates to discipleship
It is vitally important that we understand the genetic reality of spiritual life, the organic nature of spiritual growth, and the inherent reproductivity of the life of Christ, beginning with the reality that we are born of the Spirit and that all growth and reproduction is a function of the Spirit.
The gospel of the kingdom has been distorted in many ways. There is the evangelical gospel of personal salvation which reduces the gospel message to a guarantee of heaven and insurance from hell. The seeker gospel promises answers for our personal problems and felt needs. The prosperity gospel assures us that God only wants the best for us.
Church membership numbers are not necessarily an accurate reflection of growth in the kingdom. Megachurch member rosters are filled with transfer members. Counting decisions for Christ usually leads to exaggerated claims and coerced conversions. Not only that, it treats conversion as a single transaction and diminishes the ongoing nature and process of salvation, dismissing the reality that the journey to knowing God is a lifelong endeavor with many moments of decision and commitment.
So yeah, the missional church might not have large congregations of converts. Instead we are attempting to make disciples in a manner in which conversion is viewed in the context of establishing a long-term relationship with Jesus and with other believers which may not be reflected in the roster of a particular church organization.
This from David Watson:
Making disciples is about a relationship with Christ that results in a lifestyle of obedience to the commands of Christ which requires disciples to make more disciples. Making converts is about adhering to the doctrine of a particular faction, church, denomination, sect or religion. One can convert without becoming a disciple of Christ.
I think that we often circumvent the real life of the Spirit in conversion methods, discipleship methods, and in the way that we function together as groups of believers. What are the ways that we tamper with natural growth and unintentionally cause lack of reproduction and other genetic deformities?
Sometimes, in a rush to notch our evangelism belt or perhaps our genuine fear of car and truck accidents, we rush people to a decision statement prematurely rather than trusting the work of the Spirit that is already occurring.
Then in a rush to transform our new converts into shiny, happy christians we train them into every aspect of cultural christianity rather than trusting the process of transformation by the Spirit that begins within before it becomes evident to others. The goal is to get them looking and acting like good christians as soon as possible.
So we feed them high-octane food in order to grow quickly.
Oops! Wrong story. Back to talking about church.
We give them high-octane teaching in order to grow quickly. Many formats for discipleship revolve around teaching which is evidence that we see growth as transfer of information and knowledge.
One of the things we have to ask ourselves is if our practices are effective in making disciples. Do our programs and services produce “fully devoted followers of Christ?” At what point did we begin interpreting that phrase to mean people who are committed to the needs of the church organization? When we disciple them into serving the programs of the church we are producing members, not necessarily disciples.
Organic growth – It isn’t pretty
Organic growth can be messy. It usually isn’t straightforward and doesn’t necessarily produce uniform results.
Are we willing to patiently allow the real work of transformation by the Spirit in a person’s life instead of expecting them to conform their behavior before it is an internal reality?
Will we ever trust that the Holy Spirit could catalyze and orchestrate community and gathering?
How insistent are we that individual and corporate lives look a certain way – uniform, ideal, polished?
How enamored are we with our methods?
If we were to admit the real lack of reproduction within the church, perhaps we would discover that the reason for our sterility is that we have abandoned our true genetic nature and failed to rely on the life of the Spirit for growth and reproduction.