You Won’t Keep Them All
By Carlton L. Coon, Sr.
In Building High Commitment in a Low Commitment World, Bill Hull wrote, “My experience has shown that where high commitment is taught as normal, as many as 50 to 65 percent will achieve it.” If Hull is correct: What happens where low commitment is the norm?
Mark, Chris, Margie, Jim, Steve, Tiny, Karen, Amber, Wanda, Jerry, Heather, Becky, Brad, Monique, Terry, Doug, Linda, Pam, Teri, Daniel, Robert, Nicole, Brandon, Anthony, Trudy – these names don’t mean much to you, but they mean much to me.
They are some of my failures. That isn’t all of them. Hundreds more are on the list – born again but not discipled.
I seem to have a problem. The list of those who did not become disciples is considerably longer than the list of those who did. I’m a mess.
Of course, by church growth measures Jesus was a failure. He had attracted a crowd of over 3,000. He then talked about the cross. Jesus’ audience shrunk to twelve. I’ve lost people, but never at quite that pace.
Jesus’ approach was unusual. A rich, young man asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded with some references to Moses’ teachings. The man replied, “These I’ve kept since I was a boy.” Jesus raised the bar, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor” (Mark 10: 17-22). The fellow went away. Several things to note:
* Jesus did not negotiate expectations. He let the rich, young ruler leave.
* Jesus did not change His expectations based on a person’s place in society. In reality, the rich, young ruler’s assets were his idol. When idols are made an issue – many join the rich young ruler and walk away.
* The rich, young ruler was willing to be a convert, but not willing to pay the price of discipleship. He wanted religion that was convenient, but not one that affected his comfort. Many of my “failures” were a modern version of the rich young ruler.
Jesus dealt with things in such a way that people had to make a decision. Jesus had high expectations. If someone did not want to live up to those high expectations, He was totally willing to let them walk away.
No pastor keeps everyone, and you choose who you lose. Knowing you won’t keep every convert does not excuse giving it your best effort. The Director’s Communiqu has been giving proven approaches to keep every convert you can. Disciple-making should be the focus of EVERY ministry in the church, but even then you won’t keep them all.
As a frustrated novice pastor, Jeff Ralston phoned his mentor Marrell Cornwell. Perhaps having received a word from the Lord, Bro. Cornwell said, “Let the backslider backslide,” and hung up.
What Does Harvest Look Like?
In Jesus’ era, you gathered sheaves. Sheaves were taken to a threshing floor. It took time and effort to turn an ingathering into a useable harvest.
1. On the threshing floor an ox walked on the sheaves breaking the grain from the stalk. The broken stalks were swept aside.
2. What survived the breaking process was tossed up while a large hand-fan stirred the air. The fan blew the “fluff’ away. What the fan did not blow away fell to the threshing-floor. Most of what now lay on the threshing-floor was grain – not fodder or fluff.
3. The remainder, which was only a minute part of the original ingathering – was shaken through a sieve to filter away the tiny particles of chaff.
What remained was available to plant for future harvest, or to be put to use at the dinner table. If there is no winnowing process the good grain was as of little use as the stalks or the chaff.
Not good for bread.
Not good for reproduction.
Luke 14 records three negative remarks regarding discipleship. Jesus said, You can’t be My disciple if you don’t:
Love me more than your family (v. 26)
Take up your cross daily and follow me (v. 27)
Give up your own version of idolatry (v. 33).
Jesus intentionally eliminated the stalks and chaff from the wheat. Jesus had 3,000 attendees, but after a process He had 12 disciples. Breaking, shaking, and sifting divided the useable from the gathered. Until new converts go through the threshing-floor you never know what you really have.
This is a challenge for some of us. We measure significance by the number who gather to worship. “You can always get a crowd, if you demand very little and put on a show. The attendance assessment is weak. It is flawed because it does not ask, “How many of these people are committed?” Sunday is a poor measure of commitment. Commitment is measured by calendar and checkbook. Midweek, small group attendance, consistent involvement in the church’s prayer program, having an active ministry role in the church and the giving report are better tools for evaluating disciples. Bringing people to these commitments becomes a threshing-floor for new believers.
I’m not espousing the “fewer and purer.” I’ve a picture standing before a church sign directing one to The Faithful Few Apostolic Church/Victory Tabernacle. That isn’t our goal: we teach people as spiritual babies, develop them, grow them, and keep them coming at their level of commitment.
Part of a pastor’s job is to teach Bible principles that oppose the flesh. Those principles separate. The rich young ruler made a decision. If it took selling all, then he was unwilling to stay. The path was too difficult. Our work is not necessarily to be the most popular bunch in town. We must not be,… proliferators of self-indulgent consumer religion, the what-can-the-church-do-for-me syndrome. With that approach the fluff and fodder stay in place to ever limit the effectiveness of the wheat.
A convert arrives at the threshing-floor. What happens? Christianity is counter-cultural. New people quickly see that. Proclaim the Scriptures absolute right to direct life and people leave. The simplest Bible teaching-morality, honesty or giving a good day’s work for the employer’s pay-is contrary to society.
Discipleship gives people a reason to change behavior; as the Bible demands that behaviors change. For example, racial prejudice has to be abandoned-the Bible says so. When a new convert hears that, some decide to take the step of abandoning racism, others are not so willing and go away.
Reproducing saints are separated from the “stuff’ in the activity of the threshing-floor. The breaking comes a bit at time. Battles over prayer, Bible reading, faithfulness to attend church, the tithe and dressing modestly all become places of decision.
Post-modern culture has decreed everything to be relative-without absolutes. In 1986 the World Council of Churches changed their motto to, “The world sets the agenda for the church.” Apply that view to what disciples are to become, and normal Christian living is soon defined by what churchgoers practice, rather than what the Scripture teaches.
Can normal Christian living be downgraded to accommodate culture? Is the belief that the typical saint will be highly committed to the cause of Christ out of vogue?
What today’s church culture calls normal Jesus considered disobedient. Might I be so driven to succeed that I put the stalks and chaff in the barn along with the good grain? It makes for a fuller barn, but in time rot sets in and I lose the useable grain.
1. The unteachable – Paul’s instruction to Timothy to, “preach the word … reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and patience,” was based on there being those only interested in hearing those who would scratch their itching ears (2 Timothy 4). Some will not be taught. We never had ONE … not even one productive saint whom we could not get into a Discipleship class.
2. The uncommitted – These are there when you see them, but do not accept any sort of consistent demand on them. They may come for the occasional extra activity, such as a work-day and may give to a special needs offering but call them to dedicate to a consistent weekly effort and they are blown away like chaff.
3. The unconvinced – God’s word is good, so long as it does not meddle into my lifestyle.
4. Those who anxiously reach for blessings but are immature. These can be some of the most active while the music is playing, but seem petrified into inactivity by an approaching usher.
Faithfulness is the rite of passage to meaningful Christianity. Various organizations have traditions that make it possible for new members to advance. The Israeli Army requires all soldiers to run up the historic Masada at night, with a torch in hand. They stand in the darkness above the Dead Sea and sing Israel’s national anthem. It is not the first requirement to be an Israeli soldier, but eventually all soldiers make that run. It is not an option. A journey to faithfulness is each convert’s process and commitment is the torch they must bear. It is not a convert’s first thing, but it is a necessary thing.
My standards were high. No person helped in a Sunday School class until they’d graduated from our second level of discipleship. A convert would have been at the church for six months. They had enough in them to not be broken or blown away by those twenty-one classes. It allowed them make decisions about their level of commitment.
Principles To Take Away
1. Know what wheat looks like. Distinguishing between fodder and grain; and deciding what you want to keep should be obvious. By the way – you won’t keep them both. If you want to accommodate everything in culture – the real grain won’t stay.
2. Have a Bible-based process. Let the process develop people. Let the process separate people. In this process, elevate God’s word to its place of authority.
3. Have high expectations of people. Jesus did. Teach to those expectations and don’t compromise those ideals for leaders or teachers.
4. Be doctrinal. Some say, “To be relevant we cannot be doctrinal.” Wrong – right practice is always derived from right doctrine. It is impossible to be practical without being doctrinal. Doctrine is the foundation for the practical.
5. Patiently eliminate real issues: deceitfulness of riches, cares of life and lust for other things.
6. Lose people for the right reason and never because they were not given proper care.
7. Let the backslider – backslide!
8. Have a process to then turn good grain into something useful and useable.
This article You Won’t Keep Them All by Carlton L. Coon, Sr. is excerpted from Director’s Communique, Nov/Dec 2008.