Admitting to being “uber-cheap” when it comes to buying clothes, Micah Fries challenged a recent gathering to fight the American tendency to shop for a church.
BR photo by Dianna Cagle
“I look for the nicest looking store that offers me the most comfortable fit and asks of me the smallest price, which is precisely how most people view church,” said Fries, senior pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn. “The process of finding and aligning ourselves with covenant community that God, the Holy God of the universe, is going to use to shape us into the image of God, and we call that process church shopping.”
Fries was among the speakers addressing the 2017 Disciple-Making Conference Feb. 27 at Center Grove Baptist Church in Clemmons, N.C. He was joined by D.A. Horton, pastor of Reach Fellowship in North Long Beach, Calif., and Ed Newton, lead pastor of Community Bible Church in San Antonio, Texas, on the main stage. There was also a question and answer panel with Fries and two North Carolina pastors – Steve Corts, Center Grove’s senior pastor, and Andrew Hopper, lead pastor of Mercy Hill Church in Greensboro – and a number of breakout sessions on various ways to disciple.
“When we look across the American evangelical landscape, we see enormous numbers of people who claim the name of Christ who are not growing in the image of Christ,” Fries said, stressing the importance of the local church in maturing believers. But the American view of worship is not costly, like that of the believers in Romans 12. People ask, “What did that do for you today? What did you get out of the sermon today?”
“When that’s our primary barometer for whether or not worship was successful, God has ceased being the center of our affections, and we have replaced Him with ourselves,” Fries said. “We’ve become the object of our worship.”
BR photo by Dianna Cagle
Americans need to think more of denying themselves, more of “self-crucifixion in a sense” because “the very entrance into gospel community is predicated on you dying,” Fries said.
He challenged more spiritually mature believers to sacrifice preferences for those who are less mature. “God has designed us, not to be an independent people, but to be an interdependent community,” Fries said. “God has made us for one another to the degree that we desperately need one another. Our spiritual growth is each other’s business.”
He urged leaders to look for transformation.
“We need to stop affirming people in their lostness,” he said. “The most loving thing we can do, is not to affirm them in their pseudo-religious lostness, but to tell them, ‘You don’t know Jesus, but He wants to love you, and in His grace He’ll forgive you and give you hope.’
“We’ve got to stop playing around with this fake Christianity and recognize that the point of the gospel is not only to snatch us out of hell, to redeem us with God but to shape us into the image of Jesus. And if people are not being shaped into the image of Jesus, they don’t know Him.”
Admitting his proclivity toward pride, Fries said, “I am very concerned that the Southern Baptist Convention has a massive pride problem, that many of us within our denomination don’t understand the level of pride that we carry about from day to day; we do not reek of gospel grace and humility.”
The grace extending to yourself is not extended to others, Fries said, and “you judge yourself based on your motives and you judge others based on actions.”
Referring to Isaiah 6:1-8, Fries said God did not call Isaiah by name. He asked who would go.
“It’s people who have been saturated with grace who readily and happily say ‘God, here am I, send me,’” Fries said. “It’s not that we debase ourselves. It’s that we finally see ourselves for who exactly we are. When we constantly just look horizontally at everybody else we can feel pretty good about ourselves until we look vertically and we see the face of God, and the glory of God and the holiness of God, and then, we can’t help but notice how far we pale in comparison.”
If churches do not reflect diversity, Fries said, “our churches are saying something untrue about the gospel. If you’re not intentional about diversity, it won’t happen.”
Even small churches have access to some amazing gifts. “If your church is 25 people and your pastor makes $100 a week, you’re packed with … people who have a diverse lineup of gifts, talents, history and ability that God wants to use to do ministry in your community. If God can turn the world upside down with 11 or 12 disciples in the Book of Acts, He can do it with your 25 or 26 in your community.”
A pastor’s vocational responsibility is to equip the saints, Fries said. “The problem is, we are handcuffing ourselves by taking these communities of ministers, and we’re stripping away their responsibility to minister. We’re telling them that it’s OK to sit around and be lazy when it comes to their faith, and we’re putting all of their responsibility on one paid professional’s shoulders, and we’re short circuiting the way that God wants to build the church.”
Instead, pastors and other church leaders should be using the diverse gifts in their congregation to minister to the whole community.
D.A. Horton spent time unpacking the term “Son of Man” for participants. “The content of our discipleship must focus on the recognition, the ransom and the rule of the Son of Man,” Horton said. “To simplify, we must make our discipleship efforts rooted in the beautiful work of Jesus Christ.”
He encouraged modeling life, revealing hypocrisy and pride as you go, and running to the cross in repentance.
“The scandal of God’s grace includes the incarnation of our Savior, His perfect life, His substitutionary death, His literal burial, His physical resurrection, His ascension and His literal, visible and physical return,” Horton said. “All of this … was necessary so that dominion, glory and a kingdom would be necessary.”
Horton said Jesus loved the “term ‘Son of Man’ because He knew there was no shortcut to glory.”
Jesus came to serve, not to be served.
“He knew Judas was going to betray [Him], and He still washed his feet,” Horton said.
“Pastor, people will ‘amen’ you all day until you start dealing with their sin, and then they question your interpretation of the Word. Then they say, ‘Well, you’re not the only one that has the Holy Spirit;’ then, they begin to question your tactics; then they begin the smear campaign. What makes us uniquely different in our methodology is the content of our discipleship rhythm which is exalting the Son of Man.”
Newton asserted the importance of not separating discipleship from evangelism. He encouraged churches to get “back to the basics. The gospel is powerful. When it comes to the Kingdom of God, either we are building His Kingdom or we’re using God to build our kingdom.”
He highlighted the need for diversity within the churches. “[God’s] bringing the ends of the earth to us,” Newton said. “Are we going to see people of different skin tones, colors and religious backgrounds as the enemy or will we see them as the lamb’s reward?”
Videos of the main sessions are available online at disciplenc.org.