Pillar 3 — Strengthen Existing Churches
(EDITOR’S NOTE — This issue of the
Biblical Recorder continues our coverage of a seven part series on the “Seven Pillars for Ministry: Biblical Concepts for a Christ-Centered Vision.” These seven pillars are vision statements developed by Milton Hollifield, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. I believe these pillars need to be known, understood and embraced so N.C. Baptists can do a better job of fulfilling the Great Commission. It is our hope that this series will be a catalyst to strengthen our churches in fellowship, vision and partnership. For more, visit here.)
As a 31-year-old pastor, it is an understatement to say that I was in awe. Sitting in my study with Richard Wurmbrand, we were chatting about his ministry as a Romanian pastor in the environment of the Soviet Union.
He described the solitary confinement, physical torture and hunger he endured through fourteen years in communist prisons. He was guilty of one crime — proclaiming Jesus Christ as the savior of mankind.
His godly wife, Sabina, sat next to him as we shared these few treasured minutes. In a moment he would step into the pulpit of the church where I served as pastor and share his story.
He said, “Pastor Allan, your people say you are a good pastor.” While somewhat proudly I appreciated his blessing, I was not ready for Rev. Wurmbrand’s humbling statement that followed. The intense eyes of the seasoned pastor looked into the eyes of this young pastor, pointing his shaky, bony finger at me and speaking with a Slavic accent, he said “It is (a) terrible, terrible sin to be (a) good pastor.” He paused and repeated the same statement with emphasis. “It is (a) terrible, terrible sin to be (a) good pastor!”
Stunned, I did not know how to respond. Where was he going with these words? Surely he read the curious disbelief in my face.
With intensity Wurmbrand said, “God called you to be (a) GREAT pastor! And (a) GREAT pastor is (a) godly pastor.” This private conversation was a defining moment in my life. Wurmbrand showed me that a truly great and godly pastor is a man of prayer, humility and obedience to God’s word.
I was dazed, to say the least, as I led him to the pulpit. For the next hour he captivated the congregation with his personal story, written in the best-seller Tortured for Christ.
This godly servant and statesman had just rebuked every form of mediocrity in my life. His experience of faithfulness and determination in the face of adversity defined discipleship for me. Having read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, I was formulating the basic marks of a disciple of Jesus Christ — marks that shaped my ministry for 30 years.
Biblical discipleship is the core value of Pillar No. 3, “Strengthening Existing Churches.” Whether a church is one year old or 100 years old, a strong focus on disciple making is an absolute essential. If there is no intentional effort for discipleship, there is no healthy congregation.
It is disastrous when the church leadership accepts mediocrity as the norm. Being a “good” Christian or a “good” church is not good enough. We are called to be “great” as disciples of Jesus. Such greatness embraces intentionality and determination. It means we will keep the focus on Jesus and never give up. This is the meaning of Hebrews 12:1-2, “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith …”
Do you remember Jesus’ definition of greatness? “Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:4, NKJ). There it is!
Great disciples are men and women who humbly learn at the feet of the master and deliberately apply His truth. Great disciples are deliberate in disciplined habits and in lifestyle. This makes healthy disciples, and ultimately it produces healthy churches.
Unhealthy churches are not defined by size, age or location. They are defined by leaders and members who settle for less than God’s best. They are characterized by mediocrity, not discipleship.
It is easy to lose sight of our purpose when we enlist believers to serve in the church. Our work is not to recruit people merely to sustain the organization, but to make disciples, calling them to fulfill the vision Jesus assigned to us. Jesus did not tell us to keep the organizational wheels turning. He called us to shape lives in the character of Christlikeness — holy living, faithful praying, depending on “… every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4, KJV).
Here is our assignment: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you … ” (Matt. 28:19-20). Are we making church members, converts, or disciples?
(EDITOR’S NOTE — This year marks the 102nd anniversary of Wurmbrand’s birth. He founded “The Voice of the Martyrs” and continued to speak for the persecuted around the world until his death in 2001. Visit torturedforchrist.com or persecution.com.)
Editor’s picks for Pillar 3
Disciples Are Made Not Born by Walter A. Henrichsen, David C. Cook
Henrichsen’s classic is a simple, basic introduction to disciple making. Based on principles from the Navigators, he underscores that discipleship is not complete until the new convert is able to reproduce himself by bringing another person to Christ and training that person to reproduce himself, also.
Sharpening the Focus of the Church by Gene A. Getz, Victor Books
This respected church leader looks at the church through three lenses: (1) New Testament principles, (2) Contemporary needs and (3) Church history. This is a powerful overview of positive solutions to church health, based on a solid biblical foundation.
The Healthy Church by C. Peter Wagner, Regal Books
You will learn how to avoid (or cure) the nine diseases that can afflict any church congregation. John Maxwell says, “His unique insight will help your church build up a healthy immune system and offers treatments for these destructive diseases.” This one is creative, thoughtful and insightful!