In Pursuit of Maximum Faith

“We’re not making disciples because we’re offering our people a menu of ministries that leads to a vicious cycle of activity and striving.” – George Barna at the FAM Conference at APU, 2012

Discipleship is a word that all ministry leaders use, but few seem to feel confident they are seeing it take place in their churches.  When asked about how we make disciples we often point to our ministries – small groups, recovery groups, kids’ groups, youth groups, Sunday school, choir, worship team, Habitat for Humanity, Awanas, etc.  These programs and groups can help us disciple our people, but unless we have a destination in mind and a plan to get there we may just find ourselves going through the motions.

This is where Barna argues for trading our menus for a map.  He suggests a map with 10 stops on the way to wholeness, or holiness (Galatians 6:15 and Romans 12:2).  So, if you’re interested in moving from broken to whole here’s what you can expect, according to Barna.

  1. Ignorance of Sin – we all start here.
  2. Indifference to Sin – at some point we become aware of sin, but we don’t care.
  3. Concerned about the Potential Effect of Sin – we start to wonder if maybe this sin thing isn’t a bit more insidious than we first thought.
  4. Acceptance of Christ – we believe that Jesus can offer us a way out of the consequence of sin.
  5. Increased Religious Activity – finding new life in Christ we become a “churchy” people and do “churchy” things.
  6. Holy Discontent – After following Jesus in the “churchy” life for about 15-20 years we begin to wonder, Is this all there is?
  7. Brokenness – the place where we reach our own limitations and can’t find an answer or the power to move on in ourselves.
  8. Surrender and Submission – this is where we cease trying to be our own savior and allow God to work.
  9. Profound Love Connection with God – the first real step in fulfilling the Great Commandment.
  10. Extreme Love for People – the next step in fulfilling the Great Commandment.

Barna’s research shows that 56% of all people (I’m assuming in America) land somewhere in stages 1-3.  Those coming to faith in Christ and getting involved in church (stages 4-5) make up another 33%.  Those who come to a place of holy discontent (stage 6) make up a mere 6%, while those who learn to embrace their brokenness, surrender to God and truly love (stages 7-10) make up 5%.  The point being, not many fulfill the Great Commandment.

So what do we do with this?  Here are a few ideas.

  1. Self-Examination – Use the list to examine your own life and see where you are in the journey.  Be careful of coming to the conclusion that you have already entered into stages 7-10 too quickly.  Perhaps you can have a few close friends examine your life as well.
  2. We can tell others about this journey.  We can talk about it and share where we are and what the next stage might look like.
  3. Seeing faith as a journey can motivate us to find mentors for the journey.  Someone 2-3 stages ahead of us just might make the best mentor.
  4. As ministry leaders we can invest in the “lonely stops” of the journey – holy discontent (stage 6), brokenness (stage 7), and surrender (stage 8).  This is the make-it-or-break-it section of the journey.  No one wants to admit they are discontent or broken.
  5. Finally, if this map is even somewhat accurate, then it should cause us to rethink our metrics for measuring success.  Somehow, we must learn to count the work that takes place in the later stages and invest there.

It may be worth noting that someone in the audience asked Barna if he thought the 12 Steps of AA worked because they reflect this map of the spiritual journey.  Barna replied by saying, “Yes, they’re similar because both are based on acknowledging one’s brokenness and looking to a power from outside yourself to do something about it.”

Brokenness was a common theme throughout all the speakers at the FAM Conference.  The tricky thing about brokenness is that we often resist it and try to push through it on our own.  As long as we keep rescuing ourselves we’re not truly broken.  That is, until we can admit that we are broken (“powerless” as the 12 steps say) then we will never surrender to the God who seeks to heal us.  Brokenness, therefore, usually only comes through a series of crises, rather than a single crisis.  The most love-filled people I can think of are also some of the most broken (yet healed) people I know.

(This post is a compilation of notes taken during a lecture given by George Barna at the FAM Conference, May 10, 2012.  They do not necessarily represent my thoughts or opinions.)

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