1My first Ride-Along with the Portland Police was 20 years ago. I was a freshman in Bible College. A friend (and police officer) invited me to ride with him. Little did I know, that evening would change the direction of my life. That night was full of faster than normal driving, tragic calls and an opening of my eyes to what was really going on in our world. Over time I moved from being a church pastor to becoming a reserve police officer, and then a police and fire chaplain.
I have felt a great burden and calling to reach first responders for Christ. I have now spent a greater part of 15 years in this mission. During my time of reaching police, fire and others in related fields I have been amazed at how God moves in people’s lives and the opportunities I’ve had to share the Gospel. I have seen hardened patrol sergeants (not just on one occasion) open up their lives to Jesus and want to know more. I have seen tough cops leading lives seen only in the movies, and destructive at best, change their whole lives in devotion to Jesus. I have seen death and destruction turn into life and redemption (literally). But the thing I have been most amazed to see, is how the simple act of Discipleship (intentional investment into the life of one another) can create powerful agents of His Kingdom. I have become convinced and convicted that no program or study can replace the impact that discipleship has on an individual. For some reason we do not believe this anymore.
Consider this, when a young police officer joins the force they sit in a classroom and learn a lot of stuff in their police academy. They take notes, are tested, take more notes, read, test and eventually they have a great knowledge of what they are doing, the laws of the land, and even the punishment and fines for not obeying them. This academy goes further in many states. They learn how to fight, fire weapons accurately, drive fast and safely, and even how to quickly recognize “bad guys” and the best tactic to confront them.
But becoming a police officer is a lot more than just learning stuff in at the academy. As I write, in most states, officers go through comprehensive training including an additional year riding in a car with another officer constantly being coached, tested, trained and practicing for police work even after the academy. This training officer (usually referred to as the field training officer or FTO) is the disciplemaker, and his/her young trainee is the disciple. This is by far the most important part of becoming a good police officer, by observing someone who has done it for a long time.
This is what is missing so desperately within the body of Christ; we have great “Christian Academies” where we can learn a lot about being a Christian, the laws, the rights and wrongs, and the imperatives. But we seriously lack for a field-training officer. We have no one who will invest, or any understanding of the importance of someone in our lives on a continual basis showing us how to take the things we learn in “church” and apply them among our family, friends, work and communities.
If a police officer simply went to the academy, learned the laws, learned how to fight, and even how to drive well, but then “hit the streets to figure it out”, we would see some scary policing out there. In fact, it is not uncommon for new officers to spend as much as two years in additional training before they ever “fly solo” (work by themselves). We must begin to understand that discipleship is not just important, but necessary, even life and death.
So what has stopped the discipleship process? What has made the Christian life about attending events and not investing in people’s lives? I believe there are two major reasons discipleship has lost its flavor in reaching this world. The first is the professionalization of the ministry function of “the church”. The idea is often promoted that it is the job of the pastor (or in our culture, the chaplain) and church leadership to train, teach and even lead people to Christ. Great books have been written that bring this point out at length. One of my favorites, “The Call” by Os Guiness (a must read for believers) shows in-depth how this has really been brought to bear and the severe consequences to the body of Christ.
In this book, Dr. Guiness makes the point that the calling is for everyone in any career and that discipleship is a key element. “The them of tutoring and imitation, which goes far deeper than current notions of “mentoring,” is conspicuous in the teaching of the early church. We grow through copying deeds, not just listening to words, through example as well precept, through habit and not just insight and information. Calling therefore creates an ethic of aspiration, not just of obligation. Ignatius of Antioch urged the Philadelphians “to imitate Jesus Christ as he imitated the Father.” Clement of Alexandria one who is in Christ… He gives commands and embodies the commands that we might be able to accomplish them.” (The Calling p. 81)
Dr. Ravi Zacharias goes further in his book, “The Grand Weaver”, pointing out that there is no difference between secular and sacred “jobs”. The painter is just as important as the pastor, and has equal responsibility to glorify God in his job, and reach people for Christ. In fact, Dr. Zacharias points out that the opposite of sacred is not secular. It is profane. When we take the pastor or full time Christian worker off the stool as the primary carrier of God’s will in our community, we will understand our responsibility and opportunity.
This next statement I write with much fear and trembling. But I feel I can say it as an active Chaplain. I think one of the best things happening in the U.S. is the real emasculation of the chaplain around the country from performing “religious functions” in both military, and emergency responder contexts. Not for the sake of immediate effect, but for the sake of the Gospel long term. Now the believers, who are not “the professionals”, will have to step up and be the light in their culture. Not that these professionals haven’t done a phenomenal job, and made great impact for Jesus through the Holy Spirit. But now greater involvement from the “WHOLE CHURCH” will be required, and I believe the impact will be larger.
A second major reason for discipleship not being understood or used, is more of a cultural problem. We are a product of “the now”, “entertain me”, “T.V. Culture” that influences so much of our living generations.
Another great book written in the early 80’s is “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman. He does, I believe, one of the greatest (even prophetic in prediction) analyses of our forms of getting information in today’s world (primarily through T.V.). He argues quite convincingly that because of T.V., the primary way to communicate anything, including “truth”, now requires it to be entertaining. He argues that because T.V. has become the culture’s primary tool for discourse, we are left with tidbits of superficial information (we call truth), instead of depth, coherence and understanding of all reality. Though I will not re-argue his book on every level, I use it to point to one possibility that explains where we stand, and to begin illustrating the seriousness of the problem that now affects the body of Christ.
Neil demonstrates that when T.V. became the primary communicator of discourse and truth to our culture, we began to understand much less about the greater things in life. One illustration he uses:
“…Consider the primitive technology of smoke signals… I can safely guess that it did not include philosophical argument. Puffs of smoke are insufficiently complex to express ideas on the nature of existence… A Cherokee philosopher would run short of either wood or blanket long before he reach his second axiom.” (Amusing Our Selves to Death p. 7)
T.V., smartphones, Facebook, Twitter, TMZ and even our one hour “Worship Service” (did I say it?) are insufficient to communicate the depth of life talked about in the Scriptures. Neil goes onto demonstrate that when T.V. became the primary conveyor of truth and not the written word (i.e. a book), that truth was demoted to whatever was short and entertaining, and could be remembered in a one hour program with lots of commercials.
Today, “Christians” go to a one-hour service packed with (and demanded by the end-user) great music, an entertaining message, and childcare (I have five wee ones, that is a must). We are in a consumer culture looking for a church to consume. The worst sin any church service can commit is going over the allotted well advertised time of 1 hour, 2 hours if you are holy, especially on Sunday when the NFL is going… This is all a product of the T.V. Age! I am not sure you have to read a book to be convinced of this. But there is one you can read (sorry no T.V. version for the book is available). How can discipleship even be fathomed, much less carried out in this type of culture?
To make matters worse, we now try to find “entertaining ways” to teach our children and others about God’s Truth. Kids today do not learn the actual Scriptures. They are taught by “Veggie Tales” and Children’s “Bibles” which are commonly missing the main themes. Our motive is good, to teach them the ways of the Lord, but we are probably at best trivializing the truth of God’s truth (a kind of Bible Jeopardy). Is the child really being taught how to apply that truth in their daily lives, at school and among their friends? Think about the peer pressure that could be supernaturally overcome if the teenager understood prayer! Not to say these methods are bad. I love Bob the Tomato! But they can never be a substitute for the real thing, the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, and a good example (the parent). Kids can read and understand the real thing. Beyond that, they need and want the real thing: the actual Bible, the actual discipler, the actual Holy Spirit.
Scarier yet, we have followed the world right over the cuckoo’s nest, not overtly, but in believing it is only effective and right if a lot of people are doing it.
In response to Aristotle’s time of deduction of self-evident premises, i.e. Babies are healthier if conceived when the wind is in the North, Neil states… “We have our own interesting way of deriving Truth. It is called numbers. Can you imagine for example, a modern economist articulating truths about the standard of living by reciting a poem or a series of proverbs and parables? Yet these forms of language are certainly capable of expressing truth about economic relationships…” (Amusing Ourselves to Death p. 23)
If the news wants to make a good point, especially politically, it cites polls. The “church” does the same thing. We automatically assume it must be doing something good if there are adequate numbers of people there. I have been a part of many churches that felt numbers where a great barometer of their spiritual health, ignoring other things like giving, the divorce rate, active evangelism, or even people’s ability to articulate all the books of the Bible. Again I would argue this is what the T.V. age has helped produce, and we believe it.
It is not entertaining to be discipled or to disciple someone (although there will be some entertaining stories). You will not see mass numbers doing it (we do not have enough willing people), but it is remarkably effective. We need someone in our lives to help us live out our apologetics, keep our worldview grounded in truth, and show us a life of prayer and listening to the leading of the Holy Spirit. You cannot learn that in one hour on Sunday morning.
It is in this life pattern I found what I was looking for, not simply more knowledge of the Scriptures, but a way to make those Scriptures come alive in me every day. That is what ultimately led me to the Navigators. At their very core, discipleship not programs is what they are about.
We, as the body of Christ, must realize that life is not full if we think it is just attending some building once a week. It is when we, as disciples, watch those who go before us, bring people to Christ and emulate what they do. We must become aware it is not what we consume on Sunday that gives life, but what we do for Him during the week that makes our life’s journey worth living.
As many great ones have surmised, we owe a lot of our current Christianity to church history. But I use this to prompt our thinking about who we are today, who we are called to be, and who we are called to reach. In that motif, I hope to stir your heart and mind to ponder this one question. How do I become an effective disciple maker?
After all the commission is clear, “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, NIV)
Written by Chris Green: NavResponder National Team Leader