Conventional church leadership wisdom says, “Build the church.” That means to build the organization by increasing attendance, involvement, income, and influence. The discipleship process got morphed into teaching doctrines and trying to turn attendees into good church members, training newcomers to use their talents and gifts to sustain and expand the organization. The goal is to get them plugged into an area of church life that uses their God-given gifts.
That’s church-building, not spiritual formation.
It’s selfish, but many well-meaning church leaders are innocently trying to build their church because they think that is the most important thing in the world. It’s not! People are the most important thing in the world, not organizations, not even the church.
We should change the question from, “How can we build the church?” to “How can we help a person reach their fullest potential?” That means we have to get to know them on a personal basis, rather than herd them through some program.
So, that puts us on a quest for something between a program-oriented approach that funnels everyone through the same classes, and just leaving them alone to figure it out on their own. Everybody needs some help and encouragement to be their own best selves, to reach their potential. That takes us back to the Jesus method.
He did life with a small group of individuals. He spent extra time with just three people. They did life and ministry together. That is how they learned, how they grew, how they found who they were. That is how they discovered their kingdom role.
How do we translate that to our culture? We are tied down with our tight schedules and we are far less communal and more individualistic than the people in Jesus’ culture.
If people get together informally and spontaneously in small groups, the likelihood of real friendships and mentoring relationships developing is pretty good.
Churches could provide a great service if they trained and monitored mentors who would tag team with what God is already doing in a person’s life, helping the individual take a step or two in fulfilling their potential. That could be service the church would provide for those want it. Maybe, that is too programmed, but I think it would work if the mentors were carefully screened and trained, and facilitated and encouraged others, instead of trying to direct their lives.