July 12, 2020

Open Mic: Spiritual Progress and the Church

Question posed by Chaplain Mike

Over at Out of Ur, Christianity Today’s ministry blog, there is an interview with Dallas Willard about how churches assess spiritual growth.

Here is an excerpt from that post. In our Open Mic discussion today, I would like our iMonk community to respond to what he says.

Q: How can churches know if they are being effective at making disciples?

A: Many churches are measuring the wrong things. We measure things like attendance and giving, but we should be looking at more fundamental things like anger, contempt, honesty, and the degree to which people are under the thumb of their lusts. Those things can be counted, but not as easily as offerings.

I don’t doubt that most of us would agree with him. However, my questions are:

  • How might intentionally changing our focus, as Willard suggests, work out in the life of the church?
  • How might these spiritual qualities be assessed and how might we help people grow in such areas?
  • How might a change in focus alter what pastoral ministry would look like?
  • How might it change what our meetings and “programs” would look like?
  • How might it change what the average congregation member would experience as a participant in the life of the church?

It would be great to hear from folks in as many different traditions as possible, and from people at various places in their relationship to the church—pastors, lay leaders, members who are heavily involved, attenders, those who have left the church, etc.


  1. Per Willard “A: Many churches are measuring the wrong things. We measure things like attendance and giving, but we should be looking at more fundamental things like anger, contempt, honesty, and the degree to which people are under the thumb of their lusts. Those things can be counted, but not as easily as offerings”

    to tell the truth, that kind of scares me. To enforce that (and just how would you enforce this?) would involve getting into people’s personal lives a lot more than most would tolerate. Sounds good, but do we propose buggimg people’s phones or logging theirbcomputers, etc.to monitor for gossip or lusts? Or maybe other sites that are just to liberal. We would change the church from brothers to Big Brother.

    e are not the small villages or communal/group oriented culture of first century Asia or the middle east.

    • Ah, but is it really necessary to bug people’s phones, or do we just need to be more involved in getting to know each other in true fellowship? Do we really need to monitor their computers, or do we invest ourselves in their lives through discipling them?

      And finally, are we coming at this from the perspective of an American civil religion, based on personal freedom and a sense of frontier independence, or from the perspective of the body of Christ, viewing ourselves as interconnected parts of His body; His church?

      • I tend to agree with James. Not only is it not a question of bugging phones and spying on people, but simply a matter of intimate fellowship; also, I am puzzled by Caine’s phrase “How do we enforce that” — I don’t think it is a matter of enforcing anything. You can’t enforce growth either, nor giving, without getting extremely unhealthy as a church.

        Also, let’s not focus on the “bedroom” lusts primarily: it is certainly possible, by spending a serious amount of time in and around a church and its people, to observe such things as the levels of anger, frustration, gossip, honesty and commitment, as well as to a good extent what drives people — the love of God or their own desires (lusts). It is very likely that in a church where all these other things are under control (of the Spirit?) that sexual lusts also will be under control; the inverse is also true: show me a church with lots of anger and frustration, and there will probably be sexual sin somewhere as well.

      • Our culture is one of “individualism” and “consumerism.” These affect us whether we are aware of it or not. The church, therefore, faces an uphill, if not impossible, battle when it operates from a perspective of communal, interconnected community. This should be the way, but believe it, it was easier in the first century (and still in the majority of the world–the third world–today. But it is not so easy for us.

        and I would assume we would measure these indicators for a reason, no matter how we gather them–and I was being a bit hyperbolic to make a point–I an not certain just HOW these things will be measured without SOME level of intrusion with which Americans just are not compatible. And if we have a reason, is it not to make a change in our people? And it change is not easy, must it not be enforced in some way?

        Even the early church enforced things. Paul threw out the Adulterous brother, after all. (And took him back after repentence. but it was enforced..

        Just trying to think these things through in as practical a way as I can. Not trying to be argumentative.

        • You make good points, caine. I think the evangelical church will always struggle with these questions, because we take an entrepreneurial approach and constantly reinvent the wheel of spiritual growth. We have no Great Tradition and historical structures to support pastors and those under their care who want to seek more serious spiritual formation. At least in Roman Catholicism, one can visit or attach oneself to a Benedictine monastery, find spiritual direction within an established tradition, or practice a wide variety of proven paths of contemplation and devotion. There is order, authority, and a wealth of resources to draw from. A friend told me a main reason his wife converted to RC was because in her evangelical tradition there was such a dearth of support for her intense desire to grow spiritually.

  2. The best way to measure a church’s effectiveness at making disciples is to see how many in the church are being proactive in their faith. The Bible says we shall know them by their fruit (see Matthew 7:16-20). How many are involved in impacting their community, their neighborhood, and other countries for Christ? How many are involved in ministries relating to helping the poor, the weak, the orphans, and widows? How many are sharing Christ with others? How many are helping to disciple new and young believers? These are all attributes of a true disciple of Christ.

    Anger, contempt, honesty, and lust are things that we will likely always struggle with even as born-again believers of Christ. How we deal with these things are certainly admirable; but shouldn’t be the only basis from which to measure a disciple of Christ.

  3. How might it change what our meetings and “programs” would look like?

    Most churches would have to revert to the old method of using their services for discipleship training of believers. They’d have to rediscover expository preaching. perhaps they’d also the hymnbook.

    Outreach programs for non-believers would be redirected to times other than Sunday morning and Wednesday night, and to places outside the church.

    How might intentionally changing our focus, as Willard suggests, work out in the life of the church?

    I imagine many congregations would fold or consolidate after discovering that their current pastor and board of elders aren’t interested in or qualified to make this change. Many large buildings would become embarrassments according to the new priorities.

    How might it change what the average congregation member would experience as a participant in the life of the church?

    Soren Kierkegaard wrote somewhere, “Fear most of all to be wrong.” I think the average congregation member would learn to dread sin.

    • “They’d have to rediscover expository preaching. perhaps they’d also the hymnbook.”

      Why? Jesus preached topically to his disciples. He seemed to pretty effective in doing so. And trust me, my son is going to be a lot less inclined to be a disciple if our church went back to hymns.

      • I may not understand the terms “topical” and “expository” the same as others. I’m sorry if my comment is unclear. Doubtless, if every preacher focused on Biblical truth and spoke with the authority of Jesus, then topical preaching would be fine. I don’t think they do.

        This thread is necessary because too many church leaders have opted to avoid things that might make someone “less inclined to be a disciple.” The fundamental flaw in contemporary discipleship training derives from the notion that, if the rawest beginner doesn’t like a thing, the church shouldn’t do it. I hope your son learns the value of many things that he doesn’t care for now.

        • I hope your son learns the value of many things that he doesn’t care for now.

          So do I. But I don’t want to put any unneccesary stumbling blocks in his road either.

          • It is sad when one believes that old hymns, which are loaded
            with deep theological truths, are seen as stumbling blocks. Substituting them
            with the drivel of much of what is contemporary worship music will cheat your son
            of rich spiritual growth.

          • I would have to agree with the other commenters. Some churches have so watered down contnt in the name of being more relevant that it is hard to understand the Gospel at all. Worship songs sometimes have no content at all. No one wants to preach the hard sayings for fear of losing the crowd. When Jesus taught, He mainly used parables so discourage the casual listener and challenge the true seeker to dig a little deeper. Today, we seem to want to chew the food for them, and they are the ones who lose out in the end.

          • “Substituting them with the drivel of much of what is contemporary worship music will cheat your son of rich spiritual growth.”

            So you substitute them with good theologically rich contemporary songs. Check out the top songs on the CCLI website. Most of them stand up very well against any set up hymns.

            And to John, I say, did I say anything about watering down the content.

  4. *building budget becomes community deveopment & ministry budget
    *instead of checking attendance check how many people accually know each other (small groups, shared meals, prayer groups— ACTIVITIES DON’T COUNT)
    *money should be spent outward not inward if at all possible (this one is hard, if not impossible in some small churches)
    *brokeness must be shared & confessed —victory over brokeness thru the Gospel of Jesus (NO PROSPERITY PROMISED, – ONLY THE PROMISE OF WOUNDS BEING HEALED BY JESUS)
    *we gather, we share, we pray, we worship, we love —-NO PROGRAMS ALLOWED!
    just some thoughts, peace

  5. An increase in attendance does not mean that we are building disciples, but a sustained plateau or decline in attendance does mean that we are not building disciples. Part of disciple making means that we are moving people towards becoming fulfilling the great commission themselves.

    Having said that I would highly recommend Dallas Willard’s book “The Spirit of the Disciplines”.

    • is that sustained plateau or growth from people “church hoping” or Christians moving in from other areas??
      I think there are many Churches who think that because they start becoming “fishers of Christian men” that they are fulfilling the great commisson. Also in the tough economic times we are in there are many churches who are declining in attendance (due to people moving away for jobs)but they still can be building disciples. There can be many reasons for a loss in attendance that have nothing to do with bad discipleship or loss of spirit — we don’t always know how God works in his churches. peace

      • There can be many reasons for a loss in attendance that have nothing to do with bad discipleship or loss of spirit — we don’t always know how God works in his churches.

        Agreed. I should have bolded the word sustained. If you have not had any new converts added to your church in 10 years, can you really make the claim that you have done discipleship well?

        • Your question is something that I am dealing with right now, in my own parish. I’m currently involved with both RCIA (which is the program that brings adults into the Catholic Church) and the evangelization committee.

          I am seeing a BIG disconnect between what we should be doing and what we are doing, not to mention attitudes toward even the midest outreach.

          Naturally, I am frustrated, but hope that the program that we are considering doing with 2 other nearby parishes, helps form the small groups that then will go out first to our community, then the city, then the state.

        • Michael, I’ve not been at the site for a while and starting to get caught up on some stuff. Thank you for continuing Monk’s legacy.

          I’m not sure I see discipleship and conversion as the same thing. We can have discipleship going on without conversion. Likewise, we can have conversion going on without discipleship, no?

  6. Damaris says

    Why are we being asked this question? Has this never been known? Has no church over the last 2000 years made spiritual growth possible for its members? Why do we always have to make everything up again? (Chaplain Mike, this rant is directed generally, not at you for asking.)

    Having gotten that off my chest, I’ll make this very unoriginal point. (My only goal in these topics is to be unoriginal.) It has been traditionally accepted that spiritual growth, while a complex process, happens partly through fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and the sacraments. These have been the norm of Christian behavior for twenty centuries. Of course they can be abused, they can become legalistic, but these things are what Jesus tells us to do — no, in fact these things are what Jesus ASSUMES we’ll do. He said, “WHEN you pray, or give alms,” not “If you do.” But it’s so dull, so old-fashioned, just following the church year and submitting to the wisdom of those who came before us. No one makes any money out of that. Is that why we’ve given it up?

    Bible study is excellent, but it is intellectual; these disciplines are also physical. Like God Himself, we are both flesh and spirit. If we are going to grow in faith, into the image of God, then we can’t just get smarter about the documents. We have to know God, to experience Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We do that by eating or not eating, by strenuous prayer, by helping others with our money, time, and goods. Most churches have Bible study after Bible study but neglect the basic disciplines that Jesus assumes we’ll practice.

    So I think the first thing churches should do — and Christians should look for — is what God exhorts us to do in Jeremiah 6:16: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and the sacraments are not the only things modern churches should do, but returning to them is the fundamental step that should be taken, after which people who have begun to grow spiritually can decide what is important for their particular church and congregation.

    The somewhat heated discussion about Lisa Dye’s life coach relates to this. I feel for Lisa, and for all of us in her place. Why are there not spiritual elders within the church, with whom we connect naturally? Why has this relationship, like so many others, become a buyer/seller relationship? I’m glad Lisa was able to get the help she did, but it’s too bad it had to be hired.

    Forgive me if anything I’ve said offends.

    • Sounds Eastern Orthodox to me.

      • I know what you are saying, Eric, but I think there is a way of tweaking her post in an evangelical context. I’m all for the disciplines she mentions. I think growth in these areas might be hard to measure, but I don’t think there is any substitute or way around training our entire selves, body and soul, to follow after Christ. My understanding of the sacraments will be different than Damaris’, but I still like the post and its direction.

    • Christopher Lake says

      Actually, the Reformed Baptist church of which I was once a member (I’m not a Reformed Baptist anymore) had a wonderful organic (not programmed) culture of discipleship. There were many spiritual elders, not all in formal leadership, to whom I could go for spiritual counsel, and there were certain younger members whom I would also counsel. It wasn’t perfect, as no earthly situation is, but it was a fine example of the kind of vibrant culture of discipleship that I wish were happening more often in all churches and parishes– whether evangelical Protestant, Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, etc.

  7. Cleaning the inside of the cup is always a good thing.

  8. Debbie W. says

    I mulled over these questions for some time, while in the forefront of my mind was the story of my nephew who is currently struggling w/ keeping one foot in the world while understanding Jesus deserves more of him. He was recently chastised by two brothers in the church who are currently going through similar struggles, but hiding those struggles and putting on the “Sunday morning act”. It would be difficult to exaggerate my ire for these two fellas!

    Caine makes a good point above, our culture works against us.

    Watchman also makes a good point in that how we deal with our sin nature does indeed speak to our maturity, but there are other, more substantial, i.e. measurable, actions that speak even louder. So I will attempt to put my 2 cents in with the caveat that the things we need to measure are the “fruit.”

    “How might intentionally changing our focus, as Willard suggests, work out in the life of the church?”
    How might these spiritual qualities be assessed and how might we help people grow in such areas?

    This is a paradigm shift not many American Churches can/will abide. However, leading by example is the way of the Master Teacher. Jesus himself walked the walk he asked of us. It has very little to do with what is said or done on Sunday morning, believe it or not, but what is done outside of the Sunday services. As leaders in the church (pastors, preachers, elders, deacons, teachers, etc) become intentional about coming alongside their disciples in ministry, teaching through word and deed, more disciples will emulate them. I think this is very difficult, even impossible, to do in the space of 2 hours on Sunday. Real relationship has to be the conduit for discipleship and the assessment of growth.

    In other words, it can’t be accomplished with a program (eased, maybe). It is a way of life.

    How might a change in focus alter what pastoral ministry would look like?

    As I alluded to above, pastoral ministry would change significantly from what is common in the American Church. One on one or small group were Jesus’ preferred discipleship methods. He walked with these twelve men for three years; story telling, guiding, asking, drawing from them what was the crux of their separation from the Father, and showing them how they alone are at a loss to deal with it. A pastor must be willing to sacrifice the time and energy to incorporate this into his life.

    This is extremely impractical for a staff minister whose time is already filled with all the busy-ness of his position and his responsibility to his own family. This explains the popularity of the small group movement where the group leader takes on this responsibility for his small flock under the authority of a staff minister or overseer.

    How might it change what our meetings and “programs” would look like?

    Another commenter addressed the need for Sunday services to be for the believer. Ministry to the community isn’t done very well through a Sunday worship service. The community needs to have it’s belly full before its spirit can be filled. We meet the needs of the community by going out and serving them. Most programs wouldn’t take place in the church bldg, but in the community. Our believer gatherings should be about edifying, encouraging, challenging, admonishing, etc.

    How might it change what the average congregation member would experience as a participant in the life of the church?

    I’m afraid it might mean that the average member might have a choice they were never forced to make before: Get out of your comfort zone or admit that you really don’t want to serve Christ.

    That may not be fair, depending on what your definition of average member is. In my experience, the average member wants to come on Sundays, having put on their Sunday best, and play Church for two hours. I apologize in advance for any offense to those whose definition varies from my own.

    I think it would make it very difficult to be a lukewarm believer. In a church like this, you will either be hot or cold. It would make it near impossible to get away with the game my nephew’s accusers were playing with themselves. As the typical pharisees, they may have the pastor’s or the congregation’s blessing, but they don’t even realize what they’re doing to their position with the Father.

    I look forward to reading more input from the iMonk Community!

  9. Unless Willard has changed his paradigm (which I doubt he has), it’s not about preaching and legislating morality but continually lifting up a vision of the Gospel of the Kingdom so people’s heart, mind, soul, body and relationships with others are being renewed and formed in love for Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. If we do not understand discipleship as all of life being brought under the kingdom of the heavens, now, we will not have the kind of heart that will want/will to “put off” and “put on” those things Willard mentions and we will continue to focus on those things we can have more success in creating and measuring in our own strength.

  10. I see the key being discipleship. Someone – typically the pastor – would take a group of men and invest his life into them. He might spend a year or two into these men, involving them in various parts of his ministry, and eating together with them on a regular basis. The times being what they are he might also give them a reading list to broaden their horizons beyond what he, being only one man, can provide.

    During this year or two the church would need to support the pastor to give him the time to be able to disciple these men. Ideally that would mean senior church members (member of the board?) taking up some of the slack, such as visitation, and that he won’t be appearing at every meeting that the church and/or the community can dream up.

    The whole problem with the idea is: What next? In our current culture most “real” ministry comes from the pulpit, or at least from paid staff. But ideally the pastor has just trained some 5 or 6 men for ministry, and now they have nowhere to go.

    This is where it gets tricky, and why I don’t see it working in most churches. Because this is the point where the pastor has to release these 5 or 6 men into their own ministries, and allow them to each take on anywhere from 2 to 4 disciples of their own. The pastor, meantime, might take on new disciples and/or support the newly vetted disciples in teaching their own disciples. And most churches, because their power structure is build around the pulpit and the pastor, won’t go for it. Too few pastors are going to be willing to release control to that level, to let unpaid, volunteer “laymen” have that kind of freedom and authority on their own, without them being under the total control of the pastor and/or the church board. But if you stifle your disciples that way you stifle their ministries as well.

    One last thought – I put this in terms of the pastor and the men of the church. But the same type of discipleship can take place among the ladies of the church as well, with a mature woman developing and implementing the women’s discipleship program. But again, the pastor and/or the board have to be willing to grant the women thus discipled the opportunities to develop their own ministries, and to begin training their own disciples.

    • I like it and agree. There’s no substitute for life-on-life ministry, being WITH someone like Mark 3:14. That training, starting with the pastor, on to the elders, and down on to the congregation would do wonders in spiritual development.

  11. Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

    Two ideas come to mind. First, is the evangelism-as-process idea from Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Faith. Without going into tons of details, Webber’s suggestion involves tying evangelism and discipleship together in a way that kind of resembles the Catholic RCIA program. That is, even as a new convert is entering into membership and the life of the Church, they get discipled for several months (or even a couple of years) prior to full entrance into the community via baptism. This goes through several stages stages: the “seeker” stage that is almost a pre-evangelism screening that culminates in a “rite of welcome.” Next is the “hearer” stage where the convert is discipled intensely. Then is a several-week (typically during lent) “kneeler” stage where the convert prepares for baptism and full entrance into the community. After baptism, the convert becomes a member of “the faithful,” and is continually discipled as he or she grows in Christ.

    The other idea is something that has been important in my life. My grandparents’ priest, Fr. Brian Taylor, wrote a book called Spirituality for Everyday Living. It’s an adaption of the Rule of St. Benedict for regular non-monastic folk. As an Anglican, our traditional spirituality is rooted in the Daily Office prayers, which were also an attempt to adapt Benedictine prayer discipline for regular non-monastic folk. This idea of the community of faith working together on the monastic disciplines of commitment (specifically to stability, conversatio and obedience), balance (specifically between work, prayer, and study), and relationships (specifically between the self and God, the self and others, and the self and things) seems to be a good model for spiritual formation.

    I’m not sure how quantifiable the above is, but those were my immediate thoughts upon reading CM’s topic of discussion.

  12. As the Body of Christ, we can water and weed, but, ultimately, it is God Himself who engenders spiritual growth in the hearts, minds, and lives of individual believers. We can’t “make” it happen.
    Of course, we can work to create a church environment that is more conducive to real spiritual growth. But, realistically, that can be complicated. A program or activity or style of worship might help some while hindering others — so, in that sense, you can’t make the road straight and smooth for everyone, and you certainly can’t make everyone happy all of the time.
    Still, there are some things that are universally beneficial to spiritual growth. First and foremost is keeping things centered on Jesus and His gospel. You can’t go far wrong if you put Christ at the center. And, in keeping with Jesus and His central message, the church would do well to concentrate more on encouraging a general atmosphere of love within the body — not just theological teaching on love, but also practical application in our daily relations with each other. And church leaders would do well to shift some of their focus from numbers and programs to the well-being of relationships within the body — and step up and show some tough love to those who are in the bad habit of secretly creating division and driving wedges between people.
    I also think it would be a good idea for churches of all varieties to expand the informal dimension of the church and make more opportunities for unscripted, unprogrammed fellowship and interaction between believers. Growth is an organic thing, and sometimes I think church leaders actually stunt the growth of those they lead by trying to micromanage every aspect of the growth process. Give the Spirit room to do His stuff, and allow that God might occasionally want to speak or minister to His body through someone else besides the professional behind the pulpit.
    Finally, I would say that spiritual growth is something that the church has to actively and continually strive toward. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that there is this invisible force that, like gravity, tends to pull groups of believers down to the lowest common denominator when it comes to spiritual things like growth, faith, service, dedication, and love. And that’s where things will stay unless people step up and raise the bar — which often requires upsetting those who want to keep the bar low.

    • very strong post….when is your book coming out ??? I am NOT kidding; double amen bro….

    • I’ll second that. I’ve gotten to know people at church a lot better at simple potlucks.

  13. If the churchever tried to measure spitirual growth in the ways Willard suggets, people would lie to say their church is “growing”.

    • like the good book says: if a church is not growing it’s dying —- it’s somewhere in the back 🙂

  14. dumb ox says

    I think this fits with previous iMonk discussions regarding spiritual formation. I agree with RonP; the Holy Spirit forms us; we don’t even form ourselves. The church should facilitate drawing people to God, where the hope of forgiveness and new life may be found. Willard’s measuring stick seems to be a throw-back to revivalistic holiness. I get a mental picture of the cartoon, where Sylvester the cat joins a bird-eaters anonymous fellowship, and the other “brother” cats try to stop him from eating Tweety. Expecting sinful people not to be angry is absurd. It makes me down-right ANGRY!!! Oops, I blew it. See what you made me do? Now I gotta go get rebaptized, or respond to an altar-call, or perform some other form of fundagelical penance.

  15. textjunkie says

    We measure things like attendance and giving, but we should be looking at more fundamental things like anger, contempt, honesty, and the degree to which people are under the thumb of their lusts.

    You know, I’m no evangelical, but I have to call foul there. I do disagree with him. That is confusing the fruits of the Spirit with the Spirit. The assumption that attendance reflects a church’s health seems like the prosperity gospel–If you’re doing it right, God will bless you, if God isn’t blessing you then you’re doing it wrong, and then we introduce the additional fallacy that “blessings” mean “more people in the pews on Sunday.” But this is one step beyond that–if you’re doing it right, you’ll show the fruits of the Spirit; but then we make little tin idols of those fruits. Like attendance, they risk becoming an end in themselves, not a by-product.

    We should be looking at whether we are following the two Great Commandments–and let these come along with it. Are we exhorting each other to love God with all our hearts, and minds and souls, and are we loving our neighbors as ourselves?

    Figure out how to assess compliance with those and we’ll be on to something. 😉

  16. Todd Erickson says

    When John Wesley started the Methodist church, the central gathering point of the church was not the sermons (though those were certainly there) but the small groups, within which there was total accountability and honesty, and from the start there were rules for “People hiding their sin”, which generally resulted in them getting booted, at least probationally.

    They grew like wildfire. But when Wesley died, within a generation they decided to back off of those discipleship techniques (despite their result in having 1 in every 5 people in England at the time becoming a methodist) because they were too extreme and invasive.

    When we do not congregate to risk ourselves, we are not interested in growing, but only comfort.

  17. I don’t think any one church or church approach can be the best route to discipleship for everyone. For me, discipleship started solo with long hours of prayer and Bible reading at home. There came a time when I felt pushed to go to church, and the very accepting but hands off DoC was the right place. When I had grown significantly, I had to move states.

    Now I find myself in a congregationalist church, and honestly there are not very many programs and they are not very good. But they are preceded by a lot of prayer, and my fellow members are on the whole truly filled with love, so God uses it despite ourselves. The biggest thing we “do” is from the pastor to the laity, encourage honesty. It is a place that if you admit to struggles that are ongoing, you are welcomed. Just a few weeks ago, the pastor told us that one of our shut in members was struggling with despair, and suggested emotional and practical ways we could help her family. It isn’t all victory and success stories. We are a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. It is a place where people ask you how you are and really want to know. Confessing sin leads to support, not ostracizing. I don’t know how you measure that, or even if you should.

  18. Who needs discipleship programs when you have “Sunday Morning”:


    (HT to Scotteriology)

    • hahaha!

    • wow……just EPIC awesomeness……and more growtivationalness than I can absorb in just one hearing……which is why I’m gonna download it and refresh myself repeatedly……. you are rec’d

  19. I am SO happy after watching EricW’s video.

    But to try and move back on topic, doesn’t the problem Dallas Willard speaks of have two causes?

    First, many smaller churches fail to follow the contemporary evangelical model. Bill Hybels has always said that the church must keep getting smaller if it wants to keep getting larger. His emphasis on small groups and adjunct programs make up for the slackness of the Sunday morning programs — which are primarily a TV production and fundraiser anyway, and not really church. But, where Willow Creek is doing a LOT of other stuff, many contemporary churches have just slacked off the Sunday morning content without strengthening anything else.

    Second, although the Willow Creek model is the most popular one and is the justification for most change to American Christian worship in the past 20 years, the Willow Creek model is deficient in terms of discipleship. Hybels haas said so quite explicitly more than three years ago. Meanwhile, more and more traditional churches are jumping aboard a train that has already gone off the rails.

  20. Why should we even try to measure spiritual growth? I am thinking in terms of Luther’s theology of the cross which says that God is mostly hidden to us and His ways are hidden to us. I can’t see that “maturity” is something that submits itself to measurement.
    I think one of the great lost insights of our spiritual forefathers in several different traditions was that the church is a means based organization, not a results based organization. The means of grace, as well as the marks of a true church, are the preaching of the word in it’s integrity and the administration of the sacraments. To the degree that a church is practicing those faithfully, to that degree the church is doing what it is called to do. Certainly there are other things a church can do, be they small groups or Sunday Schools or other things like that which foster opportunities for greater community and encouragement but it just seems to me that since God’s ways are hidden from us how can we presume to know when someone else is maturing. We should grant that the apostle Paul was mature when he wrote the book of Romans but even at that point there was nothing good in him and he found himself unable to execute in his life the godly desires in his mind.
    I know the subject of church discipline as a mark of the church has been a controversial point for several hundred years but I would think a church could add that to the proper preaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments as a means of maintaining the peace and purity of the church.
    Sheep are just too unpredictable to measure their maturity. Further, “measure” connotes quantifiability and I don’t know how you would ever come up with quantifiable units of measurement for things like love, joy, peace, patience etc. Rather than seeking to “measure” the maturity of the sheep, the shepherds could focus their attention on their own activities – are they faithfully giving the sheep the things that make for maturity, i.e. the word, the sacraments and discipline.

    • I am quite sympathetic to what you say here, and I think Willard would be too. He was answering a specific question within the parameters of that question. However, growth is something more organic and relational than the concept of “measuring” allows. Good comment!

      • Yep – I agree wholeheartedly. Of course I am not saying that growth doesn’t happen, it’s just hard for us to recognize what is growth and what is not. God bless Chaplain Mike – thanks for keeping the iMonastery going.

  21. I have a friend who pastor’s a church where he allows no member to attend church unless they bring a guest. At first attendance fell dramatically, many leaders resigned, then within a few weeks people began to get it. Now they are expanding for the 3rd time in 5 years. I believe we miss the boat when we treat “church” as a place to be fed, recharged, refreshed, it is all me focused. Church should be a place to bring people who need or want) to start a relationship with God. All about Him.

    • I believe in reaching out, continually, early, late, and often, but I can’t and won’t get on board with this approach. It’s one thing to encourage and speak often of going out of the holy huddle to the highways and far places to gather in the least, the lowest, the lost. It’s another to make it an attendance requirement. This is not that different than a Mormon temple recommend card. Red flag folks: our worshipping GOD should be about HIM, not our ability to bring guests.

      end of rant.
      maybe if I saw this in operation, I’d sing a different tune

      Greg R

    • Dan says:

      >> Church should be a place to bring people who need or want) to start a relationship with God. <<

      When did church become a place for outreach and evangelism?

      The Great Commission commands us to go into the world to carry the Gospel message out to the people that need to hear it. Evangelism in the New Testament is accomplished by going out to new territories (across the street, across the seas) or by bringing an acquaintance directly to the Messiah. I do not think there is justification for using church as a tool for outreach anywhere in the Scripture. And I do not think our contemporary experience of seeker-focused Sunday worship services combined with too-little discipleship training the rest of the week is a success.

      (And never mind what a newbie like me thinks. Isn’t the point of this thread that discipleship among believers is deficient? You don’t worry about what to measure or how to measure a thing until you are aware that the thing is lacking.)

    • I’d be happy to hear a deeper, contextual explanation for your pastor friend, Dan, but right now I’m stuck on


      really ?? so far, after thinking about it a day or two: this still reeks: find this kind of closed membership anywhere in the NT; OK, they’ve expanded because the people “get it”. But what did they “get” ?? Outreach= wonderful; cult like control= not so much.