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First, knowing that so many ministry types serve Jesus’ “I will build My Church” goals, I don’t want to seem unduly critical of any in addressing a concern. So, hey—if you’re a dedicated servant-leader, I’m on your side! But that aside, I want to bluntly assert the fact of a lessened “weight” being given today to Jesus’ strategy for advancing His Church. He said, “Go—make disciples!” And this foundational call is increasingly being “dissed.”

Diss-ing“—the pop-word for “disrespect, or discourteous disregard“—is becoming the norm regarding “discipleship.” Though the practice is becoming common, I don’t think it’s calculated. But it occurs as “doing church,” when undefined, begins to supplant “becoming the Church.” A dimming focus on plain, New Testament discipling is bringing us to the brink of evolving dumbed-down “saints,” a deceivable “elect,” and a crippled Body—emptied of ministry-strength or unready to face persecution.

Without discipleship, we are at risk of garnering believers in Jesus but not growing stable, committed, empowered agents of Christ. Jesus spoke of people who “for joy” lay claim to faith, but who do not endure. They wither when trials or pressure comes—and Christians are facing an increase of both in our world (Mark 4:5, 17). I pose a serious question: “Will whether I ‘disciple’ or not determine whether people I lead to Christ spend eternity with Him?” This fact is certain: people we shape in Christ will become transformed, will be filled with and live in His Spirit, and will incarnate His ministry and grace—introducing something of heaven to earth wherever they go!

As leaders today, we must be warned of our common vulnerability to being distracted by the abundance of “enhancements” available to ministry today. We can become mesmerized by the array of church cosmetics for helping our church look better. “Makeup” isn’t evil, but it’s no substitute for leading believers to “take up” the disciple’s cross and be shaped as His true followers. We’re within frightening reach of being able to grow bigger churches while failing to grow bigger people.

We are increasingly tooled and trained in technology and management techniques. We are better resourced with music and media effects, and better housed and staged for added consumer appeal. And, while I’m not attacking these outsourced resources, I’m asking about our outcomes. Amid our heavyweight enterprises at refining style, we are growing weak in substance. In our version of the Bride “trimming to be pretty” we can end up with lightweight believers— undernourished with “light” fare; i.e., “light” as in soft drinks, instead of the Spirit’s rich wine; “light” as in sermons with lowered nutritional content, but with really interesting stories. With an abundance of resources available, some opt for the following: “As long as it tastes good and you look good—Good! Church was a great party today!”

Here are some practices that may contribute to our weakening. I am damning none of them, but I am asking, “What do they weigh?”

  • Special music and skills may assist our worshipping God, and real “discipling” indeed requires encountering Him in beauty and power. But if “slick” concedes my guitarist’s being given “an eight bar lick” between verses, so “cool” that the applause generated creates an event rather than an encounter with God, am I diss-ing discipleship?
  • A seven-minute drama, carefully, cleverly prepared to reinforce the message of God’s Word can be heart-searching or hilarious—or both. But if our skits become more for fun than for focus, are we simply “rolling in commercials” for an end product that isn’t—was never—in Jesus’ mind?
  • Today’s pastor-teacher lives in a world requiring more than “a speaker.” It looks for “communicators.” Has that mandate turned our focus away from our discipling task to our delivery style? In preaching, might I gain smiles with my cleverness while losing my grip on my Sword, satisfying “itching ears” (2 Tim. 4:3) while watering down “the apostle’s doctrine” (Acts 2:42)?
  • A pastor can have a “charismatic” potential for breeding people whose preoccupation with “prophetic words from the Lord” may draw them away from a hunger to be fed “the Word of God that lives and abides forever” (1 Pet. 1:23). My “prophesying” may attract a following, but, in the end, will those people follow Jesus?

Let’s keep focused on the real and lasting. This is a demanding hour, and it calls for disciplers—leaders who will not be “diss-tanced” from that call.

(1934-2023) was the former president of The Foursquare Church and founding pastor of The Church On The Way.