The Misfit Church is Not Helpful

Would you trust a lifeguard who didn't know how to swim? What about an electrician who didn't know how to install the wiring necessary to bring electricity into your new home? Would you be happy to learn that your child’s English teacher can't read? Would you hire a carpenter that wasn't very good with nails or a surgeon who had never learned how to cut people open? It reminds me of the Island of Misfit Toys from the TV Christmas special “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (CBS)." Every toy had something wrong with it and for that reason no one wanted them. They did not work the way you'd expect, like the bird that couldn't fly, a boat that couldn't float, or the toy train with square wheels. Yes, they are cute and God loves everybody, but if you need a boat that floats you are out of luck. Like a surgeon that can't heal you or a teacher who can't teach you to read we ask “What’s the point?” We expect a certain level of competency in a chosen field in order to claim the title of doctor, mechanic or teacher. By definition, a misfit is someone or something that does not fit in. In that sense, God loves misfits. But it can also mean someone or something that is not fit for the purpose it is intended to serve. A person who cannot swim is not fit to be a lifeguard.

What about your local church? Does it possess a basic competency in its chosen field? According to Jesus, the purpose of the Church is to make disciples who can make disciples. We teach and equip others how to experience God in a very real way and follow the example, instructions and call of Jesus in everything we do. As a consultant and coach, I assist congregations and pastors in turning around congregations that are stagnant and stuck. I always ask the same question of every leadership team to assess their proficiency in the core competency of Christ’s church: making disciples.

“Explain to me in as much detail as you can, how to make disciples,” I ask. The group before me often looks like students in Math class who hope the teacher won't call on them. The answers come sputtering out in vague and random form. Prayer is mentioned, worship, probably Bible. After a few awkward moments of silence all eyes look expectantly at me hoping they got the right answer. Too often, they are not even close. I then ask for a volunteer to explain to me the proper way to make scrambled eggs and a remarkable change occurs. The group, once hesitant and unsure, is now confident and bold, walking me through detailed concrete steps to egg perfection. I have learned a lot about eggs over the years by asking this question and have even improved my technique. I was walked through every step from how to crack the eggs, to proper whisking, to the merits of butter over oil in the pan. In every case, the process is described in such a way that I know the steps, the order in which they should come, and the pitfalls to avoid. I always ask the group how they've come to be so knowledgeable about eggs. The same two answers are always given: “I was well taught” and “I've had a lot of practice.” I then ask my original question again: “Tell me again, with as much clarity as making scrambled eggs, how do you make disciples?”

Then it sinks in: They don't know. They are a misfit church. Perhaps it is more precise to say that they are UNFIT to serve as a church is intended to serve. The primary purpose of a church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ and most Christians are better equipped to make scrambled eggs than disciples. They don't know how to teach another how to pray, how to experience God through scripture, or how to discern God's calling in their lives. They don't know how to lovingly confront sin, encourage each other in the struggle to change or how to hold each other accountable. These, along with a healthy dose of the Holy Spirit, are the keys to changing lives for the better. Being the Church without having the foggiest clue how to help others experience God is like being a lifeguard who can't swim, or an EMT who doesn't know CPR or first aid. But don't despair! Jesus calls it the "Good News" for a reason! We simply need to be taught. Author and disciple-maker Bill Hull said it best in his book “The Complete Book of Discipleship” (2006 NavPress) explains Jesus’s process of making disciples and it still works to this day

From the very beginning, the best way to become a disciple was in a group led by a reliable teacher. Jesus was the Teacher who gathered a rag tag bunch of fishermen and tax collectors together to teach them an entirely new way of life. They did not enroll in an academy. They did not read a library full of books. They lived life together with Jesus in their midst. Bill Hull describes how Jesus transformed these raw recruits into mature disciples. According to Hull, these are the five hallmarks of a disciple in training:

1. A disciple submits to a teacher who teaches how to follow Jesus.
2. A disciple learns the words of Jesus.
3. A disciple learns Jesus’ way of ministry.
4. A disciple imitates Jesus’ life and character.
5. A disciple finds and teaches other disciples who also follow Jesus.

Discipleship is not a program as much as it is living life together with Jesus in our midst. It is talking to each other, learning from each other, and taking life as it comes. It is not just hanging out, though. There is a purpose. It is the intentional choice to live together with and for Jesus. Lives are changed. Character is developed. Faith grows stronger. The world becomes a slightly better place one life at a time, AND it doesn't happen by accident. Making disciples (like scrambling eggs) is a skill that is taught, learned, and practiced. We learn and practice our craft, investing our time and interest in God and other people and miracles happen every day. A lifeguard who cannot save lives is dangerous and puts us all at risk. A church that entertains or keeps people occupied with busy work is dangerous, too. Eternity is at stake as is the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God on earth. Discipleship is God’s cure for what ails us, a better world through better people. Stay with us as we begin to teach how you can help God by being a disciple who makes disciples. Stay tuned!


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