The great American philosopher, Yogi Berra, is said to have promulgated this principle: When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
It is debated whether or not Professor Berra actually made this statement, but it has had a great effect on the American psyche–and perhaps on the American Christian’s psyche as well.
In this post I would like to share with you something that every minister in America today is very well aware of, and suggest that perhaps Professor Berra’s principle may not always apply. If you belong to our Lord and agree, then I encourage you to support your leaders by talking to them about this, guiding them, and encouraging them to reconsider the choices in front of them.
The Church in America has come to a crossroads–a fork in the road. One fork leads to a continuation of a movement focused on numerical growth. Those who are part of this movement should never be vilified. They are focused on evangelism—bringing people to the Lord so that they may be saved. The problem is that, when large numbers come to the Lord at once, it is tempting to neglect the duty to bring those very people—new brothers and sisters in the Lord–to maturity in Christ. To use the terminology popular today, to “disciple” them (a term never found in scripture). For the churches who walk this path, “discipleship” is frequently named, but rarely brought about.
Consequently, the average person in these churches has come to believe that the church exists for him or her—to keep their interest, to start specialized programs to meet their needs, to tell them over and over that they are OK, and that God loves and accepts them just the way they are. They expect that nothing will be expected of them, and should that expectation not be met, an exodus will occur in the church that has raised them up.
They remain infant in their faith, if in fact they have faith in Christ at all.
The other fork, the path less traveled today, leads us to remember the Great Commission—Jesus’ command not to “lead people to” Him, but to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that He commanded.
This path sounds like the “right one”. But those who follow this path often lose sight of the fact that, unless one comes to the Lord, that person cannot be a disciple of the Lord. They are focused on “discipling” without stopping to think through what “discipleship” actually is. The result: Churches whose leadership has never defined “discipleship” from Biblical study buying into program after program designed to facilitate the church “discipling” people who come to the Lord. And when these programs don’t solve all the church’s problems, the answer is sought in the next popular program.
The focus on programs or models places the average minister in a difficult place. Which of these is best? Which should be used? Program after program is marched through the church office, all looking wonderful and recommended by a group or church that is well known. And once implemented, it is rare for any to fulfill the promises made.
It is a difficult place for the average minister, wanting to be faithful to the commission the Lord gave us, but under extraordinary pressure from within the church and the world around them, to grow ever larger in numbers, buildings, programs and fund raising.
One result of choosing one or the other of these two forks in the road is the creation of massive churches filled with people whose spiritual health is precarious–if they actually belong to the Lord.
Another result of choosing one or the other of these two forks in the road is the rigid following of one program or another designed to “make disciples”, promising the church that if they follow this program everyone will be spiritually mature (they rarely speak of spiritual health). In some cases, having completed the program, they are pronounced “discipled”, as though their spiritual journey has now been completed.
Maybe it is time to refuse to walk the paths the world seems to have presented us. Maybe when we come to this fork in the road, we should leave it right where it is.
Our Lord and King has not given us a difficult choice. He has simply said that as we go about our life in this world we are to make disciples, baptizing them into Christ and teaching them to obey all He has commanded. To do this requires that we share the gospel and allow the Holy Spirit to bring conviction so that the people leading them to make Jesus their Lord.
It also requires us to let people understand that Jesus not only loves them just the way they are, He loves them too much to leave them there. So, we are to teach them “all that He commanded.” We aren’t told to suggest “principles” or “guidelines”. The clear expectation is that anyone who claims the name “Christian” is to both learn and obey Jesus teachings.
There is no choice between evangelism and discipleship. There is only a commission we can choose to follow–or ignore. Only in rejecting the false choice of the fork in the road, can we be faithful to His commission.
So what do we do? What should be the focus of churches?
Our Lord has called us to a life of spiritual health. His Word has already told us how to be healthy, but we shy away from expecting these things from people for fear of either losing them, or appearing to be legalistic.
This is understandable. It is also disastrous.
If I have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and never exercise, is it legalistic for my doctor to tell me I’m headed for trouble? Would I want her to not tell me for fear of hurting my feelings, or losing me as a patient?
We are sent to those who are sick and injured. If we are faithful we will tell them the truth: To be healthy, we need to be regularly worshiping (not “attending”) with the body of Christ, studying His Word, talking to Him constantly, serving others, tithing, letting others know what is happening in our relationship with the Lord, living in solid relationships with others doing the same–and presenting all of this to the Lord as a minute by minute act of worship. If we aren’t doing these things as God intended–we are not healthy, and we are headed for major trouble.
Programs may be used to help us do this as long as they are useful, but when they are not they should be discarded. We don’t need to worry about evangelism strategies because if we are spiritually healthy we will share our faith and the Holy Spirit will accomplish His task.
To be clear, we need to be spiritually healthy ourselves by obeying all that He commanded. Then we need to insist that our leaders focus on helping others do the same.
May the church rise up and guide its leaders to refuse the choice of the two forks in the road. The answer is not to swing in one direction or another. It is more basic–more fundamental.
Know Jesus and Be Faithful.
For the average reader, this post may not provide enough background. So, in a few days I will follow with a deeper exploration of spiritual health and why it is different from what many are teaching today.