The Biblical Directive for Our People Is to Keep Growing
Spirit-empowered churches are our goal, but we must recognize that churches are made up of a far more valuable asset than brick and mortar real estate: people. | by Alton Garrison
The first and most basic building blocks of any church are people. At the core of the Acts 2 process is having Spirit-empowered disciples who are encountering Jesus, experiencing the fullness of the Holy Spirit, learning Scripture, and engaging with God’s people. In fact, the primary objective of the entire Acts 2 process is to see unbelievers transformed into fully developed followers of Christ who are able to reproduce believers.
If we make disciples, the natural result is a strong, robust community of faith; but if we simply try to add warm bodies, we will rarely get disciples. Spirit-empowered discipleship is utterly vital.
This again is where we encounter the importance of relational or experiential truth. Learning and doing (education and effort) without encountering the Holy Spirit are counter-productive—in fact, it’s dry, lifeless, and destined for failure.
Sound Doctrine and Discipleship
Undeniably, sound doctrine is foundational to the strength and effectiveness of the church, and it’s impossible to have sound disciples without sound doctrine. The truth of God shapes and molds the people of God for life and service.
While many churches are satisfied with their discipleship process, research statistics indicate that many churches have discipleship deficiencies, that upcoming generations are leaving the faith at an alarming rate, and that professing Christians know less and less about the content of the Bible. The results are frightening.
Dave Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, states, “In virtually every study we conduct, representing thousands of interviews every year, born-again Christians fail to display much attitudinal or behavioral evidence of transformed lives.”1
Seminary president Dr. Albert Mohler writes on his website, “Christians who lack biblical knowledge are the products of churches that marginalize biblical knowledge. Bible teaching now often accounts for only a diminishing fraction of the local congregation’s time and attention.”2
Many of our churches have abandoned Sunday school as a means of discipleship but aren’t offering a replacement for systematic study of God’s Word. In short, our ability to create Spirit-empowered disciples hinges on our ability to disciple, period.
Just as with the Great Commission, this is an impossible task in our own strength and ingenuity. So, if we aren’t being reinvigorated and empowered for our tasks by the Holy Spirit, we won’t be able to create an environment for upcoming generations to experience the power and presence of the Lord in a way that also teaches them sound doctrine.
But we don’t need a few more programs. We need disciples experiencing the Spirit’s power.
What do we need to do in order to accomplish this task of discipleship? Well, Jesus told His disciples to “wait.”
Are we still waiting?
It’s interesting to note that one of Jesus’ last words wasn’t “go” but “wait.” What were His disciples waiting for?
He had no intention for them to begin fulfilling the Great Commission without the power to accomplish the task. He said, “Wait in the city . . .” (Luke 24:49) and “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). Jesus knew they couldn’t do it with their own ingenuity. They needed immersion. In Acts 1:8, we read the promise: “But you shall receive power.”
Followers of Jesus need Spirit-empowerment.
Sound teaching in the classroom is important, but it should never replace the prayer room and the revitalizing empowerment that comes from seeking God and His resource to us—His Holy Spirit.
Remember, what Jesus wants us to do is impossible. We aren’t capable of loving our enemies, forgiving those who have wronged us, creating Spirit-empowered disciples, or walking a supernatural path to take the good news to every corner of the world on our own. We have severe capacity issues. We must believe powerful stories are still being written, and then we must write them in our churches, large and small—and the lives of Spirit-filled disciples are our letters.
I have never really felt ready for the tasks God has assigned to me. As we contemplate the tasks ahead of us, we must understand that God isn’t waiting to equip us with more power in the moment of each task. No, if we have the Holy Spirit, we already have all the power we need!
Let’s revisit the transformative work of the Holy Spirit in the context of the Spirit-empowered disciple—specifically, one of a generation hungry for experience.
Spirit-empowered disciples don’t experience an isolated event but a process of complete transformation. Paul describes this in his words, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18 ESV).
We each progress through a spiritual journey. On this journey, we have a biblical directive to keep growing. To illustrate this pattern of growth, we have defined five classes of people who attend our churches each week:
- Unbelievers—People who haven’t received Christ as Lord and Savior of their lives.
- Believers—People who’ve received Christ as Lord (belief system) but haven’t yet become learners who obey God’s Word (behavior).
- Disciples—People who adhere to the teachings and practices of growing in Christ and demonstrate a life-style corresponding to God’s Word.
- Servant-Leaders—People who’ve grown in the direction, ways, and timing of the Lord and share their knowledge of Christ with others so they, too, can learn His direction, ways, and timing. They’re involved in different aspects of church life (bus drivers, altar workers, greeters, deacons, Sunday school teachers, etc.).
- Reproducers—People who mentor others through relationship to the point where they become servant-leaders.
We Have What They Want
This generation is hungry for experiences which is evidenced by their fascination with the paranormal, superhuman, and mystical. People hungry for heroes and powers greater than themselves have flocked to movies like Spider-Man, Superman, The Lord of the Rings, The Avengers, Twilight Saga, and even Star Wars.
A generation hungry for experiencing something beyond the natural is looking for power and is preoccupied with the paranormal. From the brooding teen vampires of the Twilight Saga to the curious adolescent wizards in Harry Potter, stories of characters with extraordinary powers abound. Audiences may recognize the mythical nature of the stories, but they’re entertained and inspired by heroes who rise above the masses and the challenges of a shifting, uncertain world.
All of the myths point to a fantastic story that’s absolutely true: A great King has come to rescue His people. A great conflict threatens us all, but the King is the ultimate hero who sacrificed Himself for us. Thankfully, our story isn’t a made-up myth. It’s completely, absolutely, and wonderfully true! I believe this generation understands an underlying life truth—there’s a reality beyond the material world and a greater power is at work in this universe.
They are ripe for a transformative experience.
We should see ourselves as privileged to live in this time. Beyond gleaning symbolic truth from mythical characters, as followers of Christ we can experience a real presence and power beyond human capacity. We can be Spirit-empowered.
What this generation desires, we possess—and can experience on a daily basis. And even more, through Spirit-empowered discipleship, we can impart this same transformative experience to a hungry generation!
Church leaders talk about how to reach Millennials and many are making church experiences seeker-friendly. I believe the key to staying relevant is not just changing up our worship services but also creating an environment where they can experience the power of the Holy Spirit.
We’re all looking for better answers; however, it isn’t better answers we need but better questions. Our questions have focused on us—the people inside the church. The better questions are about them—the people outside our churches with whom we should be building relationships. The right questions will focus on them, and those better questions will give us the answers we need.
We must ask ourselves how well we’re demonstrating this experience and how well we’re participating in it. We have what this generation is hungry for, but do they even know we have it? Are we so busy being seeker-friendly that we’re afraid to talk about the Holy Spirit when He should be our calling card with a generation that’s hungry to experience His power?
We can’t build disciples in our churches until we first experience this empowerment of the Spirit ourselves and demonstrate it to a hungry world. Passionate leaders are living Christ’s call to the church quite vibrantly throughout the body of Christ and lives are changing.
One of these cutting-edge ministries is the Live Dead movement where young people are committing their lives to God so radically that they strongly desire to go to the hardest mission fields—places where they could be persecuted and even killed. Young, empowered disciples are signing up by the hundreds to sell out to God, give everything they’ve got to abide with Christ, reach the unreached, and abandon anything that holds them back. They’re learning that we’ll obey the Lord Jesus and His commission as we return to the simplicity of abiding with Him, advance together to plant a church where the church doesn’t exist, and embrace suffering and persecution for Jesus’ sake as our normal reality.
These young men and women are hungry for an authentic connection with the Holy Spirit. They aren’t seeking something easy, and they don’t want to be preoccupied with materialism. They want to experience the reality of the gospel lived out in the most hostile parts of the world.
It will never happen with emotionally fanned messages or programs or initiatives, and it’s too much to do by ourselves. However, it can happen when the Holy Spirit fans our spirits into flame because God is ready to empower disciples of Christ all across our hurting world.
1 Dave Kinnaman, unChristian (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2007), 79.