Minister and author John Seamands tells the story of a German soldier who was wounded in battle. The wound was minor and the soldier wasn’t particularly concerned about it, but he was nevertheless ordered to go to the military hospital for treatment. When he arrived at the large, imposing building, he saw two doors. The first one was labeled “For the slightly wounded.” The second one was labeled “For the seriously wounded.” The soldier entered through the first door.
Upon entering the building, he found himself staring down a long hall. At the end of the hall were two more doors. The first door was labeled “For officers.” The second door was labeled “For non officers.” This time the soldier stepped through the second door, whereupon he was again confronted by a long hall with two more doors at the end of it. The first door was labeled “For party members.” The second one was labeled “For non-party members.” The soldier chose the second door, which he soon discovered led immediately out into the street.
Later on, when the soldier returned home, his mother asked him, “How was your experience at the military hospital?” He replied, “Well, mother, to tell the truth, those people didn’t do anything for me. But you should see the tremendous organization they have!”
If we aren’t careful our churches can end up functioning about like that military hospital. The pressure — sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle — to “grow” a church can cause us to look more like an assembly line than a group of real, live, walking, talking, human beings who genuinely care about others. The order for the assembly lines goes as follows:
- Get newcomers in the door.
- Get them assigned to a Sunday School class or a Life Group (whatever your church calls it).
- If kids are involved, get them hooked up with all the activities for the youth.
- If Senior Citizens are involved, get them hooked up with all the activities for the elderly.
- After a while, get the newcomers to formally join the church. Do they need to get saved? Do they need to get baptized? Is it a simple matter of them transferring a church letter? Whatever is required, get it done.
- Lastly, once they are officially on the books, move on to new prospects.
It should be noted that Christ’s Great Commission is actually a command to make disciples not just converts or church members. And what does the word “disciple” mean? It means “a learner, one who sits under teaching.” So, what teaching is a church supposed to give those it wins to Christ and baptizes? I’ll let Jesus Himself answer that question. He says, “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:20).
Those words “all things” cover a lot of territory. Jesus was certainly not a one-sermon preacher! Therefore, our churches have the responsibility of doing much more than just producing new Baptists, new Methodists, new Presbyterians, etc. We have the responsibility of producing disciples, learners whom we teach so they can reach the point where they themselves become the teachers. Anything less than that and we are merely herding people through a series of well organized doors that ultimately misses the goal completely.