“Is That Man In The Third Pew a Christian?” (By Sam Cassese)

I think it’s a safe bet to say we all know people who claim to be Christians and yet the way they live their lives make us scratch our heads and say, “Really?” Have you ever wondered whether or not that man or woman was really a Christian? After all, don’t they know better?  If you confess to be a disciple of Jesus, don’t assume the answer to that question. This blog is for you.

George Barna, founder of a prominent statistics corporation, did a study on Christian disciples in America. He compiled these stats in a book I am reading for a class, called Growing True Disciples. Upon reading these pretty dismal stats on the current condition of American Christians, a classmate of mine recently made a comment that really lit a fire in me.

He basically said that when he reads Barna’s stats about Christians in America, He questions whether or not those “Christians” even know Christ. “How could they really be Christians when the stats demonstrate their lack of fruit!? Perhaps they are simply Christians by the world’s definition of a Christian,” he says.

I think this is exactly where Barna wants us. It’s easy to see the lack of maturity in Christians and react by clarifying, “Oh, they’re just so-called ‘Christians.’“ Our instinct is to act as judge and jury, draw a line and say “in or out” based on the fruit we observe. But when someone is claiming to be a Christian, I think our first step in addressing their inconsistencies is not disagreeing with their faith claim or interpreting their lack of maturity as a lack of true salvation.  Rather, I believe our instinct should be to see it as a need for discipleship, and perhaps even a failure on our part as church members and leaders. Initially we should give their confession the benefit of the doubt and assume their problem is that they are not making the connections (or more likely are not being taught to make the connections) between the gospel and the activities of their lives.

Why give them the benefit of the doubt? Because doing the opposite can all too easily lead us to dismiss our failure.  We can justify our short-comings as disciple-makers and say “I’ve done enough! They must not be regenerate!”

If someone is confessing faith, let’s not play referee and make calls on “in or out”; let’s leave that to Jesus. Rather let’s be jazzed at such a confession and spurred on to engage in the time-consuming, strategy-requiring, wildly-inefficient work of discipling people. After all, this is what the resurrected Christ called us, as disciples, to do: make disciples.

Next time you see the guy or gal in the third pew, here are 5 options that would be far more productive than dismissing their faith.

1. Invite them over for dinner or go to coffee to hear their story.
2. Offer to read through the Bible with them.
3. Invite them to hang out and do Bible Study with your Life Group.
4. Pray for them – seriously.
5. Make yourself available to do life with them.


About Pastor Andrew

Follower of Jesus, Husband to Carissa, Daddy to four daughters, Lead Pastor at LifePoint Church in Vancouver, WA.
This entry was posted in 2theSource, Discipleship and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to “Is That Man In The Third Pew a Christian?” (By Sam Cassese)

  1. Important encouragement for all of us to take responsibility in discipleship! Great post!

    • Pastor Sam says:

      Yes Angela! That’s key- we are ALL called to be disciple-makers. We each can play a part and “take responsibility.” I think part of the definition of a disciple must include “disciples others.”

  2. Katy says:

    Amen! I found this both convicting and encouraging.

    • Pastor Sam says:

      Glad to hear Katy. There’s usually three responses to seeing a need such as the one I posed. 1) Become defensive. 2) Become discouraged (or defeated). 3) Become determined. I’m glad to hear you are in the third camp and are being spurred to action. I pray that we all are.

  3. Dean Goff says:

    Such a good post Sam. People do not understand sometimes the importance of discipleship. Not only is it important, it takes time. When I first gave my life to Christ, I did not start the discipleship process until 3 years later. During that first 3 years as a young believer, I was disillusioned and confused, wondering what the next steps were in my walk with Christ. Actually, it was a very depressing time in my life. Because I knew that something changed in me, but I could not figure out what was lacking. It was discipleship. It was older believers coming along side of me, and investing time to help me navigate through the scriptures, learning to serve, and understanding that salvation was just the beginning of my walk with Christ. The term you used, “Doing Life”, is so important. The development of all my children at a certain age was, and is different. Not all of them walked, talked, and did some of the other things kids do at the same age. The idea is for me as a father to walk with them in each stage of their development to offer them encouragement, support when needed, and the ability to even step back and let them struggle a bit in order that they would grow stronger. But at no time was it my job to judge them, or make them feel less of my child because their growth was not as rapid as that of their siblings. I believe that this is the way we need to see people that God has placed in our midst who are at different levels of growth. I think by looking at people who may struggle in our eyes in one way or another, and then wondering if they are saved or not, which some how we mistakenly think is our calling, really says more about our own lack of growth, than theirs. We are to love, and lead with our hearts as our hearts our fixed on Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. Their development will not be expedited by everyone trying to determine where they should be in their growth. But by asking ourselves, “Where are we at in our growth as leaders and shepherds?” Sometimes teachers need to focus more on becoming better teachers, not just assuming they have poor students. Degrees in theology and the academic disciplines of the church do not make us successful shepherds, but understanding our sheep does. If we do not smell like sheep, we are not close enough to our flock.

    • Pastor Sam says:

      Great points Dean. I always appreciate your thought-provoking feedback.

      Something you mentioned is a big part of the difficulty of creating a strategy for discipleship in the local church: everyone is at different stages of growth. We cannot create a one-size-fits-all approach and expect our sheep to walk through it like a conveyor belt.

      Everyone’s different.

      This is why we need, more than a system or a class, people who can do life with each other and disciple them on a case by case, situation by situation, basis. Anyone who is a strategic thinker like me cannot help but feel how inefficient such an idea is… but Jesus never said it would be easy, neat, or efficient. That’s why it takes everyone!

  4. crosshairbravo says:

    Exactly. We all need to play our role in the process of discipleship. That is why I love the Live, Learn, and Lead philosophy in our church. We are all at different stages in life, learning from each other, being led, and developing as leaders.

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