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.