Back to the Future


Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  Matthew 28:19,20

I feel like I’ve had an epiphany.  To me, an epiphany is one of those breakthrough moments when you have this intuitive realization of the reality of something.  I’ve had one of those, and it resulted from my recent trip to Togo.

After studying the millennials and the topic of mentoring for several years, as well as writing over 100 posts on the subject, I learned something that, to me, was so profound, that it was a verbal “Aha” moment.

One of the leaders guiding one of our sessions made the following statement: “Christ didn’t start His church with members.  He started it with disciples who made disciples, who made disciples.”

That, my friends, is profound.  Many churches in the world have it backwards.  Their focus is on members.  It is a laser focus, which excludes all else.  The incentives are all there, too. Pastors get paid more when they have more members.  Their status as a pastor is tied to the size of their church.  Voila!  I rest my case.

Most churches and denominations keep track of statistics on members, and other things like conversions, marriages, baptisms, etc. These are the standard metrics for measuring the success of a church, and indirectly, the success of the senior pastor.

Put another way, churches are good at creating programs and maintaining an institution, but not so good at creating a transforming relational community.  The latter only occurs through relationships.

For fear of offending nearly everyone, I have to say that this priority is all backwards.  I’ve come to realize that the modern church is stuck in a rut trying to appease the desires of the members by adding program after program to appease the interests of the members.

Jesus could care less. He didn’t ask us to go make “members of all nations”. He asked us to make disciples of all nations.  I don’t think there are many churches in the world that keep track of the number of disciples they have made.  They only track members.  Members don’t make disciples.  Disciples make disciples.

How did Jesus make disciples?  He didn’t send them to seminary or a bible study, that’s for sure, although there is nothing inherently wrong with a bible study.  Nor did he sit them down and lecture them daily.  He mentored them by walking besides the disciples for 3 years. He did very little preaching to them.  His advice as recorded was giving them kingdom principles which came out of teachable moments.

We have an opportunity. A golden opportunity.  In a “Back to the Future” kind of moment, the next generation of leaders are begging for someone to walk alongside them.  As Sam Eaton recently said, “Millennials crave relationship, to have someone walking beside them through the muck.”

They don’t want to be preached to and they shun the institutional church.  But they are reachable through a relationship – one with someone older who is willing to invest in them and someone they have learned to trust.

Our challenge is to get it right and reverse the trend of trying to grow the church through members.  Jesus told us to make disciples, and he showed us how by investing in twelve men by walking beside them for three years.

It’s not rocket science, but somehow, the seminaries that crank out our church leaders haven’t figured it out. As I have said before, no seminary (either protestant or Catholic) has any courses on leadership – the leadership exemplified by Jesus. Sad, but unfortunately, so true.

This is a back to the future moment is for church leaders and mentors. The question becomes how do we stop the exodus of millennials from the church? Tim Keller is someone I have a high regard for put it this way. In context, he was talking about the millennial that won’t darken the door of a church.

Keller suggests that we stop trying to get them into the church (at least initially).  He said: “We have enough churches in America.  What we need are more Starbucks.”  That’s where they are, and that’s where we need to be to interact with them.

As a believer, we don’t have to wait for guidance or direction from your pastor or minister to reach the next generation of leaders. You can take up the slack by being open to mentoring. It doesn’t have to be sponsored by the church.  It just needs to be done, and the millennials are begging for it.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  For the older generation wanting to make an impact for Christ today, the opportunity is at your doorstep by mentoring someone in the next generation.

FURTHER STUDY:  Sam Eaton’s article on why milennials are leaving the church:

For another provocative take on Evangelical’s in the Church:

Finally, my friend Jolene Erlacher has written a book that is worth a read entitled “Milennials in Ministry” which is available from Amazon.

WORSHIP:  Listen to Michael Smith sing “Open the Eyes of My Heart”:

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