Chad Harris is Lead Pastor at The Crossing in Chattanooga, TN. He is a graduate of Pentecostal Theological Seminary.
In his book The Beautiful Resistance, Jon Tyson shares the inspiring story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s seminary at Finkenwalde. Bonhoeffer had a vision of a church that could be a counterculture to the compromise he saw within the German Church. He was after radical disciples formed in the image of Christ that could resist Nazi Germany. A friend once came to visit Bonhoeffer at Finkenwalde and felt Bonhoeffer was being too intense with his vision of radical discipleship. Bonhoeffer took his friend by boat out in the sound to the far shore. Then he led him up a small hill to a clearing from which they could see in the distance German fighter planes taking off and landing. They could see Nazi soldiers in formation. Then comparing his seminary to the Nazi’s, Bonhoeffer explained how the disciplines of the Third Reich were forming a kingdom of hardness and cruelty. Therefore, it
would be necessary for the church to have a superior discipline if the Nazis were to be defeated. In Bonhoeffer's mind, the church had no choice but to be stronger than the tormentors who were taking over the nation.
The past few years have proven difficult for the Church in America. We all feel it. Faith in the institution of the church seems to be fading weekly as we are rocked by scandal after scandal from our leaders. The love of many seems to be growing cold. We are now at a time when those who show up once a month on Sunday mornings are considered ‘regular attenders’. How do we reverse the trend and restore the church back to her beauty? The answer is not better services. We know how to have great Sunday morning experiences. The answer is not more knowledge. We have more knowledge and access to information than ever before. The answer is not more programming. I agree with EM Bounds who said “The
Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men.” The answer to the crisis will not be easy nor quick. It won’t be learned in a three day conference, but it will be when we get a vision for radical discipleship again. David Kinnamin of Barna research has recently concluded that outside of a move of God and radical discipleship of young people the American church has reached a place statistically of irreversible decline. I believe it is not time to expect less from people, but to call them to more!
Do we need to stop making church so easy? Do we need to stop making it so convenient? Easy and convenient has produced disciples formed in the image of consumerism, rather than disciples who can say, “Greater is He that is in me, than he that is in the world.” We need to call our churches back to radical commitment to Jesus. We need to call our churches back to the crucified life, or else we will get more of the same– mediocre commitment from mediocre Christians.
The way of radical discipleship is not the way of crowds. For the record, I am not against church growth. I want my church to grow. I want to impact my city for Christ. This is not a knock on large churches, because ultimately every church will be judged based on one thing– the quality of disciples it produced, not the quantity of attenders. I have to remind myself that popularity does not equal impact. Your church does not have to be the largest organization in town to make an impact. The book of Daniel reminds us that God does not need an army of people to shake a nation. Sometimes all He needs is three Hebrew boys who have been formed into the image of God and therefore refuse to bow down to the images presented to them in culture.
The prophetic stance taken by Bonhoeffer was in many ways laughable. Who was he, and what was his tiny seminary to stand up to Hitler’s war machine? In reality the seminary was small and its season short. The Gestapo would close the seminary just a few years after it was started. But it was a prophetic seed of a faithful church. And over time, as Jesus promised, that small seed grew and bore fruit. Today the Reich is a shameful memory and Hitler is in the grave. But Bonhoeffer’s vision of radical discipleship has inspired millions. His commitment to radical discipleship outlasted the most powerful force in his day.
Today, I do not offer the silver bullet of discipleship programs. I do not believe in a one-size fits all approach to discipleship. Today I simply offer the thought, what if this year you were intentional, not just about great Sunday morning experiences, but intentional about training and forming and equipping a few people– teaching them to obey all that Jesus commanded us.