Prior to 2020, during a time of training, I would often ask, “If for some reason the church you lead was no longer permitted to gather together in a building, how prepared are your people to go and be the church on mission, making disciples without attending a weekly gathering?” I had always had some kind of religious persecution in mind when I asked the question. Never did I think of a pandemic. Then COVID-19 happened, and most of the world was not allowed to gather in large groups for an extended period of time. It was a wake-up call to the Church, as we discovered how prepared or unprepared we were.
Some churches thrived during COVID. People engaged in serving their neighbors, they met together regularly in smaller groups (in whatever size was allowed), and they shared with others the reason they served and loved people like Jesus had served and loved them. COVID-19, like the persecution of the church in Jerusalem, propelled many people on mission like never before. It was a catalyst that released trained followers of Jesus to step more fully into their calling. I heard many stories from church leaders about how the people they trained stepped out and up in their obedience to Jesus’ call to make disciples.
And yet, I also listened and watched many other leaders panic and rage, as they had very little hope that the people they led would continue to follow and obey Jesus faithfully without a regular weekly gathering. And sadly, many of them did not. We witnessed many people leave the church and their faith. We also observed Christians become more divided than ever as they fought and rejected one another. Sadly, the world watched far too many Christians become more known for criticism and hatred than grace and love.
Most were not prepared. The Church was not very mature, according to how Jesus measured disciples—by their love for others, including their enemies. We were found wanting when it comes to making disciples of Jesus who would be known for their love.
We could spend an entire book simply unpacking what we discovered during the years 2020–2022, and I imagine many will be written. But that is not the goal of this book. The assumption of this book is that many Christians did come to realize that we have dropped the ball on making disciples of Jesus who can in turn make disciples who resemble the life and character of Jesus. COVID-19 was a check-up visit to the divine physician’s office for church health. I believe the Spirit of God revealed to us that many churches and ministries had not made disciple-making disciples.
It seems we may have done a better job creating consumers who showed their true cards when the goods and services they were used to consuming had been taken away. We had become proficient at creating gatherings, leading musical worship, preaching compelling sermons, and designing attractive programs. And people were gladly attending and taking what they wanted. But when what they wanted was taken away, they went away. What could have been one of the greatest opportunities for the Church to display the good news of Jesus to their neighbors was lost on people who had not been trained and prepared for the moment. Ironically, although making disciples is the clear mission of the Church, when asked, most churches say that making disciples who make disciples is still their biggest weakness.
How can this be if making disciples is the core mission of the Church? We will unpack five reasons in this book, each of which describes a shift we need to make:
- We need to shift from just reaching people to making disciples.
- We need to shift from merely informing disciples to equipping disciple-makers.
- We need to shift from calling people to attend programs and events to leading people to truly attach to God and others.
- We need to shift from unhealthy striving to thriving as Spirit-empowered disciples and emotionally healthy leaders.
- And finally, we need to shift from merely accumulating people into our buildings and programs to deploying disciple-making disciples to the ends of the earth.
We need to do a 180 and get back to the basics of Jesus’ command to make disciples who make disciples.
I am writing this book for anyone who wants to get back to what Jesus saved and called us to be and do. Some of you presently lead a church or a particular part of the church. It’s time for you to lead the shift. Some of you have become disillusioned with the Church because she seems so far away from what Jesus called her to be. Don’t give up. Jesus promised he would build his church, and the gates of hell (and our past mistakes) will not prevail against his work.
You can be a part of the way Jesus accomplishes his work. Some of you have wondered whether you have a role to play. You do. The Church is the people of God saved by the power of God and filled with the presence of God for the purposes of God in this world. If you have come to Jesus and received the Spirit, you are part of Jesus’ body, the Church.
It’s time for all of us who love and follow Jesus to get back to what he saved and called us to be: disciples of Jesus who make disciples of Jesus. Let’s make the shift and chart a new future for the Church together.
This is an excerpt of the Introduction from Jeff Vanderstelt’s newest book One-Eighty: A Return to Disciple-Making © Exponential. Download the free e-book here.