The ever-wise Charles replies, “I don’t see how they can get closer to God than they are right here. Now stop worrying.”
Then on Monday morning I opened my email to a report from a discipleship movement in Africa and read this update:
Churches across Africa were closed for months and in many places even small gatherings of believers were prohibited. As a result, families which depended upon pastors for their spiritual feeding now found themselves without a preacher or shepherd…except where discipleship was strong. In communities where they have experienced being and making disciples, they continued to meet in small family groups around God’s Word, encouraging and feeding themselves and their neighbors.
For a variety of reasons, the impacts of the coronavirus will continue well into 2021—not only physical illness and death but also societal impacts: mental and emotional health will continue to suffer, students will continue to struggle, small businesses will continue to close … and churches will continue to be pushed to reinvent what it looks like to carry on Jesus’ mission of proclaiming good news to the poor and discipling all peoples (Isaiah 61 and Matthew 28).
But we can learn something from the wisdom of Pa Ingalls on the Kansas plains and the disciple-making churches in Africa: gathering in a church building isn’t vital to spiritual growth, health, and faithfulness; discipleship is.
Last week I participated in the memorial service of the man who has been a second dad and a mentor to me for over forty years. Paul’s last words to me some three years ago were, find two men and disciple them; then do it again. As I reflected on his life, I realized that that’s all he ever did. At West Point, as an infantry officer in Vietnam, and then for five decades with The Navigators in Eastern and Western Europe and the United States, Paul’s life was marked by investing in just a few men at a time. And over the last years of his life before dementia set in, God honored Paul’s dream of discipling 300 men!
Christ’s church will survive the onslaught of coronavirus and its effects. The church is, after all, his Bride … and central to his ongoing mission in the world. But if local churches like The Journey are to thrive, it will be through a renewed focus on discipleship and evangelism. It begins with being a disciple: following close after Jesus (first-hand knowledge of Jesus), knowing his Word inside and out (gospel fluency), loving God and others well (a life lived for others); discipleship continues through reproducing yourself in others. Evangelism is no different, really; it just begins with someone who doesn’t—yet—know Jesus.
In the coming months at The Journey we will—we must—shift our focus back to this simple work. And we dare not let any excuses stand in our way.