By Pastor Rob Bloss
My stepdad was a professional dog trainer. Most of his clients were looking for a dependable hunting companion who could flush a pheasant and retrieve a duck they just dropped into the middle of a pond. He also trained dogs to run in Field Trials, competitive events where dogs and trainers test their skills against each other. To see a dog doing what he was born to do working in complete concert with his trainer, appeared almost effortless.
But I knew better. Training a dog to run in a sanctioned Field Trial takes a lot of work and preparation - many hours spent at each other’s, significant knowledge and skill, great trust and understanding, not to mention patience, and persistence.
Amateur dog trainers like to show off the tricks they are able to get their dogs to do – sit, roll over, and so on. But my stepdad was quick to point out that these dogs were not trained, they just knew a few tricks. He went a step further to say that the real challenge was going to be to train the dog owners rather than the dogs.
I Corinthians 9:25 says that “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”
As Jesus followers, are we pursuing conformity to Christ or a few church tricks: to sing along, pray out loud, quote a few passages, learn the same holy talk that everyone else uses? Can we be self-deceived into equating the outward appearance of the mere doing of Christianity with being a Christian?
There was definitely a time in my teenage years where I knew about God, but I didn’t know God. I hadn’t responded in faith to the offer of His grace. And I hadn’t been trained. I didn’t have a relationship with Christ, and I didn’t have anyone who was personally pouring into my life. All that changed during my Junior year in H.S.. I was very intentional and blessed to find someone who invested time with me and helped me not just with the “how to” of Christianity, but the deeper issues of the heart, including searching for and answering the “why”.
There have definitely been times where I have settled for “tricks” rather giving myself to the discipline of training. Do you want to compete in a triathlon? You can train or you can try. One allows you to compete, and the other stockpiling some nice gear that will sit in the corner of your basement.
The problem with church programs is that they can mask a failure of training with attendance success. We can go through the motions as if something is really happening. Programs can create a false validation of genuine transformation, of a deeper, relational, practically applied, maturing work of God.
Programs are the ‘what’ not the ‘where’ of disciple making. When a program develops a disciple, the disciple grows into a person who services programs. But when a person develops a disciple, the disciple grows into a person who develops disciples. Programs don’t develop people, people do. That’s why at Covenant we say that the optimal place for making disciples, the kind that make disciples, isn’t in a row but in a circle, it’s in a small group. It’s person to person, life on life.
I encourage you to find someone. I encourage you to be someone. To be a disciple who is making disciples. That’s why we exist as a church. Making disciples is His mission and ours.
As we emerge from a season of imposed isolation and distancing, it will be important that we are intentional about not settling for the outward appearance of Christianity, for merely showing up. We don’t want to merely anything! We don’t want to just ‘look’ like followers of Christ, we want to follow Christ. We are called to compete to win an imperishable and eternal prize!