I picked up Scot McKnight’s latest book, One.Life, for a couple of reasons. For one, I like him. I first became familiar with his academic side, collecting each volume of the IVP Theological Dictionary series that bears his name as an editor. I own several of his commentaries, and as a pastor have benefited from his sensible observations on the biblical text. It was only then that I learned he had authored several popular books such as The Jesus Creed and The Blue Parakeet. And then there are my daily visitations to his high traffic blog site, Jesus Creed. Over the past year or so I’ve turned to McKnight through several pathways to find compelling theological conversations. Our world is losing some heavyweight New Testament scholars (Bruce, Stott, Morris, et al) who have helped bridge the gap between the ancient text and the modern world. McKnight seems equipped to step into that kind of role, but I digress.
The second reason I picked up One.Life is because I was looking for an answer to a big question. I think the big question for the established churches in America today is “How do we go about the process of producing followers of Jesus Christ?” For decades churches have relied upon programs to produce such creatures. When I began ministry 28 years ago, there was a uniform pattern for the practice of making disciples. People would convert to Christ, then make commitments to attend worship and Sunday School with faithful regularity. Those who were able to develop these practices were encouraged to attend Sunday evening church services and Wednesday night prayer meeting. Special classes were offered weekly that we called “Discipleship Training.” We had outreach night to train them to share their faith with the lost. As people “matured,” we pulled them from the bleachers onto the playing field and encouraged them to pursue discipleship through singing in the choir, serving as an usher, teaching Sunday School to adults, youth, or children, and serving on a committee. Those who achieved mastery at these levels were elevated to the summit: the Deacon ministry.
I don’t mean to sound pious, but after a year or so of reflection on this process I’ve come to the conclusion that we weren’t really producing followers of Christ as much as we were producing “churchmen” who would keep the church running and maintain its programs. People were busy to the point of burnout, but what was strangely absent was life change. Disciple making was more about sustaining the organization and its programs than it was creating avenues for transformation.
To say that the established church of the 21st century is in trouble is perhaps merely stating the obvious. What worked in the last half of the last century isn’t working now, and the lives of our sheep bear this out. You can find any number of surveys today that will bear out one tragic fact: the lives of American Christians are, for all intents and purposes, no different than the lives of their un-churched counterparts. We are as prone to addition, depression, obesity, divorce, crime, dysfuncton, and debt as anyone else. We are just as materialistic and given to pursuit of the American dream as our neighbors who sleep in on Sundays. And, those who do not attend a local church are just as committed to volunteer activities to charitable organizations as those who invest their time in their charitable organization. Therefore, based on those observations I think that I (we) need to discover and recover the ancient practice of how to develop real disciples of Jesus Christ.
That’s why I one-clicked One.Life.