A Discipleship.Network Interview
with Pastor James Pittman
D.N ~ Pastor James...authors, pastors, ministry leaders are making it clear the Church in America needs to take a serious look at discipleship. Do you agree that the state of disciplemaking is in trouble in most congregations?
Pastor James ~ I most certainly agree that the state of discipleship-making is in trouble in most congregations. When we at New Hope Community looked into making discipleship the center of our church we looked far and wide for a church to model ourselves after. I am sure there are some out there but we found none. I have asked several churches to share their view on discipleshipmaking and most could not articulate their strategy because most were not making disciples. Preaching and Bible studies were taking place but a clear strategy to help each Christian grow and a way to
assess that growth was missing.
D.N ~ The "Welcome" brochure of New Hope Community Church says "The primary focus of our church is discipleship." That is a clear statement every first time guest reads before the service even begins. What is your purpose in being so bold so quickly?
Pastor James ~ The reason New Hope states our primary focus in the welcome brochure is that we want to be honest with everyone who visits. We do not want a bait and switch situation. It is helpful for everyone to know from the beginning that we are truly trying to live out the Great Commission.
What we say we believe should show in the lives we live. If a person is not looking for a lifestyle change centered around the Word of God we don’t want to waste their time - or ours. We have found that this limits the number of people joining our church but we like it this way. We do not want to build numbers for the sake of building numbers.
D.N ~ Also in that brochure you say: "Discipleship should be a way of life for every Christian and the main focus of every church."
Pastor James ~ Most people who attend church on Sunday morning are fine with Christianity as a system of teachings that exists in a vacuum. It's when those teachings are applied to their lives that people begin to have problems with Christianity. I am talking about people in the church.Jesus describes what happens in the life of a true disciple,"... teaching them to observe all that I have commanded..."
First, if the desired outcome is to produce lifestyle-Christians then we must make it clear that we teach the truth of God's word with the express purpose of obeying it. True disciples don’t merely hear the word. They obey it.
Second, leaders must be clear that true worship is the worship of a Holy God. Our Holy God has defined what holiness is and what sin is. Leaders must not back down on issues that God clearly defines as sin.
Today Christian leaders are more afraid of men than they are of God. And third, leaders have to be willing to apply the truth to individual's lives. We should do it in love, with meekness, in private first, with clear explanations from the scriptures, in the right tone of voices, never in anger, but do it we must. Sometimes this will take the form of church discipline. The truth is that most people attending church today do not want this type of a church. But we must be faithful, regardless of the effect on the size of our church. Accumulating knowledge is easy. Living out that knowledge is an entirely different endeavor.
D.N ~ If disciple-making is the focus, what are the implications
to a traditional content-centered approach and what happens to the
typical weekly/seasonal schedule of programs?
Pastor James ~ The transmission of knowledge through sound teaching must take place in any good church. Jesus said, "...teaching them to observe all that I
have commanded..." Before someone can observe a command they must first
become aware of it. So teaching accurate content is still very important. The question is, how does a ministry ensure that once a person knows what he should do, he will do it? This is accomplished through discipleship relationships that are formed in the church. Fellowships and bible studies are good, but the greatest good done in the church is to foster discipleship relationships.
D.N ~ How has your congregation responded to your emphasis on
discipleship? What encourages you ... What challenges do you face?
Pastor James ~ The congregation at New Hope has responded well because those who did not want a discipleship oriented church have moved on to other churches. As stated before, I have learned that most people do not want a fellowship that challenges its members to sacrifice for the sake of others. Our leadership has tried very hard not to be too hard or rigid in our approach to making disciples, but there are some things that we just can't ignore. Jesus made it clear that certain things are non-negotiable for His disciples. Calling sin, sin and being relationship oriented where we encourage each other to grow are two of those things. We are still learning and still growing, but we would not have it any other way.
D.N ~ Pastor James, please write a prayer we can join with you
in pursuing a biblical discipleship for this 21st century culture...
Pastor James ~ Lord Jesus, please forgive your church for not obeying you in all things and please give your people a thirst to live out what you have called us to do, making disciples that will strive to obey all that you have commanded. May we not be ashamed of You or Your words and may we learn to please you and not men. Amen!