Matthew 7:20: “Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” 

What if you decided to build a factory that produced light switches?

In setting up the factory, you carefully considered the quality of the switches you wanted to produce and acquired your resources accordingly. You worked through your assembly procedures from raw materials to finished products and developed clear and concise training materials accordingly. Quality control was a high value for you, so you tested and refined your procedures to be sure they worked well.

Six months later, data from customers showed that more than 50% of the switches being produced are not performing up to standards when placed in the market. What do you do?

After intense scrutiny, you find your supply quality, your assembly procedure, and your training processes are all in good working order. This system has a proven track record of success across the industry, and you have done a good job of adapting it to your setting. In other words, there is nothing wrong with your system.

What you discover is that the people you hired and entrusted to produce your switches have been circumventing your process and procedures. Some have taken shortcuts in processes to make it easier on themselves. Some believed they knew how to make switches better than you did so they changed procedures to fit their model. Some decided to rewrite the training manuals and in so doing have made them too confusing to understand or follow. Some have added so many sub-procedures that the original procedures have become buried in detail.

I feel like this scenario would make a decent analogy for the modern church in the West.

I would argue that the Church was designed to function like a factory that produces fully integrated followers of Jesus. As God brings the raw materials of our repentant selves into the Church, we are to be processed and assembled following the plan found in Scripture and under the supervision of the Holy Spirit. Some in the Church demonstrate to us how we are supposed to look and function when we are finished. Others add, reshape, form, trim, and snip away our unnecessary parts. Others polish, refine, and test us. Still others help us get packaged up and connected to the places we are to live out our purpose in the world. We quickly learn that we can’t fulfill our purpose unless we are connected to the power source and wired in with others in the body.

The system of assembly God designed is time-tested, and when applied correctly, has delivered high-quality disciples in many ages and places. The training materials and assembly procedures are more than adequate. The system works. Therefore, a casual observer should be able to watch people make progress through the system and stage by stage become what they were created to be.

You would expect then that the Church would be turning out high-character people who are exhibiting a high degree of love of their Lord as witnessed by their growing obedience to live as He commanded them. They would possess a heart full of genuine love for their neighbors. Their lives would be marked by an internal peace that transcends their circumstances and passes normal understanding. They would be marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Their interaction with the world would be marked by humility, selfless sacrifice, and a striving to bless.

In many cases, the church in the West has circumvented the process and procedures because we believe we know how to form ourselves better than God does. We go all-in on shortcuts that make it easier on us and in so doing greatly undermine the quality of the product produced. In our hubris, we have rewritten the manual or added so many layers that we have compromised the way the process is supposed to work. It is little wonder then that we send disciples into the world who, under load, fall apart. Often then, we either blame God or declare ourselves so defective as to be irredeemable.

Much to our embarrassment, the evidence of the poor quality of our product is on display everywhere. Meanwhile, our competition is trumpeting our failures from the rooftops. We are losing “customers” at an alarming rate. We seem to be blind to the fact that the problem is in our modifications, not the original process.

And so, my prayer is that God would raise up a Church where more of us are willing to submit ourselves to the processes and procedures of formation that the Owner designed in the way the Owner designed them from beginning to end. Until we do and begin again to produce high-quality disciples, we will have a hard time winning back the reputation of our brand.

Yours in the Journey,
Pastor Tim.