When I follow trends in church programming, read other Christian blogs, engage Christian leaders, or read what Christians are saying in social media venues, I come to one inescapable conclusion: We Christians have little or no understanding of what constitutes a Christian worldview. Doctrine eludes us. Discipleship is something we do when we have time for it—and between shopping, working, and vacations, none of us supposedly has time. Far, far too many of us don’t know the foundational truths of the Faith we supposedly confess.
We don’t know what the Gospel is. We don’t know what the Bible says about important issues of life. We don’t know why Christ came, or how to know Him, or why He’s the only Way. We don’t know our eschatology or why it even matters. We don’t even know why our service matters. We simply don’t know what we’re talking about.
I’m an avid birder (birdwatcher being the antiquated term) with more than 30 years experience in that field. I can ID 85 percent of North American Birds on sight, but when it comes to my region of the country, that number approaches 100 percent. Any birder can be fooled, yes, but I know my region’s avians.
If I meet a guy who introduces himself as a fellow Ohio birder with similar multi-decade experience, a certain expectation exists. If this guy tells me he was just down at the lake the other day and saw an albatross, I’m going to think, Mr. Experienced Birder’s skills are about as sharp as a sack of wet mice. If he adds that he saw a Carolina Parakeet, too, then I know his credibility is bupkis. It doesn’t matter what he may say his credentials are, he’s doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
In truth, I can pretty much tell you how long people have been birding just by watching their ID methodology, their ability to talk out difficult IDs, and their willingness to admit they may not have gotten a good enough look at that last bird for a positive ID.
What’s scary to me is that it’s far harder to tell how long people gave been Christians by watching their behavior or asking them simple questions about the faith. It should be obvious, but it’s not. There should never be a reason—ever—for us to encounter a “seasoned” Christian and come away thinking that disciple is about as sharp as a sack of wet mice. And yet we have those people in abundance in our pews on Sunday.
What does that say about the way we American Christians disciple converts to maturity?
Honestly, what should be expected of a convert to Christianity at one, three, five, ten, and twenty years after that conversion?
I don’t know why Christian leaders are not asking this eternal-life-and-death question. It may be THE most important question to ask!
How would I answer that question? Well, below I give a “tip of the iceberg” list of five essentials per milestone year.
At one year, every convert to Christ should:
Have read through the entire New Testament once
Have completed a very basic theology class taught by pastoral staff that teaches core doctrines of Christianity
Know why Jesus is the sole source of salvation and be able to articulate that belief with supporting Scriptures
Be in a Bible study led by a mature Christian who knows the Scriptures and can communicate them effectively
Be participating in a church-sponsored service, teaching, or outreach program
At three years, every convert to Christ should:
Have read through the entire Bible at least once
Have completed an intermediate theology class taught by pastoral staff that covers a wider range of important doctrines, including any denominational distinctives
Be able to articulate what the Gospel is, with supporting Scriptures
Be participating in a church-sponsored class that gives an overview of the Bible and covers the major themes in each of the 66 books
Be serving as an understudy to a leader in a church-sponsored service, teaching, or outreach program
At five years, every convert to Christ should:
Be able to provide an overview of the major themes of each book of the Bible and exhibit a Christian worldview that understands the arc of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration
Have completed an advanced theology class that emphasizes apologetics and the finer nuances of Christian doctrine, including those that may be different from the church’s denominational distinctives
Understand the core teachings of at least one non-Christian religion or cult and how to rebut them
Be participating in a church-sponsored leadership class
Be serving as a co-leader in a church-sponsored service, teaching, or outreach program
At ten years, every convert to Christ should:
Be capable of teaching/leading one of the previously mentioned theology/Bible classes or a small group
Be commissioned as a church representative, capable of representing the church in ecumenical and interchurch events
Have helped to lead at least a half dozen people to Christ
Be discipling new converts
Be leading a church-sponsored service, teaching, or outreach program and be encouraged to start new ones to fill gaps in the church’s programs
At twenty years, every convert to Christ should:
Hold a church office or leadership position
Be able to identify spiritual gifts in others and mentor those people in those gifts
Be mentoring younger leaders
Be actively designing service, teaching, or outreach programs for the church
Be capable of planting a new church or serving on the mission field
I look at that list and wonder how any part of it can be deemed unreasonable. And if it’s not unreasonable, why are our churches not doing it?
It took me fifteen minutes to conceive the list above. One person, fifteen minutes.
If we want to know why the Church in America is making no inroads into reaching lost and broken people, we don’t have to go any further than the list above. If we want to know why our people are dull, listless, and incapable of articulating the Faith, look again at the list and see how our church educational programs compare.
What’s truly distressing is that anyone with a hobby he enjoys knows the path to becoming an expert in that hobby. She knows what is required to be the best she can be at her hobby. And he and she pursue that excellence too.
Knowing Jesus and serving Him is far, far above being a hobby. Yet we treat it like one. In fact, because so few people are experts at it, we may be treating Christianity as less than a hobby. A dabbling perhaps. Something we do between syndicated episodes of Scrubs or when it doesn’t interfere with shopping or a round on the links.
No reason exists why we can’t institute attainable educational standards for converts that assist them to maturity. None.
We have no excuses.