Easy Accountability, Hard Accountability


Iron sharpens ironIn my 35+ years as a Christian, I’ve heard a lot about accountability. In Evangelical ranks, the most common term of use is accountability partner.

An accountability partner is an individual who works with you to keep you on the straight and narrow. Iron sharpens iron and all that. In concept, it’s a nice idea.

It’s an easy one too. Maybe too easy.

The kind of accountability that an accountability partner provides, though, is that same kind of individualistic thinking about the Faith that seems ingrained in the American Church (see “The Church, Corporate Sin, and Christ as Community Savior“).

But there’s a harder accountability. Way hard. And perhaps because it’s hard, I hear about it as often as I hear about adding a Swahili-language service on Tuesday nights.

I’d like to see some accountability for all the prophecies and words of knowledge/wisdom some dole out that never come to pass. And I’d like to see the people who receive those words stop making excuses for their failures or for the people who pronounced them.

I’d like to see some accountability for all the times we go on and on about how radically “touched” our youth were at the retreat/conference/lock-in/whatever only to have those example youth walk away from the Church the second they graduate high school.

I’d like to see some accountability for the fact that so few of our church discipleship programs are effective enough to raise a church’s leadership from within so a church doesn’t have to scout the country for someone to lead it.

I’d like to see some accountability for the fact that we have thousands of Christian conferences around the country each year, and yet for all that wisdom being trotted out before thousands and millions, the trajectory of the general spiritual status of the populace of the United States continues sharply downward.

I’d like to see some accountability for the reality that most people who are on that downward slope only think about Jesus in negative terms because the people who represent Him are doing such a lackluster job of being excited about what they believe and sharing it in a positive way.

Getting an accountability partner for oneself is cake. Finding an accountability partner for the big “C” Church in America? Seemingly impossible.

I say seemingly because I don’t believe for a second that it really is as impossible as we make it.

As a whole, we Christians CAN do a better job. We CAN stop making excuses for the lacks. We CAN get serious about what we believe.

But we have to WANT to. And wanting to means dealing with the mess of the cleanup. We can’t kid ourselves about the job.

Do we want to improve? Or is taking the easy way all we want to be held accountable for?

Equipping the Saints: Murder in the Church


Talk to enough Christians and it’s apparent that whatever is wrong with the world is also wrong with believers. Not a person reading this doesn’t know a dozen Christians who struggle constantly with their Faith, staggering from one ditch into another.

For years, I used to be on a team at church who prayed for folks who came up after the service. The stories I’ve heard…more hair-curling than a beauty salon. What I’ve learned in those times makes for discernment that never fails and a word of wisdom that always applies.

What did I learn? It’s in these words of Jesus:

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
—Mark 8:35

The reason many Christians suffer needlessly is because we don’t know what it means to die to self. Nearly every problem we make for ourselves we make because we’ve skirted the cross and gone on our own merry way.

Consider any issue facing the American Church today. Below the surface, the crux of that issue goes back to one thing: not enough dead-to-self Christians.

Take the phrase “not enough are dead to self ” and see how remarkably it answers the following questions:

Why aren’t Christians more interested in evangelism?

Why do so few Christians know the Bible?

Why are Christians so prayerless?

Why do so few Christians serve their neighbors?

Why do so many Christians look just like the world?

Why do so many Christians get divorces?

Why do our Christian youth apostasize in such large numbers while in college?

Why are Christians making so little impact on our society and culture?

The number of such questions that can be answered with “not enough are dead to self ” accumulates rapidly.

A chilling verse:

For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.
—Philippians 3:18

The Cross...I’m sure each of us could draw up a list packed with names of people or groups we would deem enemies of Christ.

But notice Paul’s phraseology. He chooses his words carefully. He did NOT say “enemies of Christ” but “enemies of the CROSS of Christ.”

That hits harder because it hits closer to home. In fact, such enemies may populate our churches. Worse yet, they may be you and me.

Paul concludes:

Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
—Philippians 3:19

Sounds like America 2009, doesn’t it?

What else explains the crossless preaching from our pulpits that tickles so many ears?  What else explains Christians who can’t seem to abide even the lightest correction or systematic discipleship? What else explains Christians who look just like the world?

Simple: They haven’t been to the cross.

Perhaps one Christian in 1,000 can say the following without risk of perjury:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
—Philippians 3:7-11

Jesus makes the the dividing line even more obvious:

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
—Luke 14:33

And that dividing line is the cross.  The cross is death to anyone who lays hold of it with both hands:

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
—Galatians 6:14-15

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
—Colossians 3:2-3

But for those who die at the cross, a new hope exists:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
—Galatians 2:20

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
—2 Corinthians 5:17

The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him…
—2 Timothy 2:11

Here’s one of the strongest spiritual truths: People who aren’t dead to self are nigh unto useless for the Kingdom. Most of what they do for God will be of the flesh, and that junk neither lasts nor produces genuine fruit.

But a man or woman dead to self and alive to Christ is unbounded. You can’t shame such people because you can’t shame the dead. You can’t hurt the dead because they feel no pain. You don’t have to dance around the willfulness of the dead because, hey, no will of their own; they pretty much do whatever you tell them.

And that’s the kind of person God will use immensely.

If we want to talk about equipping the saints, we also have to talk about de-equipping them of themselves.

Too few Christian leaders are bold enough to tell people to their faces that the sole reason for the majority of their annoyances is that they aren’t dead to self. Too few Christian leaders have the cajones to go up to lingerers at church and say, “The reason you’re useless for God is because you have no idea what it means to be dead to self. Maybe if you stopped crawling off the altar God would use you to fix the problems in His church that you’ve been griping about for decades.” Or something to that effect.

If people get offended, too bad. It’s one of the signs they’re not dead to self. Sadly, the cemeteries are filled with the bodies of those who walked away from God because He didn’t fulfill their expectations. And each one of those people left because they couldn’t get past the cross and dying to self. Isaiah, in one of the most potent verses in Scripture, describes such people vividly:

“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?
—Isaiah 45:9

You can tell when someone isn’t dead. While a dead body reeks of decay, a person not dead to self reeks of something far worse: pride.  Meanwhile, the sweet aroma of the Christian who is dead to self is that of humility, the first fruit of the image of Christ.

If we aren’t getting people to the cross, then all the equipping in the world will be worthless. If the raw material we’re hoping to see molded into the image of Jesus isn’t dead first, we might as reevaluate our fancy-dancy educational programming until it is.

Will that be hard? Heck, yeah! But it’s the only way that achieves great results for the Kingdom.

Equipping the Saints: What We Must Expect…and When


Standing on the word...and knowing itWhen 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.