Jim Putman, founder and senior pastor of Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, Idaho, shared Tuesday at the 2013 Exponential Conference what he believes can help churches and their leaders to make genuine disciples of Christ, primary of which, he says, is being sensitive to Jesus' example in the Bible instead of being seeker-sensitive.
"They're not being disciplined," said Putman of spiritually immature Christians. "They're being converted and asked to come and watch."
Speaking before an audience of more than 25,000, participating in person and virtually via a live webcast, Putman focused much of his message on Matthew 16:18, in which Jesus tells his disciple Simon after he declares him the messiah: "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
The Idaho pastor, author and award-winning wrestler said that the Bible passage was the "transitional verse" in his life, as he was at one point an atheist and had resented the church growing up due to how much serving in ministry demanded of his parents and the hypocrisy he witnessed in other Christians' lives.
In fact, Putman noted that despite feeling "new" and "at peace" after coming to faith in Jesus, he was still resistant to joining a church, much less becoming a pastor. "It was like being on a losing team," he said, adding how his competitive nature made him focused on being a winner. He wondered, based on his observations, if churches have not "changed the definition of what a disciple is so they could win."
Although he eventually came to understand that "the church could not be stopped or thwarted," as Jesus suggests in Matthew 16:18, Putman said he found it discouraging that "Christians who call themselves Christians can't answer basic Bible questions."
Sharing a statistic from David Kinnaman's You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...and Rethinking Faith, Putman said an estimated 80 percent of those raised in church leave and never come back. The minister also referenced Thom S. Rainer in suggesting that most Christians will die without ever sharing their faith, which might be the case, said Putman, because faith isn't working for them.
Putman insisted that Christian influence is waning in America and wondered if it was not because, in addition to falling short of genuine, Bible-based discipleship, Christians have also re-defined what it means to belong to Christ's Church.
He added that there were three possible ways to understand Jesus' declaration in Matthew 16:18, and that was by either viewing Jesus as a liar, as being ignorant or acknowledging that "somehow the Church in most places are not his Church anymore."
But, if Jesus says his Church wins, "What makes a church his church?" asked Putman.
He went on to suggest that the primary requirement for churches belonging to Christ is that they operate under his authority and with the leading of the Holy Spirit.
"Too many people are trying to figure out what the people want rather than what Jesus wants," said Putman. "When you're trying to figure out how to please people rather than pleasing Jesus, you're trying to get the wrong people to applaud you."
"His church wins and it takes on his mission," he added, saying that Jesus' "mission is not to make converts, and it never has been."
While insisting that he was not against church services, but against "church services only," Putman said a church is successful when it can disciple "10 (people) who can make disciples who can make disciples" – not in thousands of people watching.
Genuine disciples of Jesus are marked by their desire to obey Jesus, among other things, and are known for their indiscriminate love for others, a marker of the presence of the Holy Spirit in one's life, according to Putman.
"It's going to take his authority, it's going to take his methods, his leaders," said Putman of making disciples, adding that "Jesus is the greatest disciple-maker in history" and it was because "Jesus made disciples who made disciples" that the whole world came to know about him.
"I believe Jesus' Church can be a winning church, but it has to get back to doing things his way [and] defining things his way," Putman concluded.
The 2013 Exponential Conference started Tuesday and runs through Thursday, April 25, and is accessible via live streaming Exponential.org. This year''s conference theme is "DiscipleShift," and addresses how Christians and churches can "make disciples who make disciples." Exponential describes its mission as existing "to accelerate movements" inside individuals, inside churches and inside networks and denominations.