Presbyterians Challenged to Make Disciples, Not Christians

Moving past the conflict and controversy that has surrounded the liberal direction of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a network of disaffected Presbyterians kept their focus on missions at their annual meeting this year.

The New Wineskins Association of Churches held its sixth convocation near Chattanooga, Tenn., this week. The theme this year was "Gathered to be with Him, Sent to be like Him."

Featured speaker Greg Ogden, executive pastor of Discipleship at Christ Church of Oak Brook, Ill., challenged Presbyterians to get back to disciple-making and away from producing Christians.

His messages were based off his 2003 book Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time, where he says many church leaders wrongly look to the latest evangelistic strategies or seeker-targeted worship services for church growth. The lack of church growth is likely not due to lack of concern for new people but instead, it may be due to churches not effectively discipling the people they already have.

"The age of 'build it and they will come' is dead," Ogden said at the Oct. 4-6 convocation, as reported by The Layman.

He also charged many Christians of seeking only to get a ticket to heaven.

"I prayed the prayer, I invited Christ into my life, I've asked for forgiveness of my sins, my ticket is punched for eternal life and that is the way I want it," he recalled one woman saying, according to The Layman.

Yet the heresy of today is the belief that one can be a Christian without being a disciple, he said.

The reality is many believers today are passive recipients with little spiritual growth and who fear sharing the Gospel.

"You don't become a disciple sitting in an audience ... listening to a sermon on Sunday morning," he said, as The Layman reported. "It's only when you get up out of the crowd, onto the journey, invested in relationships that the process of discipleship starts."

While the missional vision was the main focus of the three-day convocation, the event also featured workshops for Presbyterians considering leaving the PC(USA) and those who have already left. Participants had the opportunity to be guided on church property disputes and on joining the smaller and more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Last year, the network held a meeting catered to those disappointed with the decision by the PC(USA)'s highest governing body to delete the requirement that clergy live in "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness." The proposed change to the denomination's constitution would open the ordination process to noncelibate gays and lesbians. The decision requires a majority approval from the denomination's 173 presbyteries.