A message introducing the theme for the All Region Ministry Conference which met in May in Florence, MT Charles Revis, Executive Minister

My 86 year old mom's computer still uses Windows Vista for its operating system. It’s slow as molasses. I’ve tried to fix it. It needs constant fiddling and rebooting to make it work properly.

What happened to it? Sludge that accumulated over time. I know there are technical explanations for this. The registry has slowly become corrupted. There’s spyware, broken links and useless cookies. But, I call it sludge. To really do the job right I would have to wipe out the old Operating System and replace it. Then my mom’s computer would return to its original condition and purpose. After all it’s a computer! It’s supposed to do a ton of work efficiently! But that’s not going to happen as long as it’s stuck with its old O.S. and the sludge.

It seems to me that many established churches are like my mom’s aging Windows machine. A lot of ministry stuff accumulates over time. Our energies are sapped through unimportant activities. These “add-on” ministries garner our primary attention. Usually at the top of the list is something like "warm fellowship", which means a close-knit, ingrown group that outsiders find closed off and hard to enter.

Evangelism and Discipleship drift to the bottom of our priorities. That heap of other church stuff keeps them there. Having led or participated in dozens of church assessments in our Region I’ve come to the conclusion that over 90% of our churches relegate evangelism and discipleship to positions of lowest priority.

I believe its time to "Reboot" our priorities. Or, better yet, “Reload the Original O.S.” As an association of churches we need to return to the original mission Jesus gave us! “Go and make disciples.” (Matt 28:19) We need to put discipleship back where Jesus intended it to be: On the front burner. Jesus meant for it to be job number one for the church. This is an opportunity for us to think carefully about the priority we are assigning to discipleship and move it back to the top of our priorities.

As we think about discipleship I want to point out that evangelism and discipleship go hand in hand. They are flip sides to the same coin. Rightly understood its not “either evangelism OR discipleship.” To make new disciples means helping people cross the line of faith and become Jesus followers. A well-discipled Jesus follower will, in turn, help people cross the line of faith. They go together. It’s a continuous circle.

In today's world discipleship is part of the work of pre-evangelism. Because post-moderns have almost no Christian knowledge and little Christian memory they need exposure to the basic teachings of the Christian faith.

That's why we need to think of discipleship as starting before people come to faith. Certainly it continues after a person gives their life to Christ. But, it involves showing people what a Jesus follower looks like, behaves like and talks like so they can determine if they too want to become a Jesus follower.

So this brings us to this important thought: Discipleship is more caught than taught. The point is not information, but transformation…life change! Discipleship happens more through modeling than it does teaching, although obviously there is a place for teaching truth.

Also consider this: A laser focus on multiplying disciples will create a healthy church. Jesus will bless and empower the church that obeys his first, most foundational command.

Jesus said, "If you love me you will obey my commands." (John 14:15) A real love and devotion to Christ is verified through a lifestyle of obedience to His commands. Jesus’ number one command is to "go and make disciples of all nations."

In Revelation 2 Jesus critiques the church at Ephesus, now in its middle age. You may recall it was started by Priscilla, Aquila and Paul in a tag-team church planting operation. Ephesus was so successful that it was responsible for at least six other church plants, including Laodecia. They were successful in making disciples "from scratch." They couldn’t depend on church transfers because there were no believers to transfer in!

In the passage (Rev 2:1-7) assessing the Ephesian church Jesus gives them high fives for:

1. Deeds

2. Hard work

3. Perseverance

4. No patience with wicked people

5. Success at smoking out false prophets

6. Enduring hardship for Christ's name

7. Not growing weary

8. Hating the teachings of the Nicolaitans

This an admirable list. Most churches would be proud of that score card. However, Jesus dings them for this critical weakness:

"But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.” (Rev 2:4-5)

Their love for Christ and one another has cooled. This requires correction. Why doesn't Jesus just say, "Repent and start loving again!"? 

Because obedient action is the truest demonstration of loving devotion. Love and action go hand in hand. Love involves devotion, passion and deep affection. And true love results in action that is in line with such devotion. In other words, obedience!

Every church would be wise to return to an intense love for Christ and His intense love for lost sheep, who He came to rescue! That is, we should return to loving Christ along with His mission, which is reaching out to people and inviting them to become Jesus followers! This is what healthy churches are all about. And strangely enough I’ve never found a church that isn’t growing and prospering that places disciplemaking at the top of their priority list.

I would also challenge each of us that rebooting discipleship starts with ME (and, you) before it is a church issue.

Am I personally willing to die to myself in order to follow Christ? This is THE issue! Am I willing to lay down my life in order to be a disciple maker? Am I willing to lay down my expectations for my church, so that my church will become a disciple reaching and disciple forming congregation?

This is why we are focusing on Rebooting Discipleship at this gathering. I need to return to my first love. I need to renew my followership of Jesus. I need to renew my love for those who are far from God because these are the people Jesus died for! And, I need to do my part so that the church will be obedient in disciple making. Perhaps you need to return to your first love, too.

“Rebooting Discipleship” means embracing disciple-making and disciple-forming as Job Number One for the church. And, in so doing we give glory to Jesus Christ and in turn, He gives health and strength to His body as it lovingly obeys Him. May it be ever more evident in the churches that comprise the ABC of the Northwest.