by: Bill Davis
Why should you worry about the math teacher who’s holding graph paper? Because he’s likely plotting something! Or, did you hear about the math student who was afraid of negative numbers? She stopped at nothing to avoid them. Okay, queue a big groan for the bad math puns. But jokes aside, there’s some actual bad math I encountered the other day that is worth some attention.
In a recent Lifeway Research Study a full 75% of Protestant churchgoers say that “they need other believers to help them to grow in their walk with God.” While in the same survey, 65% said “they can walk with God without other believers.” You might argue over parsing the difference between “walk with” and “help me grow in that walk”, but I submit you’d be tying yourself into knots pretty quickly. These statements are effectively opposites, yet put them together and that adds up to 140%. Seems like there’s some bad math going on there.
More specifically, there’s some bad theology going on there. Our walk with Christ is not a solo experience, and it never was intended to be. Our American pioneer, consumer-driven, entertainment-saturated culture has long infiltrated the church to result in a subset of Christians who lean far more toward shopping and spectating than confessing and connecting. We fool ourselves into thinking that being part of a big group, even the “big C” global Church, is sufficient to say “I’m with other believers” (I personally think that’s part of the driver for today’s megachurches). We consume podcasts and sermons online while failing to roll up our sleeves and do the often challenging work of building personal relationships over time. No doubt, online resources are wonderfully helpful, and large gatherings as a church community are essential, but we can’t blog, YouTube, podcast or even in-person audience-member ourselves into the growing walk with Jesus Christ that God has designed and revealed to us in scripture.
There is surely a wide variety of drivers for our lack of connecting with other believers to “help us grow in our walk”, but one that I suspect is very common (and which I personally have experienced on multiple occasions) is simply disappointment. We come and are open to connecting in the church, but then those connections don’t materialize as others don’t reach out to us. Perhaps all we got was a more superficial connection when we expected deeper; or vice versa, perhaps we were bombarded with an expectation of some raw vulnerability with people we’d only just met!
A few weeks ago, Abraham posted here an overview of discipleship “contexts” we are trying to pursue here at Kossuth. We are working to bring more clarity to the purpose of each of these contexts. Since disappointment primarily comes from unmet expectations, if we don’t have right expectations of these various contexts to begin with then we’re far more likely to miss their benefit or be disappointed. For example, if I come to the Sunday morning corporate worship gathering and expect to relate 1:1 with my neighbor during the service, I will be sorely disappointed since that’s not the design of that time together. Likewise, if I come expecting to merely spectate and hope I get the right vibe from the music and intellectual buzz from the preacher, then I will likely be the source of others’ disappointment who are there to collectively behold God’s glory, sing truth to God and each other, and engage in exploring the scriptures as we continue the conversation throughout the week spurred by the sermon during our gathering.
We could make similar statements about expectations for our Connection Hour, Community Groups (with their recent name change to help with those expectations as noted in Abraham’s post), and Discipleship Groups. Each context is structured with a different degree of expectations for connectedness that, as that survey put it, “help me to grow in my walk with God.” Now, we as leaders are NOT saying that every member must formally be engaged in all of these discipleship structures at Kossuth. But we ARE saying that if you find yourself leaning toward the 65% who “can walk with God without other believers”, or find yourself assembling your own collection of external resources as a ‘consumer’ without digging into these discipleship contexts, then we’d exhort you to consider the design God has already established in discipleship through the local church. We are also saying if you are part of the 75% who recognize they “need other believers to help them to grow in their walk with God” but you are still trying to find a right fit, then let us work together help steer you into a discipleship context that helps you.
Discipleship requires an investment on our parts. Jesus said as much in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” But it’s an investment that pays over 1,000% dividends (just consider the 100-fold promise of Jesus in Mark 10:29-30). Now that’s some great math. I guarantee it 100%.