Recently I was jolted out of complacency by a statement from a friend.
Actually, it was more like a confession.
It all resulted in this blog about a topic that is potentially a matter of life and death for many people. But that needs a little explanation.
Contemplating on how to introduce this blog led me down memory lane to Pierce Governor, a factory in Upland, Indiana where both Mary and I worked while I was a student at Taylor University back in 1966-67.
Imagine a factory that began producing governors—devices that control the speed of a vehicle or the rpm of an engine—in 1913. Pierce Governor, located in Anderson, Indiana once claimed to be the largest manufacturer of governors in the world. Governors, you might say, were the distant ancestors of the cruise control in your car. Pierce Governor also produced fuel pumps.
The factory had relocated into a new, modern manufacturing plant in Upland the year before our arrival at Taylor. Mary worked in the office during the day while I worked in the manufacturing plant in the evenings. Having been raised on a farm, I had never seen the inside of a factory. But I had driven many tractors with governors—perhaps even manufactured in that very plant.
The place was buzzing with activity, trying to keep up with demands. Metal milling machines screamed as they peeled excess metal from pre-cast forms. Hydraulic presses stamped loudly and the drill presses hummed.
I’m not sure if Pierce Governor had a mission statement, but if they did, it would have probably been “to manufacture the best governors in the world.” Imagine scores of employees punching the clock every day. Imagine raw material arriving at the receiving dock weekly. Listen to the machinery belching out decibels so loud and so dangerous to ear drums that employees were required to wear ear plugs. Look at the assembly line buzzing with activity. That was the Pierce Governor factory in its heyday.
But now imagine one small problem. The shipping dock is vacant. No semi trucks parked to receive newly manufactured governors. No finished product is being shipped to the Ford Motor Company in Detroit or any other company. Step out onto the shipping dock and the only sound you hear is the Indiana wind.
By all appearances in the front offices and on the manufacturing floor, the company is a success. Activity is everywhere. The appearance of busyness must mean good business.
But it’s not really true, is it?
To me, this serves as a metaphor for the American Evangelical Church today.
Almost every local church today has a mission statement declaring why they exist. Or, to use manufacturing terminology, what the church is producing. More often than not, somewhere in the mission statement you’ll discover something about “making disciples.” Of course we also want to glorify and worship God, but making disciples is our primary business.
Most churches are a beehive of activity. Worship teams produce music for worship services as a means of glorifying our Great God. Preachers preach, with messages enhanced by PowerPoint and creative illustrations to drive home the point of the message. Sunday School classes help interpret the Scriptures for students. Oh yes, don’t forget our youth and children’s programs, or the library loaded with Christian fiction and the latest videos for making disciples. Throughout the week believers gather in small groups or informally to break bread and enjoy fellowship.
The question is not how successful we are in attracting and keeping members. The real question is this: What is our mission? In other words, why do we exist? What is the finished “product” we claim to produce?
The answer ought to be very simple. Jesus stated it clearly enough for anybody to understand. In what we call “The Great Commission”—the one mission Jesus left for His church—there is but one clear command. There is but one verb in the entire Great Commission passage in Matthew 28:18-20: “Make Disciples!” That’s it!
There is nothing about growing large churches or loving small churches. Nothing about musical styles. Nothing about traditional, ornate cathedrals or eclectic, modern buildings that resemble a theater. Nothing, except to “make disciples.” There isn’t even a command to “go.” It’s more of an assumption that having met the resurrected Christ, we will be going anywhere and everywhere, sharing the good news.
There are a couple of instructions imbedded within the Great Commission telling how to carry out the mission. Having shared the gospel, we baptize new converts (disciples or followers) and instruct them to obey Jesus’ commands.
Reflecting on the factory metaphor, perhaps baptism would be similar to inventorying the raw material when it arrives at the receiving dock. Teaching new converts to obey Jesus’ commands is like the manufacturing process of turning raw materials into the finished product. It is time consuming—but all important to Jesus.
Two recent experiences helped motivate this blog: a book by Francis Chan and a conversation with a dear friend.
At a local Starbucks, I shared with my friend how the book had caused me to reflect upon my years as a pastor. It all boils down to this: Have I helped make disciples who make disciples? These words tumbled out of my friend’s mouth: “Pastor Syd, I have attended the church for over thirty years and I have never led another person to faith in Christ.” I sensed remorse in her answer, and it prompted me to reflect.
Thirty years of preaching and teaching and leading small groups. After thirty years of busyness, leading services, officiating weddings and memorial services, counseling and hospital visitation; most people would call me a successful pastor.
But the litmus test of a governor factory is not the amount of activity on the production floor, but whether governors are being produced. The same is true for a local church.
Is it no wonder the American Church, though large and once powerful, has become almost anemic in our impact on the culture that is becoming post-Christian? We have for the most part, I fear, abandoned the mission to make disciples—followers of Jesus who encourage other people to become followers of Jesus. That is still the mission—and will be until He returns.
Jesus left a disciple-making-model that is still valid. Remember in Luke 6:12 how He prayed before selecting twelve men to become apostles? Why not begin our day praying that God would open our eyes and hearts for seekers—people with empty lives seeking for a fresh start. In Luke 5, Jesus invited three fishermen to follow Him and promised to make them fishers of men. “Following” meant spending the next couple of years hanging out with Jesus, watching Him minister to multitudes. On another occasion He called twelve men just to “be with Him” according to Mark 3:13.
Jesus routinely engaged seekers—people with empty lives seeking purpose and a fresh start. People like a Samaritan woman who came to fetch water, but having met Jesus she left to fetch her friends and neighbors to also meet Jesus. Then there was Zacchaeus, a social outcast camouflaged in a tree just hoping to get a glimpse of Jesus; instead Jesus invited Himself to spend the afternoon with the tax collector. After meeting Jesus, Zacchaeus invited his friends to break bread together with his new Friend.
That’s the model. Pray every morning for open eyes and opportunities to speak about our lives in Him. Take advantage of every door open door. Share the gospel, and then continue sharing life with the new converts.
Oh, yes, I promised to revisit the story about Pierce Governor. The factory dwindled to forty employees before closing its doors in 2011. Cars with cruise control don’t need governors. The Website stated that the “Cash for Clunkers” program signed the death certificate for Pierce Governor. The large factory building has been donated to the local Methodist church in Upland, Indiana. I assume the building is quite eclectic with lots of room to grow.
Out of curiosity, I visited the church’s Website and discovered their mission statement: “We exist to worship God and make disciples.”
May it be so!
What am I reading: I am still working through The Essential Jonathan Edwards.