2 Corinthians 13:5 – “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”
Several years ago, while conducting workshops at a national pastor’s conference, I encountered a twenty-something woman who looked troubled. I struck up a conversation with her and eventually transitioned the conversation to what might be troubling her. Her answer cut me to the core. She said, “the church” was troubling her. I encouraged her to explain what she meant, so she explained, “It does not take true Christians to put on a Christian show, I want something more real”.
Performance Christianity, where church and the Christian life is portrayed as a ninety-minute production, cannot meet the deep spiritual hunger of those who are starving for the things of Christ. While a well-produced church service may get people to show up on Sundays, what matters is what happens next…discipleship. What, you might ask, do I mean by discipleship? It is a valid question. What I mean by discipleship is: “We are to address with each person, the specific spiritual growth obstacles that are hindering their faith development”. This goal cannot be accomplished within Sunday morning church services. In that one service, we may have a broad range of people: Some who do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, some who are highly devoted to Christ and the expansion of His Kingdom and of course every flavor of disciple in between. Something more is needed.
So, what is that “more”? Is it our small groups or life-stage programs? Is it our church’s sense of community or our church’s social justice presence in our community? While all these programs have value, and can contribute to a person’s spiritual development, none of these programs are intentionally and systematically designed to do so. The Apostle Paul recognized various phases of spiritual development, and he tailored his discipleship efforts accordingly. Paul tells the Corinthian Christians: “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready” – 1 Corinthians 3:2. And likewise, the author of Hebrews 5:13 makes a similar point: “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” You and I, who are ministry leaders, know these passages well. As such, it is easy for us to dismiss these passages as though they apply solely to a specific group of people within a specific historic context. But before we dismiss Paul’s point so quickly, have we ever truly considered whether Paul’s rebuke may also apply to the people within our churches?
So how do we know which people within our church need milk, and which need meat? Paul’s response may be found in 2 Corinthians 13:5. Here he tells every individual to “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” The life of Jesus Christ within us is made evident by the life-change that is taking place by the work of the Holy Spirit. Milk-based discipleship helps people know what Christ has done for us. Meat-based discipleship addresses what we must allow the Holy Spirit to do through us, that we may live our lives in ever-increasing righteousness and service to our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. I wish discipleship was so cut-and-dry as milk verses meat. If we extend Paul’s metaphor, we come to understand that there are many developmental phases between infancy and adulthood. This makes discipleship a dynamic multiphase process occurring within each true Christian. How can we then pinpoint what kind of discipleship each person needs at any given point in time?
This has been the conundrum that has troubled me for my entire ministry career. One day the thought occurred to me, what if we take Paul’s command in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to “test yourself” literally? Could an assessment tool be created that could continually examine each person’s spiritual progress, stagnation, or even decline? Such a tool would need to gauge faith in action being lived-out, and not merely head knowledge. Then also, could such a tool pin-point the specific discipleship issues that an individual may need to address at their present phase of spiritual maturation? And finally, could this tool also be used to assist in the spiritual equipping of every individual? For the past fourteen years, I have worked with many different churches exploring these questions, and creating for them custom discipleship assessment tools to use with their church members. The past fourteen years of research has taught me many important lessons. These lessons I have now integrated into an online discipleship program called NextSteps. Paul told us to “test ourselves”. NextSteps helps implement that command in a manner that is affirming and supportive of every person’s spiritual development. Go to https://www.assessme.org/test-drive/.