Thoughts on Discipling, Attendance and Dating

Our church leadership is tackling some tough issues. A couple of weeks ago, our minister asked us to put some thought together on what discipling, attendance and dating will look like in our church and have them ready for today’s leaders meeting. The following is what I put together before the meeting and represents both mine and Maria’s thoughts.
Thoughts on the meeting in the first comment.

As we talk as a church about issues that have historically been important to us – discipling, attendance and dating among others – I wanted to put my thoughts on paper as I flesh them out.
In general, I feel we must be careful in these and other areas. We must not set up rules or standards for membership in our church that God does not set up for membership in his. It may be tempting to set up rules that are define who we are in the CCOC, rules and practices that define who we are. But who are we to say what is required to be part of God’s family, even a segment of God’s family. We should not risk pushing away one of God’s children for the sake of our comfort in being surrounded by like minded folks.
Peter cautioned the early church on the same thing in Acts 15 concerning circumcision & following the law when he said “why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” So as we consider discipling, attendance and dating , we must be careful not to add our “rules of men” to God’s standard.
I think that discipling is the most important of the three. How we implement and practice discipling has an effect on the other two. As I look at the scriptures, I don’t see a requirement for discipling as we’ve practiced it, organized, assigned. Instead, I see an emphasis on loving each other and watching out for each other.
Discipling should be ‘top down’ not ‘bottom up’. In the past we emphasized the need for individuals to seek advice and discipling for themselves, even correcting them when they did not. I call this the ‘bottom up’ style. You are responsible for yourself and shame on you if you don’t get the help you need. Instead, we should emphasize & model leaders & others proactively getting involved in the lives of others, asking questions, seeking understanding and teaching and caring. I see this ‘top down’ style being more biblical.
Ezekiel 34 is a great example of this. God is not angry with the sheep who went astray, he’s angry at the shepherds who did not go after them. Our old model would have been the leaders chastising the lost sheep.
John 10 tells us how Jesus is the good shepherd, because he lays his life down for the sheep. In fact, Jesus came because he saw our need, a need we did not recognize. We, in our sin and pride, didn’t think we needed saving. But Jesus saw us wandering off and came to our rescue, dying on the cross. He is our example and that should be our standard for discipling, selfless, sacrificing, humble and loving yet firm with high expectations.
All the ‘one another’ verses are examples of this as well. They are proactive, born of love and concern for the other. I would say the whole of the New Testament cries for us to “consider others better than [ourselves]” (Philippians 2:3) and to focus ourselves on others. This should be the heart of our discipling and the focus of our teaching and practicing of it. When we see something of concern in our brother or sister, our first response should be trust (Love always trusts – 1 Corinthians 13). Trust that they love God and long to please him, possible evidence to the contrary aside. With trust in our hearts, we can, and should, then go and ask questions, seek to understand what’s going on. Often times, things are not quite what they seem. Only then, with a full understanding of the situation and trust in our hearts, can we lovingly challenge, if there is a need.
We should also stop making what seems like the opposite mistake, but is really as much a lack of love as the sometimes harsh, critical judgments of the past were. That is seeing areas of concern in our brother and doing nothing. It’s not my place, someone else will talk to him, maybe I don’t understand, he probably doesn’t want me involved. We cannot expect to build on our successes as a church this year if we have such a cavalier attitude toward each other.
This must stop, but mandatory discipling trees or groups are not the answer. As I said, I do not see any requirement for organized discipling in the scriptures, only the requirement that we love deeply, to the point of putting ourselves at risk. So as we seek to retain the good things that the old ways brought, let’s not be tempted to go back to the one size fits all system. In fact, I’d say we ought not to require any sort of system at all. Instead, as leaders, we ought to require sincere, deep, vulnerable and sacrificial love, and we must model that within ourselves and our groups.
On the other two issues, I think if we love deeply and practice discipling as described above, they will fix themselves. A pattern of absence may be a look at a heart grown cold, of hidden sin or a drifting from God. Or it may be that Wednesday night is the only time to take that class required to graduate, or a temporary transfer to the weekend shift while a co-worker is on maternity leave. Only by loving enough to trust and to dig in and ask question will we know for sure, and be able to help restore a wandering soul if need be.
On dating I do have a bit more to say. The question I would ask is, is dating, even marrying, someone who is not a Christian something that we would disfellowship someone for? Asked another way, would someone be forfeiting their salvation by marrying a non-believer? We certainly don’t turn away married folk if only one of them comes to church. I absolutely believe that we should teach the folly of pursuing a relationship of any kind with the opposite sex who is not a Christian, but as I said before, we must be careful not to add rules to God’s. If someone who loves God, foolishly does this and even ends up married to that person, they need us more than ever at that point. They ought to know, that we still stand by them as they strive to follow Christ, assuming that’s what they still want.
On dating, I think it’s time we took a more mature approach to this. We are a small church, it is foolish for us to teach our singles that they must only date within our own fellowship, or our sister churches in other cities. We should instead teach discernment in dating. How can I tell if this person is spiritual and is going to lead me toward God instead of away? We should also, cautiously, begin to find ways to work with other, historically similar, churches in or area to help these men and women find mates that will strengthen them. There are attractive men and women around them in their neighborhoods, the campus and their workplaces, longing for their attention. They need to know how to discern, how to chose whom they should and should not date.
I hope that as a church we can act in faith. It takes more faith to resist establishing rules and requirements and to allow people to work out their salvation. Rules only serve to make us feel comfortable, but for the sake of our comfort we can exclude those that God has accepted. Let us not do that.

9 thoughts on “Thoughts on Discipling, Attendance and Dating

  1. The meeting went pretty well. There was a pretty animated discussion, but in the end there was no desire to return to anything resembling the old D-tree. There was a definite opinion that relationships and involvement in other’s lives was an essential part of the Christian life and should be a part of our church’s culture.
    There was also no desire to make any sort of membership requirement or statement, rather a deliberate shaping of our culture as a church. We will be a people who are involved in each other’s lives.
    More discussions to come.

  2. Excellent post. Your thoughts are lucid, well stated, and right on target.
    I think the issue over dating / marrying non-Christians really comes down to how to address situations where it happens. There is a broad consensus here that we should teach against marrying non-Christians. The controversy is over what to do when people go against that teaching.
    In the past, a few hard liners have expressed the opinion that we should put those folks out of the church. At one meeting where the topic came up, I countered by asking how many of those present exceeded the speed limit on their way to the meeting…and what they thought the church should do about them. That pretty much ended the discussion.

  3. Hmmm…We in NH are discussing things similar to what you are discussing. I look forward to reading what you guys come up with so we might glean some insight from you. (Yeah. That’s a request. We really could use outside input.)
    I agree 100% about going back to “the old ways.” It had no choice but to go the direction it went. That is the nature of well-intended Christian rules. We should know better. But we’ll do it again at some point in the future. (If not us…then someone else.)
    I also agree from a Biblical point of view about the dating and marriage issues.
    From a practical point of view, I can see no good coming out of a Christian dating or marrying a non-Christian. The Christian cannot bear fruit with the non-Christian. They cannot be unified in the Lord together. There is every possibility that the Non-Christian will pull the Christian away from the Lord. (I know I am stating the obvious here. But I figured I would state them anyway.) But I guess, if a Christian wishes to date and even marry a non-Christian, and they have full knowledge that to be unequally yoked like that is not going to produce fruits of the spirit or new disciples, I guess at that point you just be there for them as you would when your child willingly makes a dumb, unspiritual mistake. (I mean, not that my kids are going to make those or anything…) 😉

  4. Just to chime in with a “me too” about how well you put this. Lack of love. I think you hit the nail on the head there. It’s hard to be wrong when you can clearly show something is “breaking” the second greatest commandment.
    The marrying non-Christians thing has been a Big Issue, even in mainline CoCs. Most ICOCers would be surprised at how hardline mainliners can be on this in practice (especially when it is their own child about to marry a non-member).
    It is SO easy to burn bridges over stuff like this and they are SO hard to get back up. I think that some folks feel so strongly about it and remain so unsupportive even after the marriage that, if they were honest enough to admit it, they really want the marriage to end in divorce. Personally, I thing the Bridge Burning is often really about the Bridge Burner’s offended pride that someone would not take their advice.

  5. We live in a small town, and go to a small Mainline fellowship. While I agree that all Christians should marry Christians, in a community like this, that can be extremely difficult. A common practice with our young people is to convert your non-Christian interest. I’ve seen this before. On the Las Vegas mission team, one of our members met a “non converted into the ICOC guy”, that she fell headlong for. She started dating him, but when he found out she wouldn’t marry him unless he converted, he started coming to church. Well, he became a disciple, they are married to this day (13 years now), I was the best man in their wedding, and they are still faithful. I know that they all don’t work out that well, but one can’t really know how God will work. I would say that the only reason a Christian should be put out of the church (in this matter) is if they are being sexually active, and the believer refuses to wait until they are married. Remember that Paul (through the Spirit) even said that a lack of self-control is a reason to get married. Regardless of all that, what would the believer see in an unbeliever anyway, if not potential?
    Now, that being said, this takes us back to a fellowship’s arrogance in assuming that they are the only Christians in their area. Unity is our responsibility as Christians, but isn’t always obtained when ignorance is playing a part. Exactly what biblical directive is it to be a part of a legal organized institution in order to be a part of God’s Kingdom? Not everybody in the ICOC or MCOC is a TRUE Christian, and not every body outside of those two organizations are NOT a non-believer; to think other wise is nonsense, arrogant, and humanistic. IF the “disciple” is going to date and marry a firm non-Christian, with no intention of converting, then that judgment is upon themselves, and discipline should be taken (not all church discipline is kicking someone out…). Paul teaches on such things. There is always hope for the future.

  6. Very nicely stated. We’ve been having similar discussions in our neck of the woods as well.
    I think it boils down to what can we bind on one another from a scriptural point of view. Man, in his attempt to organize a spiritual entity, has bound many rules on other men and women in an attempt to neatly draw out the boundaries of God’s church. It doesn’t work that way: “Here it is. There it is.”
    We’ve been through the dating thing. We’ve had some members break up their dating relationship after many months with a newfound personal conviction that it wasn’t a great idea to pursue it in the first place. Gentle instruction had been given. Words were spoken from the pulpit. But the relationships remained until God revealed what was best and these members are now a bit wiser and have felt loved throughout it all.
    We are currently wrestling through the discipling issue. I think that some of the pressure to “organize” it all is because there are a few who are active in being in one another’s lives… and it can be time consuming! I think there’s a natural tendency to want to share the load and creating an organization for the task may encourage the load sharing, but at what expense? I’m with you, patience and time will see more desiring to be a true brother or sister by employing the “One Another” scriptures. Right now there are a few who are doing it, but it will grow. We just need to resist the temptation to wrap it all up into a neat looking package.

  7. Very well said and good comments too. I’m glad you guys are wrestling with this as I am sure I’ll have to do it with my girls some day…after I load my shotgun! 🙂
    I think it all lends it to that leadership misses not just being able to tell someone what to do or expect things to be done. They have to learn to love, show respect and concern. When people feel loved they’ll accept advice, come to church and want to pursue someone who loves them as only a Chrisitan can.

  8. I think the counsel on dating within the fellowship of believers is a logical and good-hearted extension of I Corinthians 7:16, where the context is marriage and divorce between believers and unbelievers: “How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?”
    But it is just that: a logical and good-hearted extension of a question Paul asks. And he asks it at a time when “the time is short” – when, I believe, he knew that severe persecution was about to begin.
    It would be the kind of persecution that would test the loyalty of many Christians, use their family members against them by threatening torture or death to them (or in front of them). So I see it as excellent advice for the time, and good advice for all time.
    I did say “advice.” Apparently, not all of these advisements were intended as commands (see verses 6, 8, 10, 12, 25, etc.), and Paul labels them appropriately.
    Dating was not even a custom at the time, in any known culture. Marriages, for the most part, were arranged.
    And finally, though we may not fully understand what “sanctified” or “holy” means in the citation above, a believer has that effect on his or her family, as surely as any Christian has an influence on those who see Christ in his or her life.

  9. Thanks for all the comments folks, some good stuff in there.
    Looking back, it is encouraging to see the unity in our discussion. Collectively, I think we are not too far off from what I wrote here. The dating thing might be a tougher one. We didn’t spend much time on that on Sunday. We talked mostly about ‘discipling’, although we agreed that the word brings certain, uh, thoughts to mind, and perhaps we need a different one. Hmmm, good idea, wish I had though of it. 🙂
    Anywho, I’m pleased at the maturity of the group and the direction the discussion is taking.

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