I believe this teaching series has the potential to revolutionize the way we think about church, and especially discipleship. Let’s put things into perspective. According to the most rent Barna Report, “The State of the Church 2011” the church in America closely resembles a dilapidated, no longer in business greenhouse: overgrown with programs and religious activities and no longer in the business of producing life; customers no longer even bother to stop by because they know we simply don’t produce much of anything that will actually grow! Strong words I know, but consider:
- Bible reading undertaken during the course of a typical week, other than passages read while attending church events, has declined by five percentage points. Currently an estimated 40% of adults read the Bible during a typical week.
- Church volunteerism has dropped by eight percentage points since 1991. Presently, slightly less than one out of every five adults (19%) donates some of their time in a typical week to serving at a church.
- Adult Sunday school attendance has also diminished by eight percentage points over the past two decades. On any given Sunday, about 15% of adults can be expected to show up in a Sunday school class.
- The most carefully watched church-related statistic is adult attendance. Since 1991, attendance has receded by nine percentage points, dropping from 49% in 1991 to 40% in 2011.
- The most prolific change in religious behavior among those measured has been the increase in the percentage of adults categorized as unchurched. The Barna Group definition includes all adults who have not attended any religious events at a church, other than special ceremonies such as a wedding or funeral, during the prior six month period. In 1991, just one-quarter of adults (24%) were unchurched. That figure has ballooned by more than 50%, to 37% today.
- The only behavior that did not experience any real change was the percentage of adults who attend a church of 600 or more people.
- Changes in the West: Of the 14 religious measures followed by the Barna Group for this report, half of those showed statistically significant changes in the West since 1991. Among the six behavioral measures tracked, three saw meaningful shifts.
- Church attendance among western adults dropped by 11 points, from 47% to 36% in 2011. The proportion of unchurched adults rose from 29% to 46% in the West during the last 20 years.
How did we get to where we are today as it relates to the church in America? In my opinion, it’s because we have focused too much on making converts and not making disciples! Further, in that regard for the past 20-30 years or more, we have prioritized religious programming instead of spiritual parenting! And the primary problem with this approach is that we get what we ask for! We have violated a profound spiritual and eternal principle; namely that “life reproduces life after its kind!”
Gen. 1:20-31 emphatically states repeatedly that “life reproduces life after its kind!” It’s an eternal principle. We need to also see here that the physical world is simply a manifestation of the spiritual realm. So, the principles and governing factors we see and experience regarding biological life are mirror reflections of these same principles that operate in spiritual life. Notice too, that the first thing God said to all of his biological creation, especially mankind, was to “Go forth and multiply, fill the earth with your kind!” The very last thing Jesus said, was to “Go and make disciples of all nations!” Since he was speaking this to his 11 disciples that implications is clear- he expected them to multiply and fill the earth after their kind. Only a disciple can make a disciple! The church can’t make disciples, it reproduces churches! However, a church can, and should cultivate the right conditions where discipleship making is optimum.
The Basics of Biology
- Life has an order: Living things include both the visible world of animals and plants, as well as the invisible world of bacteria. On a basic level, we can say that life is ordered. Organisms have an enormously complex organization. We’re all familiar with the intricate systems of the basic unit of life, the cell. But, despite the complexity of life, one thing is constant- life has an order and it follows that order very meticulously.
- Life can also “work.” No, not the daily employment variety, but living creatures can take in energy from the environment. This energy, in the form of food, is transformed to maintain metabolic processes and for survival.
- Life grows and develops. This means more than just getting larger in size. Living organisms also have the ability to rebuild and repair themselves when injured.
- Life can reproduce. Have you ever seen dirt reproduce? I don’t think so. Life can only come from other living creatures.
- Life can respond. Think about the last time you accidentally stubbed your toe. Almost instantly, you flinched back in pain. Life is characterized by this response to stimuli.
- Finally, life can adapt and respond to the demands placed on it by the environment.
In summary, life is organized, “works,” grows, reproduces, responds to stimuli and adapts. These characteristics form the basis of the study of biology.
Five Principles of Biology
- Cell Theory: all living organisms are composed of cells. The cell is the basic unit of life.
- Gene Theory: traits are inherited through gene transmission. Genes are located on chromosomes and consist of DNA.
- Evolution: any genetic change in a population that is inherited over several generations. These changes may be small or large, noticeable or not so noticeable.
- Homeostasis: ability to maintain a constant internal environment in response to environmental changes.
- Thermodynamics: energy is constant and energy transformation is not completely efficient.
As simply as I can possibly make this, I want you to understand that all living organisms are organized so they can reproduce life after their kind- their cells, their DNA, their evolutionary capacity, their internal balance, and their ability to transform energy is all about the multiplication of life!
How Spiritual Life Happens. How does Jesus live in, and through me? How do we make disciples? How do we multiply the church? Remember: ONLY A DISCIPLE CAN REPRODUCE A DISCIPLE!
What does spiritual biology entail?
- Spiritual Life has an organic order… The church tries to “organize” discipleship through programs and ministries- this can, and often does, depress and even destroy spiritual life! Discipleship is organic, it has a life of it’s own. It can only truly happen in a relational context, as you abide in Christ, He abides in you… you bear much fruit (reproducing other disciples- this is what qualifies you as a disciple according to Jesus)! Jn. 15:1-8
- Spiritual Life “work is to do the will of God”… You need to take in “food” that is transferred into energy- this is how you are sustained. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of the Father…” Doing ministry is NOT your work! Your “work” is obeying God and his Word, doing what He wants!
- Spiritual Life is a process of maturity… Spiritual life is not a matter of church ministry, but maturity in Christ! It is all about growing and developing in His character, taking on his mind, and being responsible for feeding yourself, defending the faith, and making disciples! Eph. 4:11-16. Any species will become extinct if it cannot sustain those three thing- feed itself, defend itself, and reproduce. Could it be that the church in America is on such a decline because church-goers have not learned nor been trained to spiritually feed themselves, defend their faith through Christlike attitude and actions, and reproduce other disciples??
- Spiritual Life is reproductive… As I stated earlier, a church cannot make a disciple anymore than a monkey can make a human being! Only a disciple can and will reproduce a disciple. A healthy, right relationship with Jesus Christ will result in reproduction- Christ IN you and Christ being reproduced THROUGH you!
- Spiritual Life is stimulated by the Spirit… You need the stimulus of the Spirit so you can appropriately function and live the way God wants you too. The Spirit requires your response to conviction, correction, and communication!
- Spiritual Life is adaptive… A disciple is ultimately called out into the world where there is the constancy of challenging and adverse circumstances, many which are out of our control. Without adaption (not compromise), you, the church will cease to exist! Paul said, “I’ve become all things to all men so I might reach some of them…” Adaptation! (I’ll talk more about the three types of adaptation later in the series).
In summary, Spiritual Life does have organization, but not in the way we think or have experienced. Spiritual Life’s work is to do the will of God. Spiritual Life is growing and developing to be more like Christ. Spiritual Life requires right relationship that results in reproduction. Spiritual Life is stimulated by the Spirit. Spiritual Life (both disciples and the church) are perpetuated and expanded because of the ability to adapt to changing cultural conditions!
The Five Basic Principles of Spiritual Biology- Discipleship
- The Seed of Life: All disciples (followers of Jesus Christ), have the same Jesus, by his Spirit, living within them! In essence, Jesus has reproduced and multiplied himself in, and ideally through the life of every born again believer! You have Jesus in you- everything and all you need to be everything and all God calls you to be! You can’t make Jesus more Jesus, but you can make you less you- Jn. 3:30! (Pt. 2 of the Series next week)
- Spiritual DNA: Since all disciples are made- disciples reproducing disciples, churches reproduces churches, leaders reproducing leaders, life groups reproducing life groups, spiritual traits (ideally Jesus DNA) are passed onto the next generation. It is the dynamic of “Follow me as I follow Christ!” (1 Cor. 11:1) It is Jesus saying, “What I’ve received of the Father I am passing on to you!” This also involves behavioral characteristics that are passed on…
- Evolutionary Service: We all know that without the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, a species can and will become extinct. The same is true for spiritual life, disciples, and the church! We must consider our ability to change, both personally and as the church, as an indicator of spiritual maturity, and as integral to the perpetuation and expansion of the church! Changed mindsets and methods!
- Balanced Spiritual “Systems”: Homeostasis means that outer conditions can’t create inner chaos- that internal systems maintain their balance. In spiritual life or discipleship, this means that despite outward conditions that may indeed require adjustments in ministry and methods, etc., it does not change who you are on the inside! In other words, Jesus is still Jesus IN you! Paul said, “Though outwardly I’m being crushed, inwardly I’m being renewed!” (2 Cor. 4:16). “Balance” inwardly- the right attitude of your heart cannot be altered or affected by adverse outward conditions! That’s inner balance, that’s maturity.
- Spiritual Energy: The first law of thermodynamics basically has to do with energy in and energy out– life, a plant, a person needs energy to live on and energy to perform work, etc. In spiritual life, as a disciple, where does your energy come from to both be strengthened in Christ and to serve Christ in your daily life activities? This is where the disciplines of spiritual life are most necessary- spiritual energy to sustain you and to empower you for service is realized through such things as feeding on the Word, focusing through Worship, and functioning according to God’s Will!
As simply as I can possibly make this, I want you to understand that every person, who is alive in Christ, has the potential and the responsibility to reproduce other disciples- The Seed of Life is in you, your spiritual DNA, your capacity to change for optimum impact, the unchanging constancy of Christ in you, and necessary spiritual power, is all about the multiplication of spiritual life! Again, we will explore these basics for spiritual life: how it further happens, the church’s role, what environment needs to exist to best cultivate and facilitate spiritual development, etc. in upcoming parts of this series.
I will say this as something to think about: A greenhouse doesn’t make a geranium! A geranium makes a geranium! The Greenhouse simply creates and very deliberately sustains the conditions conducive to plants being able to reproduce at the optimum level- beyond the greenhouse! Greenhouses go out of business, become run down and dilapidated, or at the very least, no longer appeal to “customers” when they lose the ability to facilitate plant development at an optimum level! Just think about that as it relates to church…
Only a disciple can make a disciple! “Life reproduces life after its kind!” That is, and will always be the fundamental law of creation that God established at the very beginning. This means that we most likely will need to think and act differently as it relates to spiritual life as a follower of Jesus Christ and the role of the church! This could be revolutionary!
Jn. 3:30 “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less!” You can’t make Jesus more Jesus- but less of me, enables Jesus in me to shine through me more!
We’ll talk about this more next week in Pt. 2 “Seed of Life.”
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Amen! Thank you.