FIRST-PERSON: A herd of elephants

GARRETTSVILLE, Ohio (BP) -- It is one thing to realize there is an elephant in the room but it is entirely another to realize you are in the midst of a herd of elephants. When it comes to disciple-making in the church today we have some elephants. Christ's command to make disciples seems so straightforward, yet we struggle, as if there are things we seem to be missing.

Most of us would agree the job of pastors and Christian leaders is to make disciples who can make disciples who make disciples. That is what the Great Commission demands. We are to teach people to be obedient followers of Jesus in our homes, at our work, where we play and to the farthest reaches of the earth.

Yet when we look around it is obvious that almost everywhere in North America and indeed across the globe we could do better in helping people have a dynamic, fruitful relationship with our Lord and Savior. Our culture is filled with pain and hurt. Our church members are surrounded by frustrating circumstances that seem to defy the wonderful claims of peace and joy that should come with adherence to the Gospel.

There is an epidemic of drug abuse that plagues us from the city playgrounds to the rural pastures. We are experiencing the results of years of ruinous racism that we in the church turned a blind eye to, or tacitly approved. We feel the effects of sexualized culture that has subjected our wives and daughters to be preyed upon by the unchecked desires of those caught in the web of unbridled passions for power and sex. We in the church have often been handcuffed in helping people be free because we are strapped down in debt as we chase our materialistic dreams that are wood, hay and stubble. We wonder why it is so difficult to make disciples for Jesus Christ.

In the Gospel of Matthew we see some of the things Jesus did when He walked the earth making disciples. His method of dealing with the elephants in the room might best be understood by the phrase, "And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people" (Matthew 9:35, KJV).

In the church we must teach people how to live in a culture that is often hostile or apathetic to Christian values. Everywhere we go we must declare that Jesus is the only way and that His Word is the ultimate truth that must be obeyed. Along with teaching and preaching, we as the church must be appropriate healing agents within our communities.

We have the answer. We know radical obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ can defeat racism, unhealthy sexual expression, the effects of economic challenges and whatever the devil or our flesh can devise. The question is, will we deal with these elephants. It has been said the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. I think it is time we develop an appetite for elephant. When we do, we will find ourselves in the expansive room of God's wonderful blessing.

David Gray is pastor of First Baptist Church in Garrettsville, Ohio, a former president of the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio; a trustee at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.; chairman of the Renaissance Family Center in Windham, Ohio; and vice moderator of the Steel Valley Baptist Association.
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