A summary of Spent Matches by Roy Moran
The Christian church has used a range of participatory metrics to evaluate her success in the modern era. Conversions, baptisms, the number of people present in worship: we fastidiously record these numbers throughout the year and then pore over them at year-end leadership summits. We define success as an increase in these totals; failure, plateau or decline. The analysis of these numbers governs the design and direction of the programmatic functions of the church. Leaders will tweak the edification programs to push for a more active evangelism, believing that transferring more information will make more effective evangelists. But how often are these same leaders referring to the commission given to the Church by her Lord to check the validity of their choices?
As Roy Moran states in his invaluable book Spent Matches, not often enough. The flaw in these metrics of success is that we no longer live in an era where information transfer to our neighbors and friends is effective in igniting their interest in God and His grace. To state this is a more colloquial fashion: the lives that surround the typical evangelical church are not the least bit interested in knowing what goes on inside. What people respond to is running into a radical life, one that is radically committed to Jesus and His teaching. Telling people what we believe puts their hypocrisy radar on full alert (as they have become conditioned to do in all areas of life). Living what we say we believe makes us stand out from the rest of the world clamoring for attention in the lives of our family, friends and neighbors.
It can be tempting to read the book as the outline for implementing a program, particularly because it includes ‘suggested’ outlines for meetings in the closing chapters. Mortify this temptation by slowly considering the imagery of the dire condition of the Church Moran paints at the beginning of the book. He suggests that our metrics should show the declining influence of modern Christian practice, likening the condition to a burning oil drilling platform surrounded by miles of churning sea. In the modern day we have two choices, jump or fry. To stay on our current platform is to die slowly on a long slope of decline. To jump is the join a movement back to the first principles of the Lord’s commission for His community of followers: make disciples who make disciples.
Moran is not the only author to put this idea into print. The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne leads to a similar conclusion, and has been influential in many churches by offering a ladder down from the burning platform. Moran is more forceful. We must jump and return with fresh eyes to the text of Matthew 28:18-20 and stop the bifurcation of the Gospel movement. Following a declaration of the expansive authority given to Him as the basis for the commission, Jesus commands His Church to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (ESV). The command to baptize these new disciples into the family and to teach “them to observe [obey] all that I have commanded you.” The Church has been obedient to this commission, but the methods have resulted in a bifurcated gospel practice where we separate life from faith. We have defined discipleship as an education process (information transfer) and then convinced ourselves that discipleship precedes evangelism (“sharing our faith”). The outcome of this process? Disciples never feel ready to evangelize others, so we double down on teaching them, hoping that someday their ship will launch. All the while, the platform burns.
The myth of preparation-perfection that plagues the information-transfer Church is refuted by reading the verses in the passage that are not a part of the memorized commission. The audience for the Lord’s command is His remaining eleven disciples, some of whom worshipped, but some of whom doubted! Perfection was not to be the enemy of progress, as Jesus commanded them to jump from the platform into the unknown. As Moran says,
“Jesus didn’t exhibit any sense of alarm indicating this was out of the ordinary or unusual. He was quite comfortable with a team that didn’t have it all together. In fact, He was comfortable commissioning people who not only lacked complete faith but were confirmed doubters.”
This is a catalyzing moment in the book, setting in relief the encouragement to jump and ignite a new movement within the Church, disciples who make disciples as they go along, each edifying and encouraging the other rather than relying on subject-matter experts that students feel they have to imitate before moving on the Mission. The Lord does not expect to create a class of mission-minded within the Church, specialists who carry on the Commission while others sit and watch. To be a Christian is to be a disciple, one involved in daily learning what it means to be a follower of Jesus and then putting that into practice. Moran’s take on John 15:8 (“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”) is accurate and puts our current process is stark relief:
“Jesus’ hope was that it would be normal for His followers to make disciples as they lived out a dangerous message that would divide families ad heal the brokenhearted, challenge the well-off and encourage the impoverished, transform the oppressors and bring freedom to the oppressed. To fail to make disciples would indicate followers weren’t connected to Jesus and the heart of His mission.”
Owning this concept is the spark of a movement that puts away information transfer and replaces it with community life. Jesus did not commission us to be taught principles about Himself, he said we were to be taught and then apply what he commanded. This obedience is the missing part in most programs in the modern Church; we are never challenged to show what we’ve done with what we’ve learned and so we never do. This is the source of the apathy we see in the pews. We have more information than we can possibly process at our fingertips, but scarce few opportunities to put it into practice and fewer still partners in the discipleship life holding us accountable. The discipleship patterns that Moran suggests through the book aim to fill this vacuum.
A fair number of churches today claim Acts chapter 2 as their model, seeing a return to the ancient church as a solution to moribund Christianity. The component missing in many is the discipleship pattern given by the Lord’s example and command: disciples, however imperfect, who make other disciples (who repeat the process) in community. This is what will capture the imagination of a world that has long ago become inured to the invitations of the Church. I invite you to read the book a few times and see if you are tempted to jump from the platform into the raging sea of the culture, trusting the Lord’s promise for our weakness, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”