Salt & Light: Heart of the Church of Tomorrow


In Acts, Dr. Luke tells us that, when Jesus ascended into heaven, he promised they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…” (Acts 1:8). When that happened, the church would be born and his disciples would be empowered to spread the gospel in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Sure enough, fifty days later, while the disciples were praying, God sent the Holy Spirit upon them like a fiery wind. The wind of the Spirit filled the house they were in and descended upon the disciples like tongues of fire, empowering them to witness to Christ in many languages. Peter was empowered to give a mighty sermon, and many people were saved (Acts 2:1 ff.).

I need to stop right there and be sure we remember that the evangelism problems of the first church were much greater than the ones we face. Other than the twelve apostles, some women, and a few other disciples who had not deserted the faith, there was no church at all! Yet, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the first Christians were empowered to reach out in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and then into the Roman Empire and the end of the then known world. No one really knows. [1] Within about 200 years of the death of the last apostle, Christians were in the majority in the Roman Empire.

We know that, during those early years, individual people reached out by the power of the Holy Spirit to witness to their family, friends, neighbors, and fellow-workers. We know names like Peter, Paul, Silas, Pricilla, Aquila, and others. [2] We do not know the names of the countless hundreds and thousands of new Christians who shared their faith with their families and friends. If we want to reach out to a new generation, we cannot say it is the pastor’s job, or the evangelism committee’s job, or the job of a few members who feel called to share their faith. It is and must be everyone’s job.

Let’s All Be Salt and Light

We all know the Beatitudes. Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount by expressing to his listeners what the blessed life is like. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek and lowly, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted because they defend the cause of Christ” (Matt. 6:1-12). He begins by informing the crowd what their lives should be like. Then, he tells them why their lives need to be like this:

You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. People do not light a lamp and put it under a bowl. They put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:13-16).

Let us pray: Eternal God make us salt and light to those we meet. In Jesus Name, Amen.

America in a Dark Place

Every so often pastors and interested lay people read articles and books on the condition of faith in America. Christianity is on the decline in our society, not just among younger generations or in certain regions of the country but across race, gender, education and geographic barriers. The percentage of adults who describe themselves as Christians dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years.

Here are a couple of striking facts.

  1. Millennials are increasingly not a part of Christian Faith. The so-called Millennial Generation” is just not returning to church as they grow older.
  2. People who are unaffiliated with a church are becoming more secular. This includes all generations. Even older people are beginning to “drop out” of Christian congregations. [3]

Years ago, my former congregation did a study of what was going on to guide us in developing a five-year evangelism plan. The results of our study were frightening to say the least. Our church, which was by all measures relatively young and vital, was experiencing a steady decline in members between twenty-five and thirty-five. We were financially solid and not declining in absolute numbers, but we were slowing getting older. We also discovered that we were not alone. Even highly evangelical and evangelism-oriented churches were experiencing the same problems we were experiencing. Over the past few years, I have had many, many conversations with pastors and religious leaders, church consultants, and others. Everyone in every denomination testifies to a decline in overall attendance and commitment. The media loves to hold up a few rapidly growing congregations to our eyes. What they do not like to tell is this: Most of them are growing by attracting people who are already Christians to one degree or another. Most of their growth is what is called, “transfer growth.”

While it is a fact that Christian faith is under attack in America, under attack from the media and from very well-funded lobbying groups, among others, it is also true that ordinary Christians are not doing their part to reach the world for Christ. It is also true that the church in America has not necessarily reached out as Christ desired for us to do. We all need to be salt and light every day to everyone we meet!

The Importance of Salt

Salt is something that we Americans often try to avoid and think is somehow unhealthy to eat. When Kathy and I first got married, she tried as hard as she could to restrict my intake of salt. Like many Americans and members of my family, I was addicted to salt. Even today, our diet contains less salt than is common in the areas in which we have lived. In the process, I forgot something important—salt is necessary for life. Animals naturally seek out “salt licks,” because they instinctively know that they need salt to live. I was a camp counselor for many years. When we took our campers on a long hike, we always made them take salt tablets so that they would not pass out on a hot summer day.

In the early part of our nation’s history, land with salt on it was in great demand. Salt is not only necessary for life, it is a preservative. Before refrigeration, iceboxes, and the like, salt was necessary to preserve food. My parents, who grew up in the depression, knew exactly how to salt pork and beef; and they salted meat well into the 1960’s! Not long ago, I developed an infection in my mouth. My dentist recommended that I brush my teeth with a special compound that included salt. Salt, you see, is a disinfectant.

Jesus grew up in a culture that knew the importance of salt. He knew it was necessary for life. He knew salt is a preservative. He knew that salt is a disinfectant. He also knew that the People of God, people who live like Jesus with his wisdom, his love, his peaceableness, his humility, and his willingness to help others were necessary for his society and for all the societies of the world. Therefore, he tells them, “You are the salt of the earth” (5:13). In other words, when your society is overheated and dying—when your society is decaying and needs preserving—when your society is sick, you are the salt that is going to heal, preserve, and make it well again.

We need to take Jesus seriously. Our society is pretty clearly overheated and decaying in an orgy of self-centeredness, self-seeking, hedonism, materialism, etc. We are like a runner that is running out of steam and who has sweated too much. We need a salt tablet of the Holy Spirit! We are like a steak left out in the sun too long. We are beginning to smell of decay. We need to be salted! We are like in infection that is beginning to fester. We need some disinfectant! Our world needs people who live differently from everyone else and by their love and wisdom act as a healer and preservative, not just for their own benefit, but because of the benefit that makes to everyone else.

The Importance of Light

Just to reaffirm his point. Jesus goes on to say that people who live like him and who by the power of the Holy Spirit model their lives after him are the light of the world (5:14). Here is how he puts it:

 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (5:14-16).

In the ancient world, people used oil lamps to provide light. Oil was a precious thing because it provided light at night. If a woman wanted to light her house, which was usually just a room or two, she would not put the lamp in a corner, some out of the way place. She would not hide her lamp under her laundry basket. She would put her lamp right out in the open in the center of the room or as close to the center as possible. She would also put her lamp as high as possible in the house—on a lampstand.

It does not take a lot of imagination to apply this to our lives. Throughout history, light has been a symbol of God’s wisdom. The Bible refers to God as light (I John 1:5) and to Jesus as the Light of the World (John 1:9; 8:12; 9:5). Paul tells the Colossians that they have been rescued by Christ from a Kingdom of Darkness and translated into a Kingdom of Light (Colossians 1:12). In wisdom literature over and over again the ways of God are referred to as a Path of Light and the way of evil is referred to as a Path of Darkness. [4]

There are a lot of folks in our world that live lives of deep darkness. I have been a pastor and a lawyer, and in both my lives I have seen what foolishness and what wickedness people are capable of embracing to their own destruction. There are many people trapped in loneliness, isolation, personal and spiritual brokenness, unconfessed sin and brokenness, foolish habits, and the like. Jesus is saying that we need to let the light of Christ illuminate our lives, and then we need to allow the light of Christ to shine into the lives of others, just like a lamp shines in the darkness.

Being an Everyday Disciple

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was not just talking to seriously-committed disciples, or a seminary class, or to a few religious zealots. He was talking to common people who came to hear him beside the Sea of Galilee. He is not saying, “Go hire and especially holy pastor and make him be a moral example.” He is not saying, “Find a few people in your church who really want to live differently and turn over the task of being salt and light to them.” He is telling the crowd and us that we all need to be Salt and Light. We all need to be sharing our life with others in life transforming ways.

Several years ago, Kathy attended a mission conference in San Antonio, Texas. There she learned about what God is doing in the Far East and other places, including San Antonio, Texas, to plant new churches and to grow existing churches. She learned about a lay-driven technique that a lot of those congregations use. Being the person she is, within just a few weeks we were leading a training group in our home. Over the next two years, we developed a ministry we call “Salt and Light.” One of our members suggested the name. It relies on ordinary people learning to be filled with the Spirit, living the Christian life daily, and sharing the Good News with Others. [5]

Here are just a few elements:

First, Salt & Light is done in community in Small Groups. A Church that is a Disciple-making community will be a place of new life in Christ, where people experience the life-transforming power of God– a new kind of life – in Jesus Christ in personal relationships with others who themselves embody the light of Christ.

Second, Salt & Light is based on the Great Commission.  A Church that is a Disciple-making community will be a place where what Luke calls the “Apostles’ teaching” the Good News of Jesus Christ, in whom we can have forgiveness of sins and restored fellowship with God and others (Acts 2:42-46). We need to know the Gospel and how to present the Gospel to others.

Third, Salt & Light is Spirit-driven, prayerful, and transformational. A Church that is a Disciple-making community will be a place where people pray and experience the power of prayer in their lives and in the lives of others. We need to pray for miracles of God’s presence in our lives and we need to learn how to share those miracles with others.

Where these things happen, the church experiences the blessings of God and an increase in the fellowship, because people see what God is doing in the lives of people.


Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] See, Michael Green, Evangelism and the Early Church Rev. Ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2004).  See also, “Evangelism and the Early Church: Did You Know?” Christian History Institute (downloaded June 17, 2017).

[2] The beginning and end of Paul’s letters often contain a long list of coworkers and brothers and sisters in Christ. For an example see Romans 16:1-16. There are many examples of this phenomenon in Paul’s letters. The Book of Acts also reveals that Paul led a group of laypeople who shared in his ministry. Paul himself worked as a tent-maker. The early church grew as a primarily lay-driven mission.

[3] See, Sarah Pulliam Bailey “Christianity faces sharp decline as Americans are becoming even less affiliated with religion” Washington Post, May 12, 2015 (…). See also,

[4] See, G. Christopher Scruggs, Path of Life: The Way of Wisdom for Christ-Followers (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014) for a full treatment of this insight from New and Old Testament Wisdom literature. Our society needs to rediscover the importance of both community and the wisdom of an historical community of faith in helping human beings face the challenges of life.

[5] G. Christopher Scruggs with Kathy Trammell Scruggs, Salt & Light: Everyday Evangelism (Collierville, TN: Innovo Publishing, 2017). Salt & Light embodies one concrete way to bring a relational, communal form of evangelism to your congregation.

A Disciple Spends Time in the Word

A few moments ago, as is my custom, I finished spending the first few minutes of the day praying, reading the Bible, and meditating. I have been a Christian since 1977, and for the vast amount of that time, this has been my daily routine. This has been true as a layperson, as a pastor, and as a parent. After all these years, I do not feel right on the days I skip and hope and believe it makes a difference in who I am and how I behave.

A committed disciple is committed to spend time in the written Word of God and so as to have the knowledge base to grow in likeness and fellowship with the Word Made Flesh. To be a disciple is to be centered in Holy Scripture in and on the One of whom Scripture speaks. A great deal of what we can know about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Christian life we learn by listening to the voice of God in Scripture. This knowing about, however, is of no use to us unless it results in our growing in a relationship with God in Christ and in our personal likeness to Christ.

In Acts, Paul leaves Thessalonica for Berea. Initially, the Thessalonians were resistant to the Good News and did not want to hear Paul’s message. Later in Berea, things were different. Luke records: “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men” (Acts 17:11-12). Those who earnestly hear the gospel of Christ are almost always eager to study their Scriptures. We study our scripture to test the testimony and opinions of others and to grow in our understanding of God, God’s world, our fallenness, and our unique place in God’s plan to redeem the world.

In perhaps his last letter, Paul underscores the importance of Scripture as he writes young Timothy:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

Here we see Scripture liftedup for what it is: the source of Godly wisdom, of a deeper understanding of the secret wisdom revealed in Christ, of the nature of faith, and of our hope in God through Christ. The Scripture was given to us by the Spirit of God and teaches us, rebukes our sin, corrects our errors, and trains us in the ways of God.

The Crisis of Biblical Knowledge

For a long time, pastors, scholars, and students have known that “Biblical literacy” is declining in our culture. There was a time when the Bible was found in almost every home in Europe and North America. There was a time before radio, television, and other forms of media and reading the Bible in family groups was common. There was a time when public schools and colleges taught the Bible and taught literature based upon the Bible. In such a culture, most people grew up with some understanding of the story the Bible is telling in the culture was formed by the story of the Bible.

This is no longer true, the story that the Bible tells us no longer at the center of our civilization. When Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the cost of discipleship, Europe was no longer filled with Christian nations. The elites that ran European countries no longer believed in historic Christian faith; however, the educated and were part of the culture in which their fundamental values were formed by the Christian story. Unfortunately, this is no longer true in Europe or in the United States.

Instead, in Europe and the United States, as well as the other parts of the world formed by European in the American culture, political, educational, cultural, and artistic leaders performed by a worldview that excludes God, the miraculous, the notion of a personal communication from God, prayer, and other facets of Christian faith. People formed by such a worldview simply do not find Christian faith, values, or morals important or realistic.

The situation will not change, and the crisis of discipleship will continue, until a group of people become deeply formed by the Christian story and Christian faith so that their approach to life and to secular problems of life are formed by the Christian story. The formation and growth of such a group of people cannot be done by mass media, but corporate education, or by large, entertainment driven, local congregations. [1] It can only be done within small groups of people who are studying the Scriptures, praying and leaving out the Christian life together.

In Romans 12, Paul talks about our need to see the world the way God sees the world when he says:

I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:1-2).

Paul, like Jesus, thinks that our faith should make a difference in how we behave. He teaches us that, if we see the world the way God sees the world, being transformed in the way we view the world, then we will offer God our lives and automatically do the kinds of things that please God. This transformation will not and cannot occur until and unless we change the way we see the world, think about the world, and respond to the challenges of everyday life.

The Bible is a tool we use in day-to-day life. [2] all tools require skill to use properly. Generally, the utility of a tool is only fully available to a craftsman trained and experienced in the proper use of the tool so that its use is second nature. Mental tools are no different. The value of wisdom literature is not in the study of it, or even in the memorization of its teachings, but in internalizing and consciously and unconsciously learning to live wisely over an extended period of time.

An example of this function of wisdom is the warnings of wisdom literature against laziness and against excessive work (compare, Proverbs 12:4 with Proverbs 23:4). These proverbs provide a way of thinking about work and leisure. They are not a substitute for personal decision. They are an aid to thinking and acting, not a substitute for personal responsibility. This book intends to encouragement readers to rediscover wisdom literature not as the solution to the problems of life but as a source of basic principles that we can apply to live wisely.

As we study, memorize, and meditate on the Bible and the story of God and humanity that it tells, we learn to “indwell” the story and its principles. Only when the stories and teachings of the Bible are internalized, so they are tacitly available to us as part of our conscious and unconscious perception of the world, can they perform their most important use in guiding thought and action. [3] This is why wisdom literature is important for young people to internalize at an early age so that it can function to guide their perception and experience over the long course of their lives.

Modern Christian churches (including my own) have not done a sufficient job of providing members and children with the skills in living wisely required to meet the challenges of our society and the prevailing culture. This book is designed to help Christians understand and respond to the challenges our culture presents to the wise life. I have attempted to connect wisdom literature with the greater narrative of Scripture to show how Old Testament wisdom fits into the greater story of God’s wisdom and redeeming love.

The crisis of our civilization and world is largely due to a lack of understanding of the true story of the world and the love affair that god desires to have with all people, of every tribe and nation. The Good News of this story is contained in the Bible and particularly in the stories of the life death and resurrection of Jesus, of his interaction with people, and of the response of those people to the Good News.

Transformed by the Word

As Christians study Scripture and meditate upon the One revealed in its pages, we encounter the God revealed to us in the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. As Paul says in Romans, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Later, in Colossians, Paul urges Christians to, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). As we listen to others in a Bible Study or Sunday School Class, God’s word, the Word of Christ, enters our hearts through the window of our minds. Slowly, but surely, we are transformed.

[1] I hesitated to use the phrase, “large entertainment driven churches,” for fear that the phrase would be taken pejoratively. Recent years have seen the emergence of large congregations that rely upon sophisticated media and popular music in worship. There is nothing wrong with this approach. However, as powerful as the worship experience may be in these congregations, discipleship formation cannot be done in worship alone. Many of these congregations recognize this fact and are deeply committed to developing discipling ministries in their congregation.

[2] This part of this chapter is adapted from and based upon a similar section in my earlier book, Path of Life: The Way of Wisdom for Christ Followers (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014), 10-11.

[3] Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension (Glouchester, MA: Peter Smith, 1983). The work of Polanyi and its application to wisdom thinking is often noted during the course of this study.

A Discipling Community


Christians were meant to be part of a family. We were meant to live in community with other Christians, sharing our successes, our failures, our hopes and dreams, our dashed hopes and dreams, our worries and our cares. The church, the community of those who have responded to the call of Jesus to come and follow him, is not something optional. It is essential Becoming a part of the community of Christ is essential to becoming and being a disciple of Christ.

The Bible uses many metaphors for God’s community of discipleship. The Church is Body of Christ; it is the City of God; it is the People of God; it is the Family of God. In the last chapter, we noted that, when Jesus came to be among the human race to display for us the wisdom and love of God in human form, he did not do it alone. He chose a small group of followers and poured his life into them. He created a community of disciples. During his lifetime, the little group grew. When he ascended into heaven, his discipleship group became the church. A fundamental principle of disciplemaking is that all believers, and especially new believers, need to be part of a discipleship group. Just as children need a family to grow up in, so also young Christians need a family to grow up in. They need the experience of growing in Christ in an intimate fellowship of other people who are trying to grow in Christ as well. We never lose our need for that close, Christian, family of disciples.

In an individualistic culture, it is tempting to think of the church as a kind of voluntary society like-minded people join to advance a set of beliefs or even a way of life. This is not the proper way to think of the church at all. The church is more like a family. Our families existed before we existed, just as the church existed before we became members—or even believed in Christ. Just as we grow up in a family, we grow up in the church. The church is a family in which the children are disciples of Christ growing into a deeper relationship with God.

Commitment to Discipleship

In the ancient world, a disciple was a learner, someone who followed a teacher around and learns from them. The process of learning was twofold: First, the disciple learned the information that teacher knew. Second, the disciple came to model the lifestyle of his teacher. For example, Plato, a disciple of Socrates later taught his disciples, one of which was Aristotle. In this way, the teachings of the master were passed down. We recover this ancient way of teaching people and changing lives. It is very important to remember that we are not called merely to transmit information to people. We are called to help them live a new kind of life as a disciple of Jesus. In a sense, every disciple is a child of those who helped that person grow in Christ and is the parent of those that they are discipling into the image of God-in-Christ.

The internet and “online learning” has made college and other educational opportunities available over the internet. There are even many “online seminaries.” While these online educational opportunities are good for transmitting information and gaining credentials, they cannot by their very nature provide the kind of discipling that Jesus modeled. Jesus personally spent time with his disciples and they learned as much by what they observed as by what they were taught. There is an old saying that children “do as the see and not as their parents urge.” Disciples model themselves after older, more experienced disciples just as children, for better or for worse, model themselves after their parents.

All our married life, Kathy and I have been members of what we call “discipling groups.” We met in a Bible study. When we were a young couple, we were in Bible studies with other young couples. Each of us has been a part of small discipling groups with men and women separately over the years. When Chris worked, he had a small group in his law office. When we went to seminary, Chris met weekly with a group of fellow students. Since entering full-time ministry, both of us have always been part of discipling groups. For years, I met with several men weekly. We met for almost eighteen years. For many years, I have taught a year-long Bible Study. Those groups meet for nine months. Often, our churches sponsored short-term groups that meet for six or so weeks. Today, Kathy and I lead “Salt & Light Groups.” The size and length of the group is not what matters. It is the love of the group and the example of its leaders that matters.

Some years ago, we became part of a renewal movement that encourages the formation of small discipling groups, and over the years we have been members of such small groups. We’ve led other discipling groups in our home and at church. We’ve always been members of Sunday School classes. We’ve attended special groups to learn special skills such as child-raising or how to manage our money. Each one of these groups changed our lives in some important way. Along the way, we’ve grown, helped others, made many life-long friends, and experienced the joy of Christ. Just as Jesus was lifted up into heaven and was no longer physically with his disciples, most of these groups eventually disbanded as people moved along in life, but each person in each group remains a precious memory. Some of the members of these groups keep in touch after as much as thirty years apart!

Just as this was being written, we met a couple that we’ve known for over thirty years for an outing. Chris has known the husband for a bit longer. We’ve never attended the same church. In fact, we belong to different denominations. However, when we were young, for just a few weeks, we had a weekly Bible Study in our home. The deep love created years ago emerges every time we are together. The day before, another couple dropped by our house with their grandchildren. Once again, we met in a discipling group many, many years ago. Today, we are still Christian friends, helping one another grow and face the new challenges of a new stage of life. The love of discipling groups is a kind of love that never ends because it was not primarily a human love but a divine encounter.

The family of God is important in a society that does not value family, and in which many people live and work far from their biological family. The form of life that is common in American and other cities increases that loneliness among many people. As mentioned a moment ago, many people live far from parents and siblings. Because of divorce and other factors, even if they might have community with their biological family, many people do not. The structure of modern corporate society makes it necessary for many people to live away from their families, sometimes across the globe. With the advent of social media, many people come to rely upon social media and electronic connection as a substitute for real human relationships. Finally, many people are working longer hours than in prior generations. The result is a kind of epidemic of loneliness.

This loneliness is not healthy. In fact, it can be pathological. If we human beings were meant for community, for deep and abiding relationships of deep care, then this structure of living is bound to leave most people unfulfilled and other people deeply wounded. If being fully human requires that we be in life giving relationships with God and others, then it is no surprise that the result of our societies deconstruction of the family and of stable communities and neighborhoods has had devastating impact on the mental, moral, and spiritual health of people.

When our society does provide community, that community is increasingly political or economic in nature. Unfortunately, jobs, corporations, business relationships, and the like can only provide a kind of limited social connection. Business does not love anyone as a person, only as an economic unit. Similarly, particularly among the young, belonging to causes may provide some limited social connection. However, causes can only provide a limited amount of love, meaning and purpose. Our government and political organizations value us as citizens, not as children of God. Exercise classes, hobby groups, and other groups have similar limitations. Human beings were never meant to live as isolated individuals bound together only by work and the laws of a society. We were meant for deep, loving, wise, relationships.

Unfortunately, at just the moment in human history when the relational, family aspect of the local church is most needed, two factors have limited the ability of the church to respond to that need. First, over generations, churches have assumed that the loving community of the church would automatically permeate its fellowship. When most people lived in small towns, had relatively strong families, and attended churches in which their families had long and strong connections, church community grew naturally. Pastors and seminaries did not think that they needed to focus on the creation of life transforming fellowship as a particularly important duty of the local congregation. They assumed it would happen as a result of the teaching and worship ministries of the congregation. The massive transfer of population to major cities and the decline of small, community churches put an end to the possibility that this strategy could work.

Secondly, for most of the 20th Century, the major Christian denominations, including my own, increasingly developed a corporate model of church operation and a professional model of pastoral formation. At the very moment when the sheer size and complexity of our culture was forcing people to live in large cities and in anonymous neighborhoods, and the natural ability of people to find spiritual nurture was declining, the church was developing a way of doing church that was not able to adapt to the changing reality of the lives of people.

Finally, in the past many young people were not particularly active in church during their immediate post high school and college years, but when they had children, many of them returned to local congregations. Unfortunately, these uyoung people are delaying families longer and longer, and while they are delaying family formation, they are constantly bombarded with images of churches as judgmental, corrupt, only interested in money, and backward. Therefore, when confronted by the need for meaning, purpose, and community, they are unlikely to seek out the church for an answer to their deepest needs.

The only way to respond to this deep need in contemporary society is to focus attention on the process of building life transforming community and making and growing disciples within that community.

Personal Relationships are Essential

In the last chap-er we developed the idea that, as Christians, we celebrate a God who exists in an intimate, self-giving, life transforming relationship. God not only reveals himself to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in some mysterious way, God exists as one essential being in three distinct persons. These persons exist in an unbroken relationship with one another in the perfect love of the Godhead. In other words, God exists in a community (a family) of self-giving mutual love. Within the self-giving community of love, there exists both individuality and relationship. This has profound implications for the Christian life:

  1. If God exists in a relationship of love, then there is no being a Christian without being in a relationship of love. As persons who are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), we were made for deep, loving, wise, and powerful life changing relationships – with God, with other persons and with creation.
  2. The church is to be made up of people who are in relationship with one another. A church that is merely a place for so inclined people to meet on Sunday morning sit in pews, sing and listen to a talk, is not the kind of church God God meant the church to be a place where people are in relationship with God and with one another. A church is not a worship service. A church is a group of disciples called to live together and demonstrate to the world God’s love.
  3. Since God is love, and the same love he showed when he “sent his only son” (John 3:16) exists between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, it is only as we exist in communities of love that the Church can be the body of Christ it was intended to be. This love is not a love based upon attractiveness, or other human qualities or worthiness. It is a pure self-giving love, which Jesus demonstrated for us on the cross.
  4. Finally, the very names of the divine person: Father, Son and Holy Spirit encourage us to see God existing as a family. This is exactly the relationship Jesus claims and models with his disciples. When Jesus says that he desires the disciples to be one just as the Father and he are one (John 17:20-21), he is praying that we might enter the family of God and become participants in the self-giving love of God. In other words, he is making us part of his family. When John calls believers, “Children of God” (I john 3:1), he indicates that by faith in Christ and participation in his body, reflecting the love of God in our lives and in our life together, we become part of God’s family.

We cannot live wisely on the journey of life without being in community with people who are also on the journey of living with love, wisdom, humility, and a great desire to be be in community with God, with others, and with creation itself.


Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

The Most Essential Group

For most of my time as a Christian layperson and Minister, the churches I was a member or pastor of placed a lot of emphasis on small groups. Over the years, small group formation has been an important part of many, many vital congregations. If your church is like mine and those I’ve served, then you have Bible Study groups, prayer groups, “life groups,” caring groups, service and mission groups, etc. All these groups are important, but the variety and number of small groups available in many congregations can blind us to the most important group of all, what I will call the “Discipleship Formation Group” or “Discipleship Group.”.

Jesus gave us one command: Go and make disciples. Disciples are not listeners who sit passively taking in Bible studies, sermons, worship services, or the results of others’ ministries. Disciples are not simply cognitive learners who memorize Bible verses, theological ideas, and other aspects of the Christian life. Disciples are not simply people who are moved by worship. Disciples are not merely, as Kierkegaard put it, “Admirers of God.”

Disciples are those who, in their day-to-day lives, bring others into God’s Kingdom of Wisdom and Love, sharing the Good News of what God was doing in Jesus Christ with others, and  themselves helping others come to Christ, learn to obey Christ, and follow Christ in their own lives. Disciples learn, pray, and worship for a reason: To become more like Christ and to share God’s invitation to join with Christ and others in the task of bringing the Kingdom of God into the world so that the world can enjoy the harmony, peace, and joy for which the world and the human race were created.

Not long ago I read a critique of the church and of pastors. The writers point was that too often churches and pastors have treated their job as to attract people to come and listen, listen to the music, liturgy, sermon, and sacraments, give a little money, and return home “fed” for the week. When I read this, I recognized it was true. We focus too much on bringing people into the Church as an institution and too little time discipling people to go out into the world and share God’s love with others. We spend too much time trying to make Christian faith easy, culturally relevant, and personally meaningful and not enough time teaching people to “obey all that I have commanded you” and go into the world helping others overcome the impact of sin and death in their own lives and in the lives of others and in their communities, families, jobs, etc.

If Churches and Christians  are going to effectively do a better job of discipling people in the climate of Western society, then we have to deeply rethink the idea of the “Program Church.” In a way, the Church of Christ should have just one program: in everything to obey Christ, incarnate Christ, and share the love of Christ with others. Programs and membership are not an end. They are a means to accomplish the Great Commission. Our programs are not unimportant, but they are only a means. The goal is to make disciples who make disciples.

This is why Kathy and I wrote the study, Salt & Light: to help our church and hopefully other congregations  focus on becoming “Disciplemaking Disciples.” Salt & Light is not the only way this can be accomplished. It is but one way. It is the elements of Salt & Light that must, we think, become a part of the basic thrust behind what Churches do in all the variety of their programming:

  1. Bring people to Christ.
  2. Train them to  follow and be like Christ.
  3. Empower them to share Christ with others.

I can imagine a number of Bible studies, small groups, prayer groups, care groups, marriage groups, mission groups, etc. that incorporate the principles of disciple-making into their structure and organization .Once again, the exact method is not so important as the focus on bringing people to Christ, helping them to learn to follow Christ, and empowering new disciples to share Christ, embody Christ in their own lives wherever God takes them.

To disciple people the way Jesus discipled people is to gather people into a long-term relationship that may actually last years in which they, like the original disciples, meet Jesus, follow Jesus, watch how Jesus lives and works in the lives of others, and then reach out and share the wisdom and love of God with others. Discipleship is a process and a relationship with God, not a decision we make and thereafter work on by ourselves when it fits our purposes and needs.

There is no other way to be in relationship than to be in a small group of Christians who are also on the journey of following Jesus, learning to be more like Jesus, and calling others into a relationship with Jesus and helping them grow. Therefore, the Most Essential Group in every Christian church is the intentional discipleship making and empowering group, what we  all a “Disciple Group.” Groups such as “Salt and Light Groups” are and should be at the center of fulfilling the Great Commission and therefore at the center of every Christian fellowship.

Kathy and I just returned from a wonderful trip to Scotland. We thank al those who made it possible. As we drove through town after town we passed the once homes of congregations whose buildings have been turned into public buildings or retail establishments. We toured the ruins of once mighty abbeys and cathedrals. Many of the members of the orders who formed the abbeys and cathedrals we toured lived in violent times of persecution of their faith and orders. Nevertheless, they were faithful. Looking at ruins and repurposed buildings reminded me of this truth: the church is not a building. It is people who have been called into a relationship with God and who are faithfully living out that relationship in their day-to-day lives. The world can tear down or empty buildings. It cannot tear down the Kingdom of God in a single human life.

Currently, we inhabit a society that is running away from God as fast as it can possibly do so. Our job, like the job of countless others in history is  to be faithful and  share in word and deed the Good News that God loves even those who have strayed far, far away. God loves our sinful, fallen, reckless society. God loves his enemies and our enemies. God loved them and us enough to send his Son into the world, and He continues to send his Beloved Son into the world through the lives of those who love, follow, and obey Him.

The business of disciplemaking is not just the job of religious professionals and a few talented laypersons. It is the job of all Christians. We are all called to be “Salt & Light to others.


Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved