Last Thursday I received my copy of “The Cost of the Disconnect: The Discipleship Crisis and the Global Ramifications of an Impotent Church,” by Dirk Helmling. Dirk is the founder of 2911 Ministries (from Jeremiah 29:11) and is involved in various speaking engagements as well as discipling pastors and caring for orphans in Liberia. I had the pleasure of meeting Dirk in 2005 whilst on a gap year with Careforce. Dirk and a group of students had flown over from the states to do some street evangelism in London but had missed their connecting flight from Manchester airport. It was a good job they did. The next day was July 7th 2005, the day of the London Bombings and their schedule would have placed them on the underground right around the times the bombs went off. I guess God was watching over them.
So with their plans altered they ended up staying in the Manchester area and one day they just so happened to wander past our church and make contact with us. At least that’s how I remember it, it was a long time ago. Anyway, Dirk’s group and our young people hit it off immediately and they decided to stick around with us for the rest of their time here. I can’t remember exactly how long they were around for, but it was a great few days that were really exciting. Dirk and his group had a real energy and enthusiasm about their faith which stood out against our highly reserved Britishness and they were just a contagious bunch, in the good enthusiastic for Jesus way, not in the horrific illness sense. I honestly can’t remember a lot of what we did together but I do remember spending a day in Manchester with them, hanging with the youth group, worshipping (they were the first people to introduce me to the Splendour of the King) and laughing, a lot! It was a really exciting time.
You are allowed to laugh at both my hair and my clothes. Saved by grace!
Obviously Dirk and his group eventually returned to the States but I remained in contact with a number of them by email, including Dirk. Over time this dwindled a bit but we reconnected via Facebook a few years ago and have kept in semi – regular contact since. Well not long ago Dirk began mentioning a soon to be released book he’d been working on. Having made such an impact on me back in 2005 I was interested to see what it would be all about. Having worked for a few churches and got some experience in Christian ministry, I’d become more than aware that sometimes people can have some slightly odd theology and it had sometimes crossed my mind that in essence, I didn’t really know Dirk that well at all, or have much of an idea of what he taught. It had all seemed above board when I’d met him but what can you really grasp about someone in a few days? So I was looking forward to reading his book, both because I was hoping it would have something good to say and because I was hoping it would confirm Dirk as sound.
Well last Thursday, my copy of his book arrived. So did it have anything worthwhile to say and is Dirk sound? The answers are “Yes” and “Yes.”
Just to say now, this isn’t a book review. I’m no good at them. It’s a book endorsement though and an encouragement for anyone serious about discipleship to buy it. And for my dad to stock it in his bookshop. I devoured the book in a few days. I honestly couldn’t put it down. Dirk confronts us with the stark reality that the American church has failed in making disciples. It’s not difficult to replace the words “American Church” with “British Church” and see that the same is true for us here in the UK. For me, reading Dirk’s book reinforced and confirmed some of my own thoughts I had been having about the church, albeit far more eloquently and in much more depth.
Like what? Well, that a lot of what the church is doing is not making disciples, not in the biblical sense. We’re creating pew warmers, people who don’t want their ‘faith’ to be costly and people for whom what happens on a Sunday doesn’t transfer over into the rest of their week. Jesus is clear is the gospels that those who love him obey him, but as a church we are weak at putting this across. We have fallen into the trap of getting people to ‘pray the prayer’ and then assume they’re in. We have concentrated on the benefits of becoming a follower of Christ, whilst neglecting to mention the cost of discipleship and how our lives become the sole possession of Christ. We have died with Christ and are his now and we have to live as such. This isn’t legalism though. Dirk uses a great phrase that I’m going to steal from now on (nothing new under the sun anyway mate) which is “mutually inclusive.” Let me just put this in the context of what Dirk says. Here’s a great quote from the book:
“How have we become so accustomed to accepting for ourselves and offering to others the benefits of salvation whilst we completely ignore the costs? No, I’m not advocating that we can earn our salvation. Not at all. We are saved by grace, through faith, and this is a gift from God, not something we can manufacture on our own. As such though, the Bible makes it clear that this particular saving faith that we’re referring to, and a life of radical obedience to Jesus, are not mutually exclusive terms. They are in fact, mutually inclusive terms. they overlap to such a degree that you simply cannot have one without the other. When we separate the two, we render the gospel ineffective and further perpetuate this bogus heresy.”
I mean how bang on the money is that?! It’s right on the mark, nail on the head type stuff. This struck such a chord with me as I’ve been feeling similar things. The more I work in church, the more people I see and realise that actually, radical obedience isn’t really on their agenda. It’s not even on the horizon. Our default mode is comfortable and looking like the world. And for some people, that’s as far as they’ll ever go and they’ll firmly resist any calls to change because “they’re saved by faith.” But doesn’t true faith produce fruit, obedience, a changed life? And if the fruit isn’t there, or even the desire to produce fruit, can we really assume we’re saved? It’s heartbreaking to see this in my young people but when I see it in adults too I can’t help but be dismayed.
It’s with thoughts like this going through my head that I’ve become convinced of the importance of one2one discipleship, meeting with some of my young guys regularly to read the bible and to make them accountable. We need to get our younger (and older) generation into reading the word on a regular basis, both by themselves and with others and we need to ask them the hard questions that the world won’t. Proverbs 27:17 is talking about just this sort of thing – as iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. It’s hard work and it means investing our time in a few rather than the many, but it’s a real case of quality over quantity. We need to work hard to make real, radical disciples, who are willing to make Christ the Lord of their lives no matter what the cost. It’s not just the challenge for youth work, it’s the challenge for the whole church. And it’s not even Dirk or me who are throwing down this challenge. It’s Jesus himself, in the pages of the gospels.
If anything here has struck a chord with you I recommend you read Dirk’s book. You can order a copy from the 2911 website although if you’re outside the US, you’ll need to contact Dirk directly via the site to sort out shipping costs. You can also check out Dirk’s blog, “For What It’s Worth” to hear some of his other thoughts, by clicking on the link in this post or in the sidebar of this site. It’s a challenging and convicting read and I would dearly love every person I lead with to read this book and face the issues it raises.
Buy it, buy it now!