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Church must focus on discipleship as God continues to 'expose unrelenting scandals': Exponential Conference

Singing, worship,
Upsplash/Haley Rivera

At a time when God is “exposing a lot of the unrelenting scandals” within the Body of Christ, the Church must “redefine success” and place a strong emphasis on discipling the next generation, according to pastor and author Pete Scazzero.

During the opening session of Exponential's Reset Summit on Wednesday, Scazzero, who co-founded Emotionally Healthy Discipleship after leading New Life Fellowship Church for 26 years, told host Todd Wilson that COVID-19 has presented an “invitation” to church leaders to reset. 

“I do think there's an invitation from God for the Church globally and not just here in North America, and it's a very, very important moment,” he said. 

Pre-COVID-19, elements like large crowds, worship experiences, and numbers multiplying could “hide some of the lack of integrity ... beneath the surface,” Scazzero said, adding: “It seems like God is exposing a lot of that with the unrelenting scandals that have been hitting the Church, especially in the last few years.”

If the Church is “going to make it long term sustainably doing mission out in the world,” its foundation needs be “very solid,” he said — and that means having a “depth of discipleship and leadership development that's not simply skill development and out of our gifts, but actually out of our inner life with God.”

Reset Summit
Author Pete Scazzero, who co-founded Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, speaks at the Reset Summit on May 19, 2021. |

“[We need to be] spending the same amount of time on our inner life that we're spending on our outer life of getting the mission done,” he said. “I think that's been disproportionate. I don't think we're going to be able to get away with that much longer.”

Though an “increasingly secularized” culture can partially be blamed for the crisis in the Church, Scazzero stressed “that's not our biggest problem,” as “the early Church did just fine in a totally secular pagan Roman Empire.”

“I'm much more concerned about us; our inner life as the Church and our integrity. Because if we've got that together, we'll do fine regardless of what's happening out there in the empire of the world and the secularization of the culture around us. The challenges are not out there — they are in here.”

Though many pastors want to “lunge back in” to large gatherings post-COVID, Scazzero stressed the importance of “taking an adequate amount of time for the inner development of our lives as leaders” and then “our discipleship of people.”

“Discipleship is going to make or break the future … you've got to get serious about discipleship,” he emphasized. “There’s a need to slow some of the outer stuff down so that our inner life catches up to what we're doing externally.”

The Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life in Christ author identified four gaps he said are driving some of the dysfunction and lack of health in many churches.

First, he said, many church leaders “ignore the emotional component of who we are for the sake of getting the job done.”

“As I talk to my friend who is really stressed, who is feeling overloaded — that's God. Stop. Slow down, maybe find yourself a good mentor, but you got to ... discern, how is God coming to me through my hurrying, through my body being tense, through my feelings of being out of control?” he explained. 

Second, “our being is not sufficient to sustain our doing for God,” which means “I'm actually taking the time to make sure I'm being with God and myself,” Scazzero said. 

Third, while the Church today is largely focused on missions — and that’s not a bad thing — it’s also important to re-focus on some of the “treasures of history of the global church,” like silence, solitude and slowing down, he charged. 

Finally, the Church needs to “redefine success,” as it currently has a success measurement that is “faulty, Western, very American, which is bigger, better, faster, and we feel good as long as there’s a crowd in the room.”

“That is not the measurement for biblical success,” Scazzero stressed. “I think that's got to get redefined. ... My definition for success is becoming the person God's called you to become in doing what God's called you to do. ... It's critically important for the mission, longterm, of the Church.”

Everything, the author reiterated, “rises and falls on discipleship,” adding: “If we get this shallow or faulty or wrong, then it doesn’t matter the strategies that we employ, it doesn't matter how we’re addressing, cleverly, the cultural shifts going on around us. We're not going to be multiplying leaders who are able to multiply leaders.”

The Church has been “trapped into this crowd-building-centered wineskin,” yet Scripture has a “much broader, wider way of looking at it.”

“If we get discipleship, and thus leadership development right, the wineskins are easy ... because you've got the people, you've got the internal fire to pivot and shift. But if you don't, then crises that come become devastating,” he concluded.

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