A conversation with Evangelist Jon Reed is always good for an idea about an editorial. He recently told me he was going to write a book on “discipling goats.” He was referring to the difficulty most churches have in getting their members to evangelize or go soul-winning. He said, “I think it is difficult to get some church members to serve, because we are discipling goats instead of sheep.” I asked Jon for permission to use his idea for an editorial and he consented.
According to a recent George Barna Survey almost three-quarters of Americans (73 percent) say they are Christians and the same percentage of those surveyed agree that religious faith is very important in their lives.
However, four very reputable research centers concluded that on an average 45 percent of those who attend church regularly are not saved. That may be a generous conclusion. And what does that say about those who do not attend church regularly?
Those same research centers reported that seventy percent of all young people who grow up in church leave the church by their 20s. The report indicated that one-third of all Americans believe after they die, God will give them a second chance. Seventy-seven percent of all Americans believe that personal salvation is a result of good works, and sixty-five percent of all “Christians” believe that there are multiple paths to heaven.
When you study these statistics, other similar data, and read that out of over 15 million Southern Baptists the weekly worship attendance is only 5,320,488 it is difficult to imagine that every Southern Baptist is redeemed and heaven-bound.
There are also over 5 million non-resident Southern Baptists. That means that one-third of our Southern Baptist brothers and sisters do not live in the area where they are church members. I was a pastor for 41years and trying to find non-resident members is often like trying to find someone in the government’s witness protection program.
It is reported, but not confirmed, that Billy Graham, the world renown evangelist, said on national television that 75-85 percent of church members are lost. Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade (now Cru) in a Sunday morning sermon at Montreat Presbyterian Church in Montreat, North Carolina, said in July of 1984, “Over 50 percent of the 85 million people in church this morning have never been born again.”
Are people who believe that salvation is through good works really saved? Are non-resident church members, who move to another city or state and never reconnect to another church showing signs of a genuine faith? Do church members who believe that there are multiple paths to heaven have an undeniable commitment to Christ? Do our youth who grow up in church and then leave the church in their twenties have a saving faith? Perhaps, but the Bible says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (I John 2:19).
In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in you name? And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you, depart from me, you workers of iniquity” (Matthew 7:21-23).
Jesus also said, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7: 13-14).
We are not to judge others as to whether they are saved or lost, but I think the old spiritual song is true, “Everybody talking about heaven ain’t going there.”
That being the case, we are trying to get goats to do what only sheep would have the desire, interest, or empowerment to do. Many pastors are not able to disciple the sheep, because they must spend so much time pampering disgruntled goats.
David Servant, pastor, author, and discipler, says, “How do you know the sheep? They are the ones who come to church the earliest and leave the latest. They are hungry to learn the truth, because Jesus is their Lord and they want to please Him. They are excited about the Lord; and they are looking for opportunities to serve.”
Conversely, we might ask, “How do you know the goats?” The goats may hang out with the sheep, but they are pretenders and fakers who trust in themselves and not he Lord. They arrive late and want to leave early – even during the invitation. They merely come to church to mark “church attendance” off their “to-do” list for the week. When they attend the church service they feel like they have done God a favor. They tip God rather than tithe. They may serve, but on their terms, not God’s.
If you are in the church, and the description of the goat resembles you better than the description of the sheep, you may be a lost church member. Jesus said in John 10:27-28: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”
Pastors who are trying to disciple goats are probably frustrated, because training goats to be soul-winners is comparable to teaching a group of hippopotami to soar like eagles.