America’s Best Hope Conference – George Barna
Yesterday, I had the privilege of being a part of the America’s Best Hope conference. While several things stood out at the conference which focused on the importance of discipleship or mentoring of Godly leaders, George Barna, The Barna Group, was a highlight. Barna is the one of the leading experts in statistical research associated with biblical worldview.
Prior to going forward, let me first say that the statistical guru himself stated that he likely is one of the most misquoted individuals in the world. He estimates that 75% of the time he is quoted, it is inaccurate. Thus, I will do my best and hopefully catch the essence of his comments.
Barna started off with a variety of statistics supporting the decline of church attendance and a biblical Christian worldview in America. This is very consistent with statistics I have been seeing from multiple sources and become interested.
With respect to the church, Barna said, “We need to give people a map versus providing them a menu of programs to chose from.” He indicated that we tend to invite people into the church and give them a menu of programs or ministries to plug into versus pointing them in the direction of a destination and giving them the map on how to get to that destination. He later states that in our efforts to make Christianity as accessible as possible, we’ve lost the gospel. Barna is not criticizing change which has occurred in the church, however, is emphasizing the importance of maintaining a focus on the destination.
So, what is the destination? It’s a life described with words like Christ-likeness, wholeness, and fulfillment. It’s a life best described with scriptures like:
Romans 12:2 “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.”
Galatians 6:15 “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.”
John 15:8 “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
In essence, one who has died to sin, self and society. One who has total surrendered to taking up their cross and following Christ moment by moment. While I may be misquoting him on this, I seem to recall that their statistics indicate only 5% the Christians truly reach this “destination”.
Given the destination, what’s the route? Barna shared a route or map to the destination which I found to be very interesting. He mentioned that while the order may change, the follow 10 steps are normally part of the journey.
1) Ignorance of sin
2) Aware of sin but indifference
3) Concerned about potential effects
4) Realized acceptance of Jesus
5) Increases religious activity
6) Holy discontent – several years into our journey we say “is this it”
8) Surrender and submission
9) Profound love connection with God
10) Extreme love of people
As you can see, one’s acceptance of Christ is early on in the journey and there are several more steps in the journey prior to truly experiencing a life of Christ-likeness, wholeness, or fulfillment.
A key point along the journey is normally step 7 – brokenness. Barna, others, and myself via firsthand experience would say that in order for life transformation to truly happen, one has to go through a period of brokenness. Barna listed a few key life events or crisis that their research has shown normally lead to this brokenness. They are: a painful divorce, prison, natural disaster, and a couple others I don’t recall. The point here being that they are very significant crisis in one’s life that can’t be overcome without Jesus.
Adding to this, Barna mentioned that we need to start allowing people to truly experience brokenness. As many may be able to relate, we tend to have good intentions by helping people in crisis, however, we’re simply putting a band-aid on the situation rather than allowing God do his work. This can be painful to watch and still a bit confusing on what this practically looks like, however, the point is noted.
So, where are you on this journey? I’ll share the story for another day, however, I humbly submit to you that I am continually going through steps 7-10. The brokenness I have experienced centers around financial security and giving up control. There are specific events of brokenness for me in October 2008 and February 2011 where I totally surrendered to His leading. Through His process of sanctification, I am down to attempting to take control only about 5 times per day (joking but with some seriousness).
So, where is the hope in all this and what can we do? Well, first, we must truly acknowledge where we are in the journey. This can be a bit humbling as I know a couple people have shared after seeing the map. Then, we need to recognize the importance of discipleship or mentors. We must start to work in relationships of one-on-one or at most 2-3 people to really challenge one and other to progress through the journey. While these mentor/mentee relationships may look like friendships, the goal is not to create life long friendships. The goal is Matthew 28:19-20: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Not feeling equipped? Barna challenged the group to discipleship regardless of where you’re at in the journey. He stated that really to be a mentor and disciple someone, you simply need to be only a couple steps further along the journey. Consistent with the entire theme of America’s Best Hope, Barna stressed the importance of our building Godly leaders.
Finally, Barna emphasized the importance of our focusing on quality “fruit” versus quantity of church attendees. Barna mentioned that our mission fields are likely as much the ones setting foot in a church on Sunday as the unchurched. Matter of fact, for many of us, they are right in the home which we live.
Well, George, I hope I didn’t misquote you too bad and I thank you for your years of service for the Kingdom. I hope that this blog has spurred some thoughts within you and please don’t hesitate to comment or reach out to discuss further.