Beer makes a lot of people happy, many people too happy, and a good amount of people down right upset. This part is for those who get upset. I recognize that putting the word “beer” and “gospel” in the same sentence seems a bit scandalous or even sensational. Believe me when I say my aim here is not arouse a reaction for the sake of a reaction. My aim is to enliven the Christian (and non-Christian) imagination, and so from time to time it’s good to do some “out of the box” communication. I should also say that my goal involves exposing anyone I can to the gospel of Jesus Christ and I must say that beer is a very helpful context for such exposure. So if you’re prone to taking offense over Christians drinking beer, I simply ask that you look past the surface imagery of this article to the ultimate message I am attempting to convey.
Making Beer and Making Disciples
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. -Mt. 28:19-20
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. -Eph. 4:11-13
When the seeker-sensitive movement picked up steam in the 1970’s it was quickly followed by the mega-church movement, because after all, there are a lot of seekers out there. Much has been written about this phenomenon from multiple angles and so it’s not my intent to give a full history with all its high points, but I do want to make a sweeping statement where this movement ultimately arrived. The Mega-church model as commonly experienced in the US today cannot fulfill the exhortations found the in scripture passages above. The reason for this is because the mega church relies on too few people for way too much. The mega-church cannot make disciples who make disciples who become mature, attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Period.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the severity of that statement and I have little doubt that some will dismiss what I’m saying as the rant of a millennial discontent…living in a glass house throwing stones. I want to assure you the reader that this is not a rant; this is the result of biblical reflection/exploration, consistent personal experience, and some hard-core prayer. So back to my assertion that the problem is rooted in asking too much of too few.
If we take the Ephesians passage seriously, I mean really seriously, the Church is supposed to be this force of immense and diverse gifts that are all working together toward unity and yes, MATURITY. The exhortation is not to form a stranglehold on discipleship, where many get caught up in the bottleneck of church organizational structures, but rather a mass equipping of the saints. What would happen if apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers were empowered to make disciples who make disciples? I’ll tell you what would happen…a revolution.
And here’s where the beer comes in. In general, the practice of micro-brewing in the US started to pick up steam in the mid 1970’s and by pick up steam, I mean there were a few brave souls who thought they could make a living from brewing beer on a much smaller scale than the much larger national brewers (i.e. Anheuser-Busch and Miller) To be clear, it was hard going at first because Americans had lost their “beer imagination” and had become accustomed to mild-drab beer. Many of these pioneers labored for a long time with a vision for something better, wanting others to discover the wonders and freedoms of craft beer and then it happened. Somewhere in the mid 90’s micro-breweries started popping up all over the place and this wasn’t a fluke, but a growing trend. Today there are a registered 1759 breweries in the US with approximately 1700 being labeled as micro-breweries.
The micro-brew culture is a discipleship culture. When things started to take of in the 90’s, it wasn’t because of random folks independently deciding that micro-brewing was the way to go if we were ever going to recapture beer greatness. No, the uptick happened because a few labored for a long time for what they loved because that had confidence in the entire enterprise. Those pioneers influenced multiple “students/disciples” who in-turn “ministered” to others and so on. It was a movement of multiplication. One could argue that my metaphor breaks down in light of today’s micro-brewery market competition, but if you are actually in the culture you’ll see that many love the movement mostly for what it produces even if there is a bit of competition due to the business side of things.
A massive empowering of “non-professionals” who, by means of education and conviction, transform the status quo…this is what we need. We need normal people finding something extraordinary and calling others to it so that they might do the same. Large breweries and large churches often stifle discipleship because they cannot equip, inspire, train, empower, etc., large amounts of normal people to do what they’re doing because that would (here I go saying strong stuff again) decentralize the very structure they need to exist as an organization. Equipping the multitudes makes large organizations run by a few people largely irrelevant. Could it be that having a better discipleship program in your giant church isn’t the answer?
THE WAY FORWARD:
Some of you may not be familiar the micro-brew culture, but let me tell you what I love about it. There are pockets of individuals all over this land of ours that are doing what was previously only possible in a much larger setting. Guys and gals brewing delicious stuff in their basements, closets, and garages the way St. Peter shared the Gospel in homes (a grass roots movement to be sure). Taste and beauty and quality, and richness and yes, SALVATION proclaimed by normal people, not rock stars, not captains of industry…normal people with abnormal passion on an abnormal mission.
I want to be clear, there IS a learning curve to crafting your own beer…the first batch requires you to muster up the courage to drink something that’s been bubbling in your basement for four weeks. There is also a learning curve to the kind of discipleship that Christ calls us to. Remember Matthew 28:19-20? Jesus sends out his disciples to the ends of the earth to teach others everything he has commanded them. So here’s the catch, you can’t make disciples if you aren’t a disciple and you can’t be a disciple if you don’t have the foggiest notion regarding what Christ taught. There is a lot of learning to be done, but this learning isn’t done primarily in a classroom. This education is gained in the learning environment of Christ-centered, Gospel-fluent, communities that are on mission.
Just as many home brewers and micro brewers started off on their own brewing journey after hearing the story of another impassioned brewer, we to must be impassioned by the Holy Spirit that is working amongst his community of believers. The time has come to take our responsibilities seriously. Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, and living lives worthy of our calling is not to be left to the “professionals”. We are not to be the consumers of mass-marketed religious goods and services, but active participants on the horizon of Gospel frontiers.
If we continue to rely on only a few to do the work that Christ intended for the many, we will miss multiple opportunities to share the Good News. The effectiveness of any faith community has nothing to do with how many people sat in a room on Sunday morning, but it has everything to do with how many disciples will eat and DRINK at the Lord’s Table when he returns.
Grace and Peace to you all.