Discipleship is More Important Than Methodology

This week, I’m re-reading Power Through Prayer, a small book written by E.M. Bounds in The Complete Works of E.M. Bounds on Prayer. This book has been influential in my life, especially in the early days of my spiritual journey. It has inspired a couple posts in the past, including It Takes 20 Years to Make a Sermon and When I Was a Kid.

Bounds was an 19th-century Methodist, who wrote a lot about prayer. I’ll post more on the book (originally called Preacher and Prayer) later (here it is), but for now, I thought the opening paragraph was rather interesting for today’s Church, especially in the wake of the Church Growth Movement of the last few decades.

Here’s the situation Bounds described (in masculine-only language, typical of the times) a century and a half ago …

We are constantly on a stretch, if not on a strain, to devise new methods, new plans, new organizations to advance the Church and secure enlargement and efficiency for the gospel. This trend of the day has a tendency to lose sight of the man or sink the man in the plan or organization. God’s plan is to make much of the man, far more of him than of anything else. Men are God’s method. The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men. “There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” The dispensation that heralded and prepared the way for Christ was bound up in that man John. “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” The world’s salvation comes out of that cradled Son. When Paul appeals to the personal character of the men who rooted the gospel in the world, he solves the mystery of their success. The glory and efficiency of the gospel is staked on the men who proclaim it. When God declares that “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him,” he declares the necessity of men and his dependence on them as a channel through which to exert his power upon the world. This vital, urgent truth is one that this age of machinery is apt to forget. The forgetting of it is as baneful on the work of God as would be the striking of the sun from his sphere. Darkness, confusion, and death would ensue.

What the Church needs to-day is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use — men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men — men of prayer.

A century and a half later, the challenge is still fitting. We need to focus much more on God, who uses people and their methods, than on the methods themselves. Discipleship is more important than methodology!

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