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A Focused Definition for an Out-of-Focus Church

Photo of Sy HufferSy Huffer | Bio

Sy Huffer

Sy is lead minister at College Heights Christian Church, in Joplin, MO. He is passionate about Jesus, the church, and making disciples. He has been married to the love of his life, Monica, for 9 years, and has the two most precious daughters, Geri Jean and Chandler Joy. Sy is also an avid Dallas Cowboys fan, loves food in all its shapes and sizes, and wishes he lived in the story of the Lord of the Rings.

There’s a meme that says the only thing more exhausted than the mom of a boy who doesn’t stop moving is the mom of a girl who doesn’t stop talking. It’s true. Our three-year-old daughter talks from sunup to sundown, a running narrative about everything. The other day, she was having me put boots on an Elsa Barbie. Very difficult. So, in order to focus, I found myself tuning my daughter out. That is, until she inserted her face between me and the toy. “Why aren’t you talking?” she asked.

I wanted to say, “Because I can’t get a word in.” Instead, I answered, “I’m focusing.”

“What’s focusing?” she asked. Well, it’s difficult to explain “focus” to a three-year-old, but I tried. “It’s like, you know, you’re keeping your eye on the prize.” Huh? “Okay, well, it’s like trying to concentrate on one thing at a time.” “What’s concentrate?”

Then one time, when it was dinnertime, I told her, “Time to pick up your toys. Time for dinner!” No answer. I went in where she was playing: “Hey, time for dinner. Pick up your toys, and then come to the table.” Again, no answer. So I went over and inserted my face between her and the toys. “Did you hear me?” And she said, “Dad, I’m focusing.”

Focus is a difficult word for our generation.

We live in a very unfocused world. We are overwhelmed by dozens of choices at any given moment. Which shirt do I wear today? Which restaurant do we eat at? Which podcast do I listen to? Which major do I pick in college?

It’s not just our culture that’s unfocused. Churches get unfocused too.

In the church I serve as lead minister, there are around 85 different ministry programs running—not 85 individual events, but 85 entire programs, each with multiple streams of activities. If it’s true that 20% of the people do 80% of the work, then that makes roughly 20% of the people in our church running most of our 85 programs. Each program competes with the others for facility usage, finances, staffing, volunteer time, and resources. That’s not counting all the work the church is expected to do out there in the world, in addition to our church programs.

With so much activity, you can see how difficult it can be to maintain focus.

And here’s the focus which we need to keep returning to: Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Why do we have Sunday morning church services? Why do we have staff? Why do we have ministry programs? It’s all for one mission: to make disciples.

And in all our busyness, we can forget to answer the most fundamental of questions: What exactly is a disciple? If our mission is to make disciples, then we can’t exactly accomplish our mission without figuring out what a disciple is.

So about two years ago, the elders and staff at our church all got together for a whole school year in order to read the New Testament together.

As our study neared its end, we discovered a definition of disciple which encapsulated what we had been reading in the New Testament. The definition came from Real Life Discipleship in Post Falls, Idaho,[i] where we attended some training. At just the right time, our research coincided with the training we received there, and here is the definition we adopted:

A disciple of Jesus is defined best by Jesus in Matthew 4:19: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

From this verse, we learn that a disciple is someone

1) who follows Jesus (“Follow me”)
2) who is being changed by Jesus (“I will make you”) and
3) who is on mission with Jesus (“fishers of men”)

This definition has been helping our church to focus. You know the calibration of clarity you experience at the eye doctor? It’s what we’re experiencing as a church. As a church that can tend to lose focus, we are aligning all of our ministries, all of our programs, everything we do toward that one end: to make authentic disciples of Jesus.

Rather than trying to appease every opinion we hear, we are trying to follow Jesus well in making disciples.

Are you personally feeling overwhelmed in a chaos of expectations and obligations? Or is your church feeling distracted by a hundred endeavors that are meeting needs, but seem to collectively miss the point? I invite you to return to making disciples.

A disciple of Jesus is defined best by Jesus in Matthew 4:19: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”


[i] Jim Putman, “Is This the Way You Define the Word Disciple?”