Discipleship Is Not Enough
Over the weekend, Jennifer and I went to see Jesus Revolution, a new movie based on Greg Laurie’s personal journey with the birth of the Calvary Chapel movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s. As we sat in our seats at the movie’s conclusion, Jennifer and I both found ourselves saying the same thing.
Do it again, Lord. Do it again!
Regardless of what you think of various theological aspects of the Jesus’ Movement of the early 70’s, it was a movement that was reaching that generation of youth with the gospel. A generation that was chasing after “sex, drugs and Rock n’ Roll” began chasing after Jesus. The Hippie Generation started a Jesus Revolution.
Watching Jesus Revolution, I couldn’t help but think of what’s been happening on college campuses across this country over the past month, beginning at Asbury in Wilmore, Kentucky. Just last week, I wrote about the genuine fruits of revival: Changed Hearts, Changed Lives, Change in Other’s Lives. That’s what was happening in Costa Mesa in 1970 through the leadership and obedience of Chuck Smith, Greg Laurie, Lonnie Frisbee and others. New believers, Jesus followers, were getting baptized by the hundreds in Pirate’s Cove. Young people were being delivered from addiction, turning from their sex and drugs to follow Jesus. Their lives were being changed. They were finding hope!
Could we be in a moment like this again? What is God stirring in the hearts of this generation? How will we as the church respond? Will we see the fruits of changed hearts, changed lives, and change in other’s lives through our ministry efforts?
7% of the next generation globally identify themselves as Christ-followers.
This Barna Group statistic was the focal point of a three day conversation in January among leaders gathered in Orlando from various youth ministry organizations.
While that statistic is alarming, and should cause us to ask, “Are we losing this generation?” I look at what God did in Costa Mesa, what is happening in Wilmore and elsewhere, and I find great hope.
A few weeks ago, I began to unpack SEVEN REASONS why I believe we’re failing as the church, and what we must do about it. Over seven weeks, I’ll attempt to tackle these reasons one at a time.
If you missed the first three week’s of this blog series, you can find them here:
We have separated Evangelism and Discipleship, allowing people to think it’s an either or option.
Nowhere in the New Testament does the word discipleship appear. Think about that. Our concept of the importance and meaning of discipleship comes from the Great Commission. But does our modern day idea of discipleship adequately convey what Jesus meant when He gave His last and lasting command?
“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.”Matthew 28:19 MEV
When Jesus said He was sending His disciples out to make more disciples, were they being sent out to “do discipleship?” No. They were going to places where there were no disciples to make new disciples. Yes, new disciples. This requires evangelism. But it shouldn’t stop with evangelism. In order for these new disciples to truly be disciples, they would be expected to be established in their new faith and then do the same with others. Maybe we would better understand Jesus’ intent in the Great Commission if we translated it this way:
Go therefore and make new disciple-makers!
New conveys the priority of reaching the spiritually lost, evangelism. Disciple-Maker conveys the priority of reproduction, spiritual multiplication. Jesus intended for all of this, and nothing less than this, to be accomplished when He commanded them to “Go and make disciples.”
In an interview with Lifeway’s Facts & Trends years ago, Sonlife’s founder Dann Spader made this point about the disservice we’ve done by separating evangelism and discipleship.
In his book With Christ in the School of Disciple-Building, Carl Wilson makes the point that in 1850, a man by the name of Charles Adams was the first to separate evangelism from disciple-making. Evangelism, stemming from the Greek word euangelizomai, became synonymous for bringing people to Christ; discipleship became synonymous for growing people up in Christ. But by separating these two parts of the disciple-making mandate of the Great Commission, people began to prioritize one as more important than the other. Some prioritized evangelism, while others prioritized discipleship. But both of these are like two wings of an airplane. When I am at 30,000 feet in a commercial airliner and look out the window of the airplane, I don’t argue that one wing is more important than the other. Both wings are critical. So it is with disciple-making. When Jesus commanded us to “go and make disciples,’ he was not saying, “go and do discipleship;” nor was He saying, “go and do evangelism.” He was saying go and “make disciples,” and that involved the whole process of winning people to Christ (evangelism), growing them up in Christ (discipleship), and then sending them out to repeat the process.
It was at the halfway point of the public ministry of Jesus that He challenged His disciples to “fish for people.” Because both Matthew and Mark record this as the very first encounter Jesus had with Peter, Andrew, James and John, most assume that this was Jesus’ initial encounter with them. The fact is, John records that immediately after coming out of His wilderness temptation experience, Jesus invited Andrew and John to “come and see” who He was so they could believe in Him as their Messiah. They did believe, and then introduced Peter and Philip to Jesus. Then Philip introduced Nathanael to Jesus. They all believed and began following Him. John 1-4 and Luke 4 all take place in the first 18-21 months of Jesus’ public ministry. Then, after being rejected in Nazareth, He relocated with His disciples to Capernaum. It’s at this point that He issues His next challenge.
Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people.”Matthew 4:19 NLT
Following and fishing go together. Discipleship and evangelism cannot be separated. The simple truth is, if you’re not fishing, you’re not following Jesus. Another way of saying this is:
Disciple-making begins and ends with evangelism.
Any discipleship that doesn’t begin with evangelism and end with evangelism isn’t Biblical discipleship. The process begins with a person who is spiritually lost being introduced to Jesus. They trust in Christ alone for the free gift of eternal life, experience the new birth, and begin to grow as a follower of Jesus. That growth will naturally lead them toward spiritual reproduction. They will share their faith with others and journey with them to help them grow as Christ-followers. Then they will see the process repeat with their friend. Disciples make disciples, who make more disciples, who make more disciples.
If we believe that Jesus’ desire for His church is that everyone makes disciples, then we have to make it a point of emphasis that everyone shares their faith. If the people we lead think that it’s our job to preach the gospel and lead their friends and family to Christ, then we have failed them. We are robbing them of the joy of being used by God to make disciples. It would be a crime if, through our words or actions, we implied, “Just get them here. We’ll take it from there. Leave the reaching and discipling of your friends to the professionals.”
A few years ago, I was consulting with a church leadership team, helping them through a strategic planning process. I helped them develop their Ministry MAP (Mission Aligned Priorities) and then set faith goals and work goals based on those priorities. Evangelism was one of their top priorities, and they wanted to set a faith goal for 50 baptisms that next year. I gently pushed back. As great as 50 baptisms would be, reflecting many people being reached with the gospel, would it be enough? Would it reflect that they were truly accomplishing their mission? So I asked a few basic questions.
- Would all 50 of those baptisms be new believers, or would some of them be people who have known Christ for years but never understood the importance of baptism? (If a significant number of those baptized had been believers for years, then the baptism number would not be a reflection of evangelism and outreach effectiveness.)
- Would you be satisfied if all 50 of those baptized were led to Christ by just one or two people? Do you want your people involved in the disciple-making process? Do you want them sharing their faith? Maybe in addition to your baptism goal, you also have a goal that a certain percentage of your people, like say 25%, share their faith with at least one person during the year?
- If you want a certain percentage of your people actively sharing their faith next year, do you think it would be wise to set a faith goal to equip a specific number of your people in evangelism this next year?
I asked these questions because I’m convinced that the percentage of our believers equipped and engaged in sharing their faith is a better measuring stick for our disciple-making effectiveness than mere numbers of salvation or baptisms.
In Sonlife’s 4 Chair Discipling Seminar, we outline the disciple-making process modeled for us by Jesus.
In Chair 1, the Spiritually Lost person is invited to “come and see” so they can believe in and receive Christ as their Savior. Our focus is on Winning the Lost.
In Chair 2, the Believer is invited to “follow me” and they begin to be established in their newfound faith as a Christ-follower. Our focus is on Building the Believer.
In Chair 3, the Worker is invited to “fish for people” as they join Jesus in His mission to reach those who are in Chair 1 and disciple those who are in Chair 2. Our focus is on Equipping the Worker.
In Chair 4, the Disciple-Maker is invited to “bear much fruit” as their disciples then begin to make disciples of their own. Our focus is on Multiplying Disciple-Makers.
When we separate evangelism and discipleship, what invariably happens is that we have people getting stuck in Chair 2. They are “doing discipleship.” They are going to church, participating in a small group, even joining a Bible Study. But they never live out the Great Commission, Christ’s last and lasting command, the Everyday Commission. They never go and make new disciple-makers. Discipleship is not enough. Let me say that again.
Discipleship is not enough.
Instead of talking discipleship, let’s talk disciple-making. We need to re-orient our language to reflect the mission Jesus has given us and the target we’re shooting for. Don’t we all want to be a part of a church where everyone makes disciples? If the answer is “yes,” then we need to start thinking and talking discipling and disciple-making. We need to embed our discipleship with intentional evangelism equipping and engagement, or we’ll never see people move beyond Chair 2 toward a disciple-making lifestyle.
- Evaluate your discipleship programs and materials. Is evangelism embedded in them? If not, what changes can you make to move from dead-end discipleship to thriving disciple-making?
- Evaluate your outreach strategies and events. In what ways are your people challenged to be involved? Do your people see your outreach strategies and events as a substitute for or as a supplement to their disciple-making efforts?
- What would it take to increase the number of those in your ministry who are actively sharing their faith by 10% this year? Are there new evangelism tools you can provide? Do you need to offer evangelism training more regularly? Could you employ the Circles of Concern Strategy (ask our Team if you want to learn more about that)?
- Change your language. Remove discipleship from your vocabulary and begin talking disciple-making instead. Beat the disciple-making drum. Make sure everyone knows your ministry is one where Everyone Makes Disciples.
One final word. A friend of mine says it this way. “If you fall in love with evangelism, you’ll flame out. If you fall in love with Jesus, you’ll share Him forever.” Discipleship is not enough. Neither is evangelism. Jesus is enough. Let’s help the next generation fall in love with Jesus!