4 Ways a Pastor Can Love His Wife Well
Mon Mar 10, 2014
by Dave Bruskas
We’re Praying for Epiphany Fellowship
Sun Mar 09, 2014
by Mark Driscoll
Our Top 5 Posts of February
Sat Mar 08, 2014
Resurgence Roundup, 3/7/14
Fri Mar 07, 2014
How to Replant a Church, Part 5: Rally Your Troops
Thu Mar 06, 2014
by Bubba Jennings
"Make Disciples": Evangelism or Discipleship?
Running to a Lesser Savior
As a Christian, I knew that God hated my sin, but I had no idea how much he loved me. I shipped off to Bible school in England to try to figure things out, where I struggled with questions like: Who is God in the mess of my life? What can I do with this gnawing pain of betrayal? What does God think of my shameful Christian failure? I prayed and cried a lot but eventually sought comfort in a lesser savior. Although my escape to England numbed the pain, I quickly ran into the arms of another lover.
I started dating a girl, sneaking out with her at night to go to the local pub. Eventually, I was caught making out with her on the premises and was kicked out of Bible school the day before the semester was over. Did I mention that this was the place where my parents had met, 20 years earlier? I made another phone call to them, this time fully aware of my failure. I limped home in shame.
The Wounded Disciple
To my parents’ credit, they had taught and loved me well. This failure was all my own doing. I reentered college with a gaping emotional wound and a sincere desire to improve, to restore the reputation of Christ in my life, to get it right.
When I returned home from England, I found a best friend and got someone to disciple me, my discipler. My friend would hold me accountable and my discipler would help me mature. The three of us met regularly for Bible study.
As a disciple, I was taught how to study the Bible, share my faith, and cultivate character. As I understood it, discipleship was about maturing as a Christian, which is why the notion that I, too, could or should make disciples was pretty foreign.
Evangelism? Discipleship? There's a Difference?
But somewhere along the way, I was told that evangelism is also discipleship, and that all Christians are supposed to evangelize in order to “make disciples.”
Brushing aside the confusion between evangelism and discipleship, I went for it. I began to evangelize non-Christians and disciple Christians. My spirits lifted. I was on a better track, making things right.
Should discipleship be understood as evangelizing non-Christians or the maturing of Christians?
Along the way, I pondered how I could have sinned so much as a Christian. I tacitly concluded it was a lack of discipleship. Some might say the reason I struggled with sin so much as a Christian was because I only became a convert when I was six but finally became a disciple when I was 20.
This is just one illustration of the confusion over the meaning of discipleship and clarify its meaning along the way.
Sharing the Gospel v. Making Disciples
Discipleship has become a catch-all term that means different things for different people. When some people use the word, they think of a process for maturing Christians, perhaps what I experienced after returning from England (which I will come back to later).This kind of maturity might happen through a discipleship program or by meeting someone for coffee to discuss spiritual matters or to study the Bible.
Others consider discipleship an evangelistic method. In this view, discipleship isn’t about maturing Christians—it’s about making Christians. But discipleship is sharing the gospel to win people to Christ. Evangelists make disciples.
Entire organizations and churches are subtly divided by these two approaches to discipleship. Some organizations focus on maturing Christians, while others focus on making Christians.The former is about discipleship and the latter about evangelism.The evangelist proclaims the gospel to make converts, and the disciple maker teaches converts how to grow into disciples, hence the clarifying phrase, “evangelism and discipleship.”
A Twofold Problem
The problem, however, is that this phrase is not clarifying at all. The attempt to clarify discipleship by separating it from evangelism actually muddies the waters. The problem is twofold.
First, both evangelists and the disciple makers refer to their ministries as “disciple making.” Should discipleship be understood as evangelizing non-Christians or the maturing of Christians? Second, and more importantly, the separation of evangelism from discipleship implies that “sharing the gospel” with non-Christians is an activity that is unnecessary with Christians. It intimates that the gospel doesn’t need to be shared with disciples.
The Necessity of the Gospel
This dichotomy surfaces a false view of the gospel, namely that the gospel has the power to save but not to sanctify. It assumes that the gospel functions like a space shuttle’s external fuel tank, falling away after the shuttle has launched us into God’s orbit. The gospel, however, is more like an internal engine, always propel- ling us into God’s presence. The gospel is necessary for getting right and doing right with God, for salvation and sanctification.
This post is excerpted from Jonathan Dodson's new Re:lit book, Gospel-Centered Discipleship. For the rest of the conversation about the definition of discipleship, what it is and it applies to the gospel, pick up your copy today.