A few months ago, God unexpectedly brought someone into my life who is a constant and consistent source of encouragement to me as I continue to study the church. Although he lives thousands of miles away from me, God has used the blog posts and comments of “Aussie John” to urge me forward in my understanding of the church and in living out what He is teaching me. Recently, Aussie John wrote a post called “Disciples Discipling“, which has caused me to once again think about the process that we call discipleship.
I think his post can be summed up in this statement:
It, therefore, must follow that being a discipler is about reproducing themselves, which reveals to us why it is more important to make a disciple maker than a disciple.
This may seem simple, and it may seem obvious, but it is greatly important for our understanding of making disciples. We seek to make disciples who also make disciples. In other words, disciple makers make other disciple makers.
This post inspired me to think about the disciple making process; and, in particular, the beginning of the disciple making process. The beginning of the disciple making process is often called evangelism. The purpose of evangelism is to present the good news of Jesus Christ through our words and our life to a person with the desire that God would convert the person and that person would then begin following Christ as a disciple.
Most of us would agree that evangelism is very important. In fact, I would argue that people who are obediently following Jesus Christ cannot stop themselves from speaking about their master. Many times, God uses the words and lives of believers to convince their friends, neighbors, coworkers, and other associates of the existence of God and the veracity of the good news of Jesus Christ. This type of evangelism often happens in the context of our day-to-day relationships with other people. We also know that God often provides spontaneous opportunities to present the good news of Jesus Christ with strangers, knowing that we may never see the person again.
But, what is the purpose of expressing the good news of Jesus Christ with someone? If our purpose is conversion, then our responsibility to that individual ends when that person either accepts or rejects our claims about Christ – and more important, when they either accept or reject the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. However, if the purpose of expressing the good news of Jesus Christ is making a disciple, then our responsibility is just beginning when that individual either accepts or rejects Christ.
In fact, as we approach someone – either an acquaintance or a stranger – with the intentions of sharing the good news, we should also approach the person with the intention of making a disciple. Thus, we should understand that we are entering into much more than a five to fifteen minute presentation of the gospel. Instead, we are entering into a disciple making relationship with this individual. With the advent of modern communications methods, even evangelizing strangers includes the intention of a continuing relationship with the new disciple.
This is not what I was taught. I was taught a concept of evangelism that was based more on the exception (Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch) than on the rule (every other instance of evangelism / discipleship in the New Testament). I was taught that my responsibility in evangelism ended in the presentation of the biblical truth claims about Jesus Christ – his life, death, burial, resurrection, and future return – and urging the person to trust Christ for salvation and new life. Whether the person accepted or rejected, my responsibility ended. If the person trusted Christ, it was then the responsibility of “the church” to disciple the individual. Thus, I was taught that it was my responsibility to make converts, while it was not necessarily my responsibility to make disciples.
The added responsibility – a long-term commitment to make a disciple vs. a short term commitment of presenting the good news – does not diminish the fact that this is our responsibility as a follower of Jesus Christ. This should not preclude us from approaching individuals with the desire to see them become disciples of Jesus Christ. However, recognizing this long-term commitment may help us to realize the importance of what we are attempting to do.
So, I agree completely with “Aussie John”. We need to be disciple makers who make disciple makers. Also, adding to his statement, I would say that we need to be evangelists who are disciple makers who make disciple makers.