We’re Called to Make Disciples, Not Converts

Has a culture of convenience and consumerism changed the way we preach the Gospel?

What if I told you that Jesus didn’t want us to win converts? What if I said that in all of Scripture we are never told to convert anyone? What if I proposed that people accepting Jesus into their life does not fulfill our mission?

We may share the Gospel, but it’s not always the same Gospel Jesus shared. Our version can be a little softer. It can be easier. The message, too often, has been watered down. Many of us don’t want to be called radicals. Many of us take the message of Jesus, and we omit some of the more intense parts because they might scare people away.

An Inconvenient Truth

Out of our desire to win converts we’ve often tried to make Jesus more convenient. That’s what our culture is all about. So watering down the Gospel to reflect the culture can be an easy trap to fall into.

We often make following Jesus comfortable and easy, reducing the expectations: You don’t have to do anything different. Just believe.

When we sell people on a Jesus who is easy to follow, can we really blame them for bailing out or drifting off when things don’t go smoothly?

Carrying our cross has been reduced from a radical relationship of self-sacrificing love and humility to cheap advertisements with bracelets, jewelry and bumper stickers. We turned following Jesus into little more than eternal “fire” insurance. In so doing we made Him something He is not: safe.

What happened to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s idea of, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die”?

The Consumerism Gospel

When we sell people on a Jesus who is easy to follow, can we really blame them for bailing out or drifting off when things don’t go smoothly?

It shouldn’t be surprising living in a consumer-based culture, that many times people bring the same attitudes into church: It’s my way, my preferences, my desires that are important. If I don’t get my way, I’ll take my business elsewhere.

In watering down the Gospel we have taken what is all about Jesus and made it all about us.

Jesus is a part of our lives when He should be our life. He is life. Following Him requires all our life. The disciples ate, drank, sweat and slept ministry from when Jesus called them to the day they died. Jesus wasn’t a part of their lives. He was their life.

We all are guilty of putting things above Jesus. Whether it's health, wealth, comfort, causes, dreams, hobbies or interests, we all come to Jesus with expectations of what He will do for us. We all have our passions and causes.

But Jesus didn’t come to take sides. Jesus came to take over.

Disciples vs. Converts

Many people come to Jesus thinking it is enough to believe, to stand on the sidelines and root for Him. Jesus isn’t looking for cheerleaders. He is seeking men and women who will follow Him whatever the cost. He is looking for radical devotion, unreasonable commitment and undivided dedication.

Jesus isn’t looking for converts. He’s looking for disciples.

Converts are new believers. We all start as converts. Too often we stop there. We make Christianity all about what we believe. Converts aren’t bad or wrong. They are like babies. There’s nothing wrong with being a baby. The problem comes when that doesn’t change. When a baby acts like a baby, it’s cute. When a 35-year-old does, it’s sad. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”

For years churches have worked to get people to make a decision to accept Christ, which is a great thing. It’s important. But what happens next? Where’s the follow up? How do we train up new Christians?

Not only is a disciple willing to die for Jesus, but they are dedicated to living every day of their life for Him.

Our mission isn’t to win converts; it’s to make disciples. So what is the difference?

  1. Converts are believers who live like the world. Disciples are believers who live like Jesus.
  2. Converts are focused on their values, interests, worries, fears, priorities, and lifestyles. Disciples are focused on Jesus.
  3. Converts go to church. Disciples are the church.
  4. Converts are involved in the mission of Jesus. Disciples are committed to it.
  5. Converts cheer from the sidelines. Disciples are in the game.
  6. Converts hear the word of God. Disciples live it.
  7. Converts follow the rules. Disciples follow Jesus.
  8. Converts are all about believing. Disciples are all about being.
  9. Converts are comfortable. Disciples make sacrifices.
  10. Converts talk. Disciples make more disciples.

A disciple is someone who whole-heartedly follows the life and example of Jesus, who makes His mission their mission, His values their values, and His heart their heart.

A disciple is someone who desperately seeks to be like Jesus. A disciple is someone so committed to the cause of Christ that they would follow Him through the gates of hell and back.

A disciple is someone who finds their entire identity, purpose and meaning in Jesus. Jesus is the center of their lives. They are all in, fully committed.

Not only is a disciple willing to die for Jesus, but they are dedicated to living every day of their life for Him.

A Change of Heart

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Jesus doesn’t call us to be converts or to win converts. Jesus calls us to make disciples.

Jesus offers us grace and love without condition, but not without expectation. When we try to water down the message by saying things like, You don’t have give up sin. You don’t have to change. You don’t have to be transformed. You don’t have to die to yourself. You just need to believe. In doing this, not only are we depriving people of the truth. We are denying them access to a real, transforming relationship with the almighty God.

Christianity isn’t just a system of belief. It isn’t a lifestyle. It’s a life transformed by Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t call everyone to leave everything every day. He calls us to be willing to give up everything at any point.

His call for each of us is different. He has uniquely gifted every person to carry out a unique and valuable function in His kingdom. While what we are called to may be unique, the call is an extreme standard: Jesus must be greater than everything else.

Top Comments

Gail Peacock

1

Gail Peacock commented…

After decades of youth and adult ministry in the heart of the Bible belt, I have come to this painful conclusion, ignorance of Jesus is epidemic. In the 35 and under age group, 95% have never read even one of the four Gospels. We are fervently preaching and witnessing in order to get folks to trust Jesus, assuming they have a clear picture of Him- they don’t. They only have second-hand information that forms their patchwork idea of Jesus. Biblical education is a huge part of effectively sharing the Gospel. Reading the stories has become necessary to build trust in the Biblical Jesus, not some character created from hear-say and personal fantasy. Our faith is based in the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the original religious tracts. The goal of the Primary Source Project is to get everyone to read or listen to the life and teaching of Jesus and begin an ongoing and lifelong conversation about Him. Challenge your friends and family to start reading the 4 Gospels and let the Word of God do the heavy lifting. It works! primarysourceproject.org

Drew

2

Drew commented…

Great article! I do think it is important to remember that everyone is at a different point in the faith walk though. I'm reminded of Thomas who doubts. Peter who boldly claims Christ as the Messiah, yet runs and denies Him. This article definitely outlines the ultimate way to live a life like Jesus, but we must be patient with others (and even ourselves) when they (and we) fall short.

30 Comments

Tammra McNair

1

Tammra McNair commented…

Awesome article! I agree converts are like babes in Christ and are not created to remain in the infancy stage. The root of the problem is not that disciples are focusing on making converts but is disciples are not focusing on making more disciples from converts. Everyone loves babies, parents grow sad when babies aren't babies any more. Parents never set back and proudly reminisce about their children's teenage years. The missing element is the "teenage" years in Christ, expecting converts to magically transform into educated, theologian, scripture quoting disciples. The article should be titled "Training Converts to be Disciples" because we are losing the converts that we have made to the ways of the world before transitioning them into discipleship. Proverbs 22:6 says Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Sarah English

1

Sarah English commented…

I don't know... As a Catholic, I don't see this dichotomy between "convert" and "disciple." Maybe the negative connotation for "convert" is mostly in the Protestant realm?

"For years churches have worked to get people to make a decision to accept Christ, which is a great thing. It’s important. But what happens next? Where’s the follow up? How do we train up new Christians?"

Could this be a doctrinal issue, a problem resulting from the "grace alone, faith alone" mentality? In Catholicism, there doesn't exist a convert (truly) without discipleship, because from the get go we emphasize the necessity of works/following God's commands. "Faith without works is dead."

Just thoughts!

Julie Wang Hawkins

2

Julie Wang Hawkins commented…

I encountered issue personally when I was spreading the Gospel to Chinese foreign exchange students in my city. (I'm of Chinese heritage and I can both relate to their culture and speak their language.) I knew that most of their families back home reject the faith so as soon as any of them converted, their faith would be tested. I knew how painful it is to be rejected by one's family in my culture, so sometimes, I found myself watering down the Gospel to spare them the pain. As I prayed through it, I realized that I needed to do the opposite. I needed to deliver the Gospel with full force so that they could have something solid to fall back on when their faith was being tested.

It was amazing to see so many students come to Christ in spite of very painful consequences. They counted the cost of being a disciple and they willingly followed.

Omer R Young

1

Omer R Young commented…

As the disciples of Jesus were discipled to disciple and bring forth disciplers, so we as HIS believers are to disciple disciplers. Have we done that? for the most part no. We for far too many decades have made discipleship an "institutional program". In our intitutaional desire for efficiently, did we abandon one on one discipleship combined with small groups build on discipleship? I say yes. However, I am seeing the generation in their 20's willing to disciple as Jesus did even though they were never discipled. Can we see a generation who disciple disciplers and on and on? I believe so and yet we have to let go of the institutional structure to become a movement again, The Church.

Alf Hickey

1

Alf Hickey commented…

This article is rubbish.
And reflects the type of evangelism churches are doing.
The institutional church, to fit in and for civility rejects anything radical, including the gospel.

True baptism is baptism to Christ, an understanding that you die and rise with Christ. To live like Christ and receive eternal life. Baptism is conversion. Sadly paedo and other crazy baptisms have eliminated the discipleship aspect of conversion for "churchianity."

Which should be Jesusanity.

Had a minister say the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness in speech the other day. Failing to get that if this were true, given scripture is by no means gentle, scripture itself would not be from The Spirit, so being uninspired and so a sham, a lie. Not of God, not God breathed.

Of course, the minister and ministry, will be supported because authority is always right, the minister will say. Despite Paul the Apostle inviting testing, challenging and correction as honourable, indeed stating this as a key use of scripture. So we reinforce sin with ministry idolatory.

The "minister" is always supported due to pride or place, when scripture says love rejoices in the truth. And open rebukes better than hidden love.
For my correction of this neo-pope , I was banned from a church.

God is no respecter of persons, so why have we become so, with institutions and ministries. We can of course acknowledge the work of God in people, but again we have to test this. Double honour is earned, as much as Christ was given all authority by taking on the nature of a servant.

Discipleship has become discipleship to people rather than Christ, this is sin, as I reminded David Cook some weeks ago.

Imitating an apostle, is only valuable in seeking God for all. Imitating Christ. If it's about imitating a sinful person, as discipleship is being promoted, even by evangelical churches, essentially, as a way to promote ministers, as superior, so is sin.

This is not to say a close friend in Christ, cannot teach us.
But the bible disagrees with the article, Psalm 8:2, Matthew 21:16 says kids important. While we should not be eager to lay on hands (commission for tasks, new converts for ego and pride will happen).

As for babes, the milk is the word, the meat is doing it, not more milk like false evangelicals teach in bibliolatry.

As Paul says to Timothy, the bible has uses. But the meat is doing it and more relational. The point is to abide in God, love Him first, commit to this, being born again of Spirit and love people as Jesus did. More do this from a changed heart, with sincerity and true heart feeling compassion. More than duty. While love is an obligation, God judges the heart, so it must be transformed to have compassion like God's.

We need to be more like babes, alive in the power of God, as this is discipleship and what we are baptised to, as Jesus did the will of His Father, as a baby obeys the instincts of its rebirth and the provision of milk, which it seeks and acts towards and for, in order to live, act and be. In rebirth this is in Spirit without sin, so should we do as Christ did. Following this not grieving it.

Be a baby, acting like an adult, which is to do what the baby is taught and told, the meat, acting in obedience.

We are also always babies. Our knowledge never fully there in comparison to God's. What we long for to come, to know as we are known as scripture says.

The problem with evangelical milk, is there's too much froth in their latte.

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