In the church world, the word discipleship is used a lot. When it is used, it typically refers to the process of making Christians stronger in their faith. The concept of making disciples is a huge theme in the New Testament and modern Christians in America are doing their best to take it seriously. However, it is not always done biblically, if it is done at all.
I was talking to a group of church leaders some time ago about the work I was doing with college and teenage students to make sure new believers were growing. I would meet with groups of one to four students who would then meet with one or more friends of their own. The church leaders heard that I was studying the Bible with all these groups and said, “It sounds like you are more of a discipler, we are more about evangelism.” I was a bit mortified. For the first article in the Making Disciples series, I want to discuss the command to all disciples of Christ to make disciples themselves. At the risk of Christians unnecessarily disqualifying themselves from a task they are commanded to accomplish, the following are four reasons discipleship is not a gift:
- If you are a bad evangelist, you are a bad disciple maker. If you are a bad disciple maker, you are a bad evangelist. If you don’t know how to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with someone who doesn’t know Jesus, you will not be good at growing someone who does know Jesus. The same applies to the opposite extreme. If you knock on doors and share the Gospel with strangers every week, but have no one you are regularly spending time with and helping to grow in a faith they already have, you won’t be good at either. I am not saying that every disciple of Christ is equally as good at debating or academic arguments, but they at least know and are confident in the Gospel and seek out opportunities to share it with the people they come in contact with.
- Discipleship is not the opposite of evangelism. There is biblical precedent for evangelism being a spiritual gift (Ephesians 4:11). Even then, just because some people are less gifted at something than others doesn’t mean they don’t have to do it. Sharing the Gospel with a non-Christian is a must for all Christians, not just confrontational ones (a common misconception). Any time someone shares the good news of Jesus Christ with a non-Christian, they are evangelizing. If evangelism was not part of making disciples in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus would have had to include it, but he didn’t. Therefore, evangelism is the first stage of discipleship. While living in Thailand on the mission field, there never was such distinction. If you wanted to disciple someone, you had to start with nonbelievers because there typically were no Christians. You would go door to door, coworker to coworker, until you found an interested person, then you would meet with them regularly about the Bible until they either accepted Christ and continued (the meetings never ended), or rejected him and stopped meeting with you. You do this with enough people and, eventually, you start a church.
- The Great Commission was given to all believers. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus does not say, “If you have the gift, make disciples of all nations.” This passage is something of the Magna Carta of Bible passages on making disciples and is frequently referred to as the Great Commission. In this passage, Jesus gives all Christians the charge of making disciples, not just gifted ones. You certainly have biblical precedent for this in regards to evangelism and preaching (Ephesians 4:11), but making disciples is not the same as teaching. The most spectacular church in the New Testament as far as missions was founded in Antioch by a bunch of nameless Christians who were making disciples before pastoral leadership even got there (Acts 11:19-24). For further study on why making disciples from Matthew 28 is a command given to all Christians, see this article "Must Every Christian Evangelize" by Mark Dever.
- You do not have to have a public speaking gift to make disciples. The fact you can’t go in front of a group of people and teach a prepared lesson is not essential in making disciples. Discipleship is about spending time regularly with as little as one person and letting them hear and observe as much about your life in Christ as possible. The people you spend the most amount of time with are the most likely people to either disciple you or for you to disciple them. If you have children in the home, that is a huge discipleship responsibility. Just you and a coworker taking a lunch break once or multiple times a week to just talk about what God is doing in your life and family is a discipling relationship.
Every believer is meant to be a disciple and make disciples. Therefore, no matter what gifts God has given you, they will all serve to help you in this responsibility. Do you have the gift of hospitality? Invite neighbors or youth from your church to your house. Do you like building or making new things? Invite a new believer from your church to come over once a week and teach him carpentry while asking him how his life is going. There is no gift or circumstance that can’t be leveraged for the cause of making disciples for Jesus.