Church Planting Essentials – Make Disciples, Not Converts

A disciple is one who embraces and obeys all the teachings of Christ and endeavors by word and deed to make more disciples.A convert is one who practices a religion to which he or she was not born, and may or may not encourage others to convert.Jesus commanded us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20a NIV). Jesus also condemned the making of converts. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” (Matthew 23:15 NIV)

There is a third group – Those who were born in a Christian family and may profess Christ, but pick and choose which of His teachings they will follow.Personally, I treat this last category as if they were lost.1 John 3:4-6 says, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” (NIV)Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you,go and show him his fault,just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church;and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17 NIV)

Making disciples is about a relationship with Christ that results in a lifestyle of obedience to the commands of Christ which requires disciples to make more disciples.Making converts is about adhering to the doctrine of a particular faction, church, denomination, sect or religion.One can convert without becoming a disciple of Christ. Subsequent generation Christians are more like converts than disciples if they were not made disciples during their childhood and youth by consistently obedient parents and/or other significant adults.

It is my experience that those who make disciples focus on helping people come into a dynamic and growing relationship with Christ through prayer, Bible study, worship, evangelism, fellowship, and ministry.Disciple-makers teach people the Word of God so that they will know what to obey.They train people in the skill sets necessary to be an obedient follower of Christ so that they will know how to obey.They equip people to their full capacity to serve God and others so that they demonstrate a life of consistent obedience and make more disciples.

Often, those of us responsible for making disciples stop short in our disciple making.We teach and/or train, but go no further.Demonstration of the knowledge and/or the skill sets are all we seem to value.Equipping requires us to be in relationship with those we equip.In equipping we engage more than just the classroom or teaching/training time.The equipper and the equipped become a part of one another’s lives.Part of the reason we don’t see more of the equipping discipleship model that Jesus demonstrated with His life is that we have to be absolutely consistent in public and private for an equipping discipleship model to work.The ones we are discipling should be able to drop in on us at any time and find us faithful and obedient to all the teachings of Christ – Consistent.Many of us do not want to be under this kind of scrutiny or accountability, so we avoid making disciples, and instead make students or trainees.We are committed to teaching classes or holding training events where we only have to look good for a relatively brief period of time.

It needs to be noted that it requires no faith to learn something.It requires no faith to teach or to train someone else.But discipleship requires faith – the faith to be a believer in and a follower of Christ, and the faith to do what Christ commands.The faith to say to others, “If you want to be a disciple of Christ, copy my life.” (See 1 Corinthians 4:16; Philippians 4:9; 1 Timothy 4:12) Learning does not require faith, just intellect.Obedience requires faith.A faith that when acted out says to others, “I will obey all the commands of Christ regardless of the circumstances in which I find myself or the consequences of any actions I must take or the consequences of any words I must say in order to be obedient to Christ in all matters, public and private .”

The primary characteristic of a disciple is change demonstrated by a growth in character that requires increasing knowledge, appropriate attitudes, right thoughts, improving relationships, and obedient action.Christ does not change.He is perfect.The responsibility of a disciple is to become like Christ.Change happens as a disciple strives to be like his Master.A disciple constantly struggles for perfection.When a disciple misses or falls short of the mark (‘amartia [hamartia] – Greek for sin, root meaning is to fall short of or miss the target), he or she repents and aims for and moves towards the target again.The target is to be like Christ in all things, including knowledge, attitudes, thoughts, relationships and actions.Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48 NIV)

Perfection appears to be an impossible goal, but it must be our goal nonetheless.Even though Christ is our righteousness through faith, we must make every effort to be like Him in every way.Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:23-25 NIV)

David Watson
Irving, Texas

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