It’s time to recover discipleship.
Jesus told his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth … you are the light of the world.” So how much salt does it take to change an unsavory culture? How much light do you need to illuminate the darkness?
Consider Kenya. According to Operation World, Kenya is the most reached nation in the world, at 49% evangelical. Yet the country ranks 147th (out of 182, in other words, at the 20th percentile) on a scale of Human Development Indicators (a long and healthy life, knowledge, and a decent standard of living). The corruption index is 139 of 168. Some rate Kenya as “the third most corrupt country in the world.”
El Salvador is 32% evangelical.2 This nation of six million is still recovering from a 12-year civil war, recovery complicated by “a blanket amnesty law” still in effect today “that shielded all military and guerilla forces from prosecution for human rights abuses committed during the war.”
The Philippines is 92% Christian, 12.3% evangelical.2 But the church suffers from “unabating fragmentation … schisms, broken fellowship or unhealthy and authoritarian leadership patterns.” According to Transparency International, “The country was ranked 105 out of the 176 countries assessed by Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in 2012, one of the worst performers in the region.”
All these nations serve to illustrate that the Great Commission isn’t fulfilled when 10% of the population claims to be evangelical.
I want to suggest that we have misplaced the priority given us by the Lord of the harvest.
Yes, Jesus sent us to preach the gospel. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom 10:13-14 ESV).
The Good News of salvation includes the proclamation of our sinfulness, our hopeless condition without the redemption paid for by the blood of Jesus sacrificially shed on the cross, our need to confess our sin, to repent and accept the promise and our assurance of the forgiveness of sin, and the glorious hope of eternal life with God. There is no mission without evangelism. And, yet, without discipleship we cannot fulfill the great commission.
Notwithstanding the essential nature of proclamation, the Great Commission’s purpose is clearly stated as discipleship – teaching people to obey, to submit to all that Jesus taught.
Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom. His priority was calling sinners to repentance and providing for their redemption. This is why he came into the world (Luke 19:10; John 12:46-47). Yet, in contradistinction to his own priority, Jesus assigned a different priority to his followers. That priority? “Make disciples of the nations” (Mat. 28:19-20).
Why would Jesus give us a different priority than that of his own ministry? I think it is precisely because Jesus’ priority was salvation. History shows that the most effective form of evangelism is the witness of Christians who first model and then communicate the comprehensive good news of the Kingdom. Not everyone is gifted to preach, but every discipled follower of Jesus is equipped to communicate the gospel.
Discipleship is a highly relational process by which people are taught to live like Jesus: in loving, self-sacrificial service to others. It seems evident that this evangelistic “method” has resulted in more conversions than any other, maybe more than all others combined. This is why the Great Commission is built around the task of making disciples.
An honest evaluation will conclude that our global missionary and church-growth activities have been largely out of synch with Jesus’ command to make disciples. We have preached and sought converts much more than we have modeled and sought to make disciples. The reason is understandable. So many are lost and urgently need to hear and respond to the good news of salvation. Their lost condition pulls on our compassion. So, we “preach the Gospel.” Unfortunately we are so compelled by their need to be saved that we are distracted from Jesus’ command to disciple.
Our common parlance, “evangelism” and “discipleship,” are both non-biblical words. Western thought tends to divide discipleship into two sequential actions. We think evangelism must come first, leading to conversion. Only then do we begin what we think of as discipling – Bible study, prayer, witnessing, and other spiritual disciplines. These are good and important, but they are the lesser part of genuine discipleship which is equipping converts to obey Jesus. This two-step dichotomy is unbiblical and causes serious problems. But since avoiding these terms would inhibit understanding I use the language employed by most evangelicals.
I’m afraid our results bear out the truth that we have missed the priority of making disciples. I have visited countries where thousands of churches have been planted in the last five decades. Instead of actively working to bring God’s present intentions of shalom to their communities, many of these churches are seen by their neighbors as isolated and irrelevant.
If the Christian Church was doing what our Lord has plainly commanded in Scripture, then these false religions and anti-Christ ideologies would be in defeat and retreat. It is the basic failure of our churches to make disciples, teaching obedience to all things that the Lord has commanded, that lies at the root of this catastrophic situation. The salt has lost its savor. The light is being hid under a bushel. The last Command of Christ is not the first concern of most churches. The Great Commission is not the supreme ambition of most congregations.
Is it possible that the consequences of not making disciples is perhaps the key reason the Church is losing the battle for the soul of our cultures? In my own American culture, we appear to have lost the battle – at least in this generation. Those of the younger generation want “authenticity” in the acts they participate in and in the relationships they have and build. As they look at the church, they see inauthenticity. So they vote with their feet. When we focus on evangelism instead of discipleship, we breed inauthentic people.
Proclamation is necessary, but proclamation alone does not result in disciples. Over the last 50 years, a well-known evangelist preached to 215 million people in 185 countries. His organization estimated that “only about 25% of those who come forward at one of his events actually became Christians.” In recent years, studies have shown that only 6% of people who “come forward” at an evangelistic crusade are any different in their beliefs or behavior one year later.” One wonders how many of those 6% would be recognizable today as disciples?
Am I calling for less evangelism? No. We must communicate in the biblical pattern the lostness of man, the horror of hell and the dying love of Jesus that rescues sinners. I’m not calling for less evangelism. I am calling for more biblical discipleship.
- Bob Moffitt
[Bob is chairman and co-founder of Disciple Nations Alliance, and president of Harvest Foundation. This two-part post is a condensation of Bob’s paper which you can read in full here.]
 Defined by adherence to: 1) The Lord Jesus Christ as the sole source of salvation through faith in Him, as validated by His crucifixion and resurrection. 2) Personal faith and conversion with regeneration by the Holy Spirit. 3) Recognition of the inspired Word of God as the ultimate basis and authority for faith and Christian living. 4) Commitment to biblical witness, evangelism and mission that brings others to faith in Christ.
 Operation World
 Frontline Fellowship Blog, October 21, 2014