Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Being Disciples and Making Disciples

Tom Sine was not a disappointment. In my previous posting I wrote about looking forward to meeting him and hearing him speak at the Re-Imagine 2010-2020 event at Second Baptist Church, and I found him to be a warm, genuine, energetic, and engaging person.

Dr. Sine led the 130-140 persons who gathered last Friday evening in “an open conversation about our past,” and then the topics for the Saturday discussions, attended by fewer but still a substantial number of people, were “anticipating new opportunities” and “visioning for the future.” It was a good and helpful time for our church.

Part of Dr. Sine’s emphasis was on “whole-life discipleship,” and he also talked some about the related idea of “following Jesus by making God’s purposes our purposes.” Those are very good and significant emphases.

In The New Conspirators (2008), Dr. Sine stresses that “one of the first steps toward whole-life discipleship is in radically reimagining how we steward our time and money” (p. 242), and he goes on to assert that “Jesus Christ calls his disciples to incarnate a radical form of whole-life discipleship and stewardship that reflects God’s intentions to create a more just society” (p. 248).

I certainly agree with the statements I have just cited. And the emphasis this past weekend at our church on “mission” activities such as the new Harvest Hill Garden, which was dedicated last Sunday afternoon, is good and important.

[Here is a picture of me talking with  Dr. Sine on May 1.] 

Yet, I feel some concern that Dr. Sine didn’t place more emphasis on making disciples. I have been concerned for quite some time that our church, among many other “moderate” churches, puts so little emphasis on making new disciples. There are rarely any new members who join our church who have not been church members somewhere previously or who are not children of our church members.

Without a doubt, we who are Christians are expected by Christ to live as disciples, showing love to others through deeds of service. I have no doubt whatsoever that we Christians should be constantly doing loving acts of service and ministry in our community and in the wider world. But is that enough?

Unfortunately, evangelism, the attempt to make disciples, has often been done in coercive, manipulative, or other un-Christian ways. Of course we reject that sort of evangelism. But are we justified in shying away from evangelism altogether?

We must not forget that Jesus’ “great commission” was not just “go and make friends” but “go and make disciples.” I pray that our local church and the church at large can find the proper balance between being disciples and making disciples.


  1. I was pleased to receive the following comments from my friend Joe Barbour, a retired missionary to Zambia.

    "I especially appreciated your blog today for you hit on one of the real problems in churches today.

    "While on the mission field I tried to be a discipler and found that it worked. When we went to Zambia there were a scant 200 churches in our fellowship. I kept, as did some of the other missionaries in our group, the concept of making disciples and not just converts. We spent a lot of our time developing disciples who would develop other disciples. We placed our emphasis on working with a few at a time and going with them until they would start doing the same. We got to the field in November 1988.

    "I just got word this morning that this type of ministry has now blossomed into 2000 plus churches our missionaries work with in the country. And is this not what our Lord commissioned the church to do? "Go into all the world and make disciples," are His words.

    "Dr. David Platt who is pastor of a church near Birmingham, AL, has written a book which deals with this. He starts by saying that the church is trying to multiply the American dream and not make disciples. I think it just went on sale yesterday. I was able to get a book which Mardel was giving out prior to the marketing of the book. It is well worth your time to read. You may or may not agree with all he says, (I didn't), but he raises a real question with which the church needs to deal.

    "If we are not making disciples, we are not doing what the church is called to do. If we are not doing what Christ commissioned us to do, the world is too much with us."

  2. Well, I did not hear Tom Sine this weekend; nor have I read his book. But then, the main question of this blog, it seems, concerns something he did not talk enough about. So, I don't feel so bad responding in ignorance to a question he himself did not talk much about.

    In fact, I wonder whether his lack of attention to so-called evangelism actually signals his own take on evangelism. I must confess that I think the answer to the question LKS raises (whether constantly doing loving acts of service in the community is enough...) is a simple, yes. It is enough. Anything beyond begins I fear to be motivated by a perceived need for a bigger crowd, a majority of persons, the feeling of security, the reassurance that faith "really works," or that I am really doing enough (as though what I did could matter), etc. It's too frequently a way to salve aspects of our own guilt and doubt and insecurity.

    Practicing love by wholeheartedly attending to the Christlikeness of our own motives and behaviors without concern for "closing the deal" in the lives of other persons is rather most imitative of a God who himself does not coerce but draws, does not influence in ways other than through the lure of love. I think we are right to be suspicious of contemporary modes of evangelism, because they look entirely too much like they are being done to satisfy our own needs and insecurities rather than by the needs of others. And, if this method does not draw the huge crowds, the mega-numbers, then sobeit. Frankly, that's a position that requires genuine Christian humility, something triumphalistic Christians are usually loathe to embrace.

  3. There is a third way on making disciples. Between the extremes of intentional evangelism and take-it-or-leave-it, lies the place where spontaneous evangelism blooms. When our hearts are overfull, they pour out. We saw that in our last Sunday School session when a powerful discussion of open baptism and related issues took place, pushing aside the planned lesson on Sikhs.

    So why are we not regularly bursting with our Christian faith? I would suggest that the heart has its reasons. Some of those reasons may be better than others. Great novels have been written exploring the right time and place for the heart to bloom. I believe most of us seek to be somewhere between the used car salesman of Christianity, and no salesman at all. Mostly, we need to work on improving the Christianity we have to sell, both within and without, before we stand at the moment to sell it.

    As for the visit of Tom Sine, I mostly found it a good time for our church, and I believe we have found some exciting plans for the future, but, there is a but. He talked about changes in the economy, the environment and our society, and I did not see where we related our plans to any of that. So, I guess my response to that part of the weekend is not very evangelical, just yet. So I will hold it in my heart an ponder.

  4. Just an sojourner re-looking in..
    By definition isn't evangelism the "ism" of spreading the Good News that the kingdom of God is at hand?

    The commission looks like two parts: 1) Making disciples and baptizing them (whatever those words mean). 2) Teaching the baptized disciples to obey Christ commands - love God, neighbor, enemy, each other. If discipleship means a multiplication process, then the part 2 good works should follow in exponentially.

    Your line of thinking is worth considering. But taking time to have a well fleshed out mission is well worth considering - and reviewing/ evaluating it occasionally.

    The Muslims acquaintances of mine have commented that the appeal of Christ is that his real followers actually befriend them, and are genuinely caring and charitable. That passive and open "evangelism" that encourages dialogue. Actually, as I think of it, the same applies to others who are marginalized or excluded by "Christians" in general for a belief or life-style they have.

  5. In fact, as I recall my father's explanation, this is the concept of being "born again" - transformed by God into his charitable and humble image. Life-long, reproductive, and under his authority.

  6. One Thinking Friend, who has been a member of Second Baptist Church for many years, wrote in an e-mail received on May 6,

    "You raise an important subject in your blog. In my years at Second Baptist, we have never given much attention to making disciples. We rightly take pride in supporting missions. When we report on our mission work, we rightly talk about the help we provide for those to whom we minister. But we rarely say anything about making disciples."

  7. I appreciate the comments of each one who has written, but I am much more in agreement with the "between the extremes" ideas of Craig than what seems to be the either/or position of MPH.

    As one who has often spoken out against the problem of triumphalism in Christianity, I object to the idea that doing anything more than loving deeds is triumphalistic. Surely there is some legitimate position between saying nothing about Christ as Savior and being triumphalistic. Dr. Sine talked about the importance of "word and deed," and both are indispensable parts of the church's, and individual Christians', mission, I firmly believe.

    But what can I say in response to 1sojourner? Is evangelism an "ism"? And if it is, do I want to support it since I generally am opposed to isms? Well, I am opposed to isms because they are usually world-views that demand allegiance. So in that sense, I can't see that evangelism, in spite of the word, is an "ism"--unless it fuels triumphalism, in which case it should be opposed.