I am a wordsmith. I use words like an artist uses music, paint, clay, or other mediums to portray ideas and beauty. One of my pet peeves is the “dumb-ing down” of the English language. The term “dumb-ing down” is evidence, in and of itself, of the very issue whereof I speak! What I mean by that is that the term “dumbing down” is improper use of the language. I haven’t even begun to list the frustrations I have about being politically correct or the improvisation of terminology or the inventing of words and terms. I could go on and on. But what frustrates me even more, and by now you know that I am easily frustrated, is the total mismanagement of religious words and terms by the church itself.

For example, in today’s Christian world, the word Christian has been so disparaged that it no longer carries any clarity. When I say I’m a Christian, some may hear that I’m a homophobic bigot, while others might believe I’m a religious zealot and still others might see me as a relatively harmless and squeamish milquetoast of a guy. I’m often asked where I go to church. I don’t go to church. Church isn’t a place. The church is made up of those who have been called out – the ekklisea – known as the Body of Christ. How can I “go to” church when I’m supposed to be part of the living organism called church. I know – I’m nit picky but it is my peeve.

Clarifying Blurred Definitions and Descriptions

The Christian church in America has blurred the definitions and descriptions of a disciple. In today’s world a disciple could be someone who is nothing more than a convert or a believer in Jesus Christ. But that is not how a disciple is described in the New Testament. Allow me to offer some limited insights to help bring clarity about this matter as it pertains to our faith:

  1. A convert is a person who has been persuaded to change his or her religious faith or beliefs. The church often mistakenly assumes that converts automatically become disciples or followers of Jesus.
  2. A disciple is a follower of Jesus and His teachings.
  3. A convert has acknowledged Jesus as their Savior. These have recognized their sinful condition and their need for a savior. Usually they are made into members of a local congregation. Rarely are they made into disciples. They faithfully attend religious services within the context of a congregational meeting and waiting for their eternal reward.
  4. A Disciple has acknowledged Jesus as their Lord; not just their Savior. These recognize they have a divine purpose on earth and an eternal destiny. A disciple is never content with waiting for a reward but is always pressing in to a deeper faith, disciplining themselves, and seeking to know Jesus better.
  5. Converts can become disciples but don’t always do so. Many remain converts – those who have been persuaded to change their religious faith or beliefs. They choose to submit to or obey the King when it is personally beneficial in their own eyes. But, because they only see Him as their savior, they often choose to remain Lord and king of their own lives.
  6. Discipleship can, and often does, start far before conversion. At conversion discipleship should become far more intentional.
  7. Converts make a mental and sometimes emotional assent about Jesus and His ability to save them.
  8. Disciples have made a commitment to surrender all to Jesus and to make Him their king. Salvation is an initial benefit but it is not the “all-in-all” for the disciple.
  9. One can be confronted with the gospel of salvation and may be compelled to make a choice to accept or deny the deity and mission of Jesus. No matter one’s choice, one may or may not proceed into becoming a fully engaged disciple.10. One can follow Jesus and His teachings (become a disciple) before making any mental or emotional assent about His deity or His mission. However, if one follows Jesus and His teachings for very long, one will inevitably be faced with the need to make a qualified decision about His deity and His mission resulting in 1) denying His deity and mission or 2) converting and becoming a fully engaged disciple who makes other disciples.
  10. One can follow Jesus and His teachings (become a disciple) before making any mental or emotional assent about His deity or His mission. However, if one follows Jesus and His teachings for very long, one will inevitably be faced with the need to make a qualified decision about His deity and His mission resulting in 1) denying His deity and mission or 2) converting and becoming a fully engaged disciple who makes other disciples.
  11. Converts desire to witness signs and wonders. They would love to see these done at their own hand, but generally expect signs and wonders to be done by someone with more faith, more experience, and more commitment to God.
  12. Disciples expect the authority they have received to be backed up by the power of the Holy Spirit. Disciples expect God to work miracles through them, the body of Christ, with faith working by love. Their desire is not only to witness the power of God but that the power of God would be demonstrated through them. They want to fulfill Ephesians 3:21: “to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

 

Disciples make disciples.

This is probably the clearest and most distinct sign of a disciple; he or she makes disciples. Converts make converts. Yet, converts must be more than a believer to be a disciple. Disciples make disciples. Yet, disciple making is almost a lost art in the American Church. Ask yourself: Is my fellowship full of converts or disciples?

In more than 25 years of pulpit ministry, I have found that the preached Word of God can be anointed and it can break bondages, but it does not make disciples. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God but faith doesn’t make disciples. Disciples come by working, playing, and eating together; grappling with the Word and listening to the Holy Spirit together. Disciple making is somewhat like child rearing; it can’t be done in abstention; and it can’t be done from a distance. It is close up and personal. It is dealing with everything from stinky diapers to bad adolescent attitudes. Disciple making is arduous and long-term. It is no more an art form than the flu is a season. Disciple making is simply pouring your life – the life God has put in you through Jesus Christ – into someone else.

Some people think that disciple making is teaching people to read the Word, pray, witness, attend congregational gatherings, tithe, serve, and a plethora of other things. But I contend disciple making is introducing people to the Jesus I know and helping them to know Him better. The more they know Him the more they want to know Him. When that happens, they run to the prayer closet; they choose to hear the Word as it is preached and taught; they seek the fellowship of the saints; they tell others about the Jesus they have fallen in love with; they become givers not takers.

No More Religious Practitioners

Motivation is a key factor in disciple making. If we are making believers who believe what we believe we are not making disciples, we are making religious practitioners. If we are seeking new members for our church we are not making disciples, we are making new members. I believe we need to stop making religious practitioners and start making disciples who know Jesus and who make disciples who know Jesus.

Of course, making a disciple is risky. A disciple may or may not attend the church you attend. They may choose fellowship in a home group or organic church. They might pray, worship, and serve differently than you do. Why they may even believe sprinkling is as good or better than dunking. What’s that to you? They are His disciple not yours. Disciple making is not cloning. Disciple making is teaching people to follow Jesus. And Jesus may take them down a different path than the one you envision.

My son and daughter are both disciples of Jesus. Their walk with the Lord looks so dissimilar as to make one question how they could both be following the same Christ. Yet, they are both in love with Jesus and following Him with all their heart. One attends a local institutional church while the other does not. One is interested in being a better steward of the earth while the other is interested in gaining wealth to advance the Kingdom of God. And there are many other differences. They are not clones of Wes. Their mother and I raised them to love Jesus and to become His disciples. Karen and I succeeded in that task. I would make different choices than they make, but I am not really their father, I’m their brother. My kids are in their mid-30s and Christ followers in their own right. Now they often teach me.

What I’m saying is that one cannot identify a disciple by what he does as much as by whom he follows. Certainly, the Word, prayer, worship, witnessing, gathering with others, giving, serving, and various other Christian disciplines are necessary in a Christ-followers life. But in my opinion, we will be much more successful in making disciples when we teach people to know Jesus and then expect these disciplines to appear in their lives as a result of their love for Him.

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