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Evangelism: Making Converts vs. Making Disciples

Recently I came across a passage of Scripture that impacted me greatly.  In light of all the discussion regarding the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, I though this passage and its implications are timely.  The passage is Ephesians 4:11-16.  Read this passage slowly and carefully:

“ And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

This passage says many things regarding the church, many things that we would be wise to heed if we indeed do care about the souls of men.  In a day when so much is being said about church growth and the Great Commission, perhaps we need to step back and simply let the Bible speak.  I am a proud Southern Baptist, but I am not looking to the Southern Baptist Convention to fix our evangelistic problems.  I simply want to do my part and lead the church God has called me to lead.  Do I think our denomination needs a little great commission reform???  Yes!  But do I think the denomination is going to fix the problem???  No!  The problem will only be fixed, when the shepherds God has called, lead their church members to become Great Commission Christians!  What does the Great Commission say?  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…”  The church must get more passionate about making disciples, rather than making converts!  The Great Commission is explicit, we are to go and make disciples of all nations…baptizing and teaching them!  Notice this; it did not just say to “baptize” them, but to “baptize” and to “teach”.  For far too long, the main measure of success in the church has been baptisms and it is high time that the measure changes; the new measure should be disciples.  How many of those baptized in your church last year are now growing spiritually and actively involved in the church?  The answer to that question is what should drive the church and be the measure for its success or failure!

Looking at the passage above though, what does it say about church growth?  I think it says much:

The passage clearly says that God has specific ministry callings in the church, and those calling have a purpose.  The purpose is three-fold:

  • To equip the saints for the work of ministry
  • For the building up of the body of Christ
  • Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God

These three components (equip, build up and attain unity) each have so much to them.  Pastors must remember that one of their number one responsibilities is to equip the saints for the work of ministry.  Pastors are not to “do” all the ministry, but are to put their members in a position to grow in Christ by serving according to the way God has gifted them.  How many pastors spend a good percentage of their time equipping their members for the work of ministry?  This is one way to get evangelism going in the church; by equipping our people and getting them doing ministry!

But why do we do ministry?  Ultimately it glorifies God, but according to this text, it builds up the body…spiritually, relationally, numerically, practically, etc.  When the body is built up (edified), God blesses it!  It is hard to fight and argue when you are serving the Lord in the trenches side by side.  If more of our people “did” ministry, there would be less to complain about.  Have you ever noticed that those who complain the most contribute the least?  If we get the complainers contributing, perhaps the body would be more unified and effective!  Ministry + Edification = Unity!  That is what this beautiful passage says!  When we equip the body for service and actually serve, the church is build up and unity comes.  There is nothing more powerful on the planet than a church that walks in this way!  The pursuit of the church should be to “attain the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” 

But how does a church do this?  How do they attain the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God!

The answer!  We must preach the Word!  Paul goes on in this passage to say that mature manhood and growing in the likeness of Christ comes when we are no longer children in our faith, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, human cunning or craftiness by deceitful schemes.  The church must speak the truth in love!  Today, everyone wants to talk about love and not truth, but you cannot have love without truth!  Love without truth is like the Cross without the Resurrection…it is meaningless!  Love and truth go hand in hand!  The church must be the most truthful, loving place on the planet.  I often say it like this, “At church, we should accept people as they are, but tell them like it is.”  This is why Paul says, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…”  Paul tells the church what we are to do, which is grow up in every way that makes us more like Christ!  If the church does this, maturity and growth will happen.

Paul goes on to say that when Christians are equipped and pursue Christ, the body is held together perfectly, which leads to something wonderful; “When each part (of the body) is working properly, (it) makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”  Did you hear that?  When each part of the body is working properly, it makes the body grow!  If the church wants to grow, the answer is simple, we must get each part of the body pursing maturity in Christ and functioning as God would have them to!  I am convinced one of the churches greatest hindrances to evangelism is simply the fact that we are not operating in a biblical fashion.  Many churches are spending their time focusing on the wrong things and many pastors are preaching a false gospel.  We would rather create ten new programs than make ten new disciples.  Pastors need to equip the body and preach the Word and church members need to grow and serve, allowing every part in the body of Christ to function properly!  When the church functions properly, the Scripture says, “It builds itself up in love.”  This is what making disciples is all about, doing things according to Scripture…and when we do, the church will grow!  It is time we focus more on making disciples rather than just making converts.  A disciple-making church will be a growing church that is reaching more and more people with the Gospel.  May God bring this kind of revival to His Church!

Jeremy Freeman

Author: Jeremy Freeman

View more articles by Jeremy Freeman.

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