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PERSPECTIVE: The great divorce

Few words conjure more painful feelings than the word divorce. Anyone who has experienced divorce, either personally or in the family, knows how hurtful it can be to everyone close to the situation. It is not just between two people; family is involved as well.

I would suggest that the church has allowed a great divorce to occur between its theology and its ministry. This separation is as hurtful and damaging to the body as is the divorce between two married people. We Baptists have succumbed to this divorce without a fight. Our churches suffer because of this division, and we fall far short of the standard set by our Lord.

To what do I refer? What could be so dark and ominous as to leave the church crippled? It is the practice of divorcing evangelism and discipleship. In our heartfelt efforts to challenge the church to arise and take the Gospel to their neighbors and ultimately to the ends of the Earth, we have failed to present the whole truth. Jesus did not call us to lead people to a decision, but to a full life commitment. That commitment begins with a decision, certainly. However, we must never reduce the salvation experience to easy “believe-ism” or cheap grace.

Think again of the words of Jesus in the Great Commission. His words are pointed and powerful. “Go and make disciples of all nations.” He does not say to go and make card signers at the front of the church. His call is not to get people to raise their hands. It is a call to a full orbed commitment of every part of life. Jesus often called people by using two simple words, “Follow me.” Those two words capture the essence of what it means to be a disciple. No evidence can be found in Scripture to indicate Jesus ever divorced evangelism and discipleship. Neither should we!

Do not think I am opposed to evangelistic efforts, sermons and events. I am not. Discipleship has its beginning when people embrace the simple but powerful gospel message. Jesus came preaching that a person was to repent and believe the Gospel. But He, true to His commission to us, sought those who would deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him. His desire was to have followers who sought to observe all the things He taught them.

I would propose that because of the great divorce of evangelism and discipleship, there are many in the church today who remain babies in the faith. They act like spiritual babies and never grow to maturity where they themselves make disciples. Discipleship that takes a person from the initial decision to follow Christ and walks them to maturity is costly in time and energy. I suggest it is worth all the time in the world.

Many would argue that the best discipleship is done one-on-one and in small groups. My experience as a pastor tells me that is true—the most lasting influence I have experienced resulted from one-on-one or small group settings. Pastors often say to me that they do not have enough leaders, to which I reply, “Disciple some!” Take people and let iron sharpen iron. Jesus discipled the 12 by allowing them to walk with Him and experience life with Him. He taught them the Scriptures, but He used day-by-day experiences to do so.

I believe in the power of preaching. If the preaching is expositional and Bible centered, we can impact lives and participate in the discipling process. The same can be said of Sunday School. But discipleship that impacts the direction and maturity of a person’s life calls for life-against-life experiences.

My cry to the church today is to stop the divorce. Evangelism that does not result in discipleship leaves broken lives and broken churches in its wake. It is simple. Jesus said, “Make disciples.”

Anthony L. Jordan is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

Anthony L. Jordan

Author: Anthony L. Jordan

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  • Chris

    Great article. Sometimes we become so numbers driven that we short change the Great Commission and miss out on seeing real gospel-conversion growth. Genuine discipleship would actually spur greater, more authentic evangelism.

  • Jeff Self

    Great Article. I’ve been preaching a series all summer titled, “Come Follow Me” – we’ve been addressing these very issues. I love when you can see that the Spirit of God is so clearly leading the convention in the same direction and that pastors and churches are following His leadership. I believe that SBC Churches will sow more seeds this year and quiet possible baptize and begin to disciple more true believers than anytime in recent history. Remember — Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, but how can they call if they have not believed, how will they believe if they do not hear, how will they hear if it is not preached and how can it be preached if they are not sent.
    Let’s SEND more believers out to “Go” and preach to the masses the glorious gospel…then let’s baptize those who believe and call on Him and most importantly let us invest our lives in those whom he has saved and make disciples. Jesus preached to thousands but invested in 12 — only about 120 were true followers of Christ at the time of Christ left the earth. The call to take up our cross and follow Him will never draw big numbers but it will plant the seeds that allow Him to save souls. So let’s plant…He’ll bring the harvest and then we will work (making disciples ) of the harvest He brings! GLORY be to the God of all creation!

  • David Whitlock

    Well said Dr. Jordan.

    Today I attended the funeral of Dr. Avery WIllis who exemplifies what should be our approach in regard to understanding the Great Commission. Avery Willis was a catalyst for change described by Dr. Tom Elliff as a man who had simplified the entirety of his mission as “making disciples.” Everything he did was about making disciples and as the author of the recognized authoritative work on discipleship, “Master Life,” his commitment is well documented.

    Yet Dr. Willis saw no false dichotomy (or as you have described, “divorce”) between discipleship and evangelism; to him they were so interconnected that to discuss them as separate activities was anathema. For this great discipleship proponent had no equal when it came to passion and commitment to evangelism. Missionary, international missions apologist, and constant advocate of worldwide evangelism, the life of Avery Willis is a poignant reminder that our call as believers is to go, tell, teach, admonish, and encourage our neighbors and the nations. May we be truthful to this biblical mandate and not fall into the trap of pitting evangelism against discipleship either in philosophy or practice.

  • Kerry

    Right on…perfectly said.

  • Outstanding!

  • David Crane

    My thanks to Douglas Baker and the Baptist Messenger for offering the world some insights into the life and ministry of a great missionary statesman, Avery Willis. I have served with the IMB for 17 years in E. Africa. I have appreciated from afar for many years Avery’s willingness not only to embrace the growing field of “orality” but his commitment to becoming a leader in this “ancient but perceived as new by many today” way of presenting and teaching God’s Word, and for making multiplying disciples. My ministry of 11 years among the Maasai was greatly impacted by the pioneering work of Avery, Jim Slack, J.O. Terry and the many others who took the time to do the needed research, and then leave home and family so they could travel to the field and coach those of us in the trenches. Doug’s interviews and articles rightly captured a very important trait that Avery modeled for us; that of being a continual learner, and when required, an innovator.
    So my challenge to you OK boys (and gals!) is this; if you really want to honor the memory and life’s work of Dr. Willis, then do more exploration into the founding and purposes of the Int’l Orality Network. Do the home work necessary to become fully acquainted with the reasoning associated with presenting the gospel to primary oral learners in a manner keeping with their traditional learning style, and their ability to reproduce. Then teach your church members how to narrate to others “His Story,” the grand biblical narratives of “Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration.” And as you learn and apply these truths there in OK, consider going and joining forces with a field missionary and doing there what you’ve come to appreciate and do in your own cultural context. The majority world is pleading for more more and better leaders. They want deeper and more comprehensive biblical teaching. But many of them are primary oral learners.
    So may our Lord touch you to show Dr. Willis the greatest form of respect: the picking up of his banner and carrying it forward.

  • Gus Downing

    Thank you Dr. Jordan for your “Perspective” on Evangelism and Discipleship! The modern church is in trouble because we have failed to develop leaders that will do discipleship. Finding leaders for small groups is a difficult task today. We must continue to work to develop such leaders.
    I was on a mission trip last week and did not see the July 29 “Perspective” untill two days ago. I did a double take when I read your words concerning “Crazy Love” and “Radical”, and I want to voice a loud “AMEN” to your recommendations concerning the two books. Our church will be teaching “Radical” in September and October to all of our student and adult groups and we are praying for a “radical” change in our congregation!
    Again, thank you for for these two works!

  • Great post!

  • Genie Ford

    As one who has traveled out of the Southern Baptist church and back again, I am grieved over the divorce of evangelism and discipleship I see in my church. I don’t see much concern from others–I’m not sure they even know what is missing. I agree with the comment above that true discipleship will lead to evangelism (which leads to true discipleship in an ongoing circle of growth and change in individuals and churches). I wish that I could share mutual growth and accountability in spiritual disciplines with others, in my church especially. We meet, we have lessons, we hardly have relationships, much less mutual sharing of growth and accountability one to another. What can we do to change this? People are not reaching their God-given potential because of the lack of discipleship. How can they, when they don’t even know what they are missing?

  • Jeanette Bradshaw

    Dr. Jordan, thank you for your thoughtful, heart breaking article….we must go back to our original assignment…make disciples!

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