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.