Making Decisions is Counterproductive to Making Disciples

08 Mar

AT in Maine from FrenchyRecently I was listening to a representative from an evangelical ministry make a broad appeal to pastors and church leaders to sign up for their next event to introduce non-Christians to Christ. I was familiar with their overall strategy, and I was familiar with the specific event he was describing, but something caught my attention in listening to his appeal. He described how their ministry had seen numerous decisions for Christ over the years. (I did not doubt his statistics; this was a well-known ministry that had been around for a long time.) The report of the “success” of their evangelistic endeavors was followed by a bleak picture of American life – increased destructive behavior (crime, violence, abortion, drugs etc.), increased secularism, increased hopelessness, decreased church attendance, and the increase of young adults leaving the church. This picture was then followed by his announcement of another nation-wide event to do something to bring real hope, life, and salvation. The strategy was somewhat different, but the goal was the same: get people to make a decision for Christ. While listening, I had this thought: If your ministry has seen so many decisions for Christ made across the nation and around the world, then why is there such a decrease in church attendance? I had already seen the material to be used in this ministry event; it (like all their other events) culminated with inviting people to make a decision for Christ. I tried not to become cynical, but I continued to think, why would I invest time and resources in an event that does not seem to have lasting fruitfulness? After all, our goal is not simply to get people to make a decision for Jesus; our goal is to make disciples of Jesus.

The seeds of doubt regarding the effectiveness of “making decisions for Christ” go back to reading Scot McKnight’s book King Jesus Gospel where he argues we preach a weak gospel when the emphasis is the plan of salvation (which includes making a decision). This most recent experience only solidifies the conclusion I came to some time ago: a push to make decisions for Christ is counterproductive to making disciples of Christ.

The gospel preached in Acts was neither an invitation to make a decision for Christ nor an appeal to invite Jesus in your heart to be your personal Lord and Savior. The gospel preached by the Apostles in Acts was the proclamation that Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, had arrived and we killed him. While Jesus did enter into death, God raised him from the dead and exalted him to a place of authority. And now “let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). The proper response to the gospel is “repent and be baptized…and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). There is not talk in the sermons preached in the book of Acts about making a decision or asking Jesus into your heart or life.

Do not misunderstand my point: repenting, being baptized, and receiving the Holy Spirit certainly do require making a conscious decision. God will not force us into repentance. He will not twist our arm or beat us into submission. We must of our own volition choose to repent, be baptized and receive the Spirit, but these are not necessarily one-time events.

We repent and we continue to live a life of repentance.
We are baptized and we continue to live out of our baptismal identity as buried and risen with Jesus.
We receive the Holy Spirit and we continue to allow our lives to be immersed in the life of the Spirit.

Living out our response to the gospel is a much better picture of discipleship than making a decision for Christ. So how does should this critique shape evangelical methodology?

We must abandon the invitation to make a decision and we must resume the invitation to come and follow Jesus. This approach sounds much more like an invite to a party than a high-pressure sales pitch to purchase a new car. This approach is much more about belonging to a community than making a personal and individual choice. This approach may not appeal to the masses, but we will make disciples from the few who see the power, position, and authority of Jesus.

I agree that with this approach – inviting people to follow Jesus and be his disciple –we will not see the outward, numeric success seen by other groups going out getting people to make decisions, but I have repented of measuring success by numbers. I have repented of desiring success at all. I have turned away from ambition & success and turned towards faithfulness & fruitfulness. I want to make disciples of Jesus. I want to make more disciples of Jesus. I want to see people following Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to conform them into the image of Jesus, but this is a slow, arduous process.

So Instead of making a decisions for Christ in order to get saved, let’s follow Jesus and find ourselves being saved.


Posted by on March 8, 2013 in Ministry


Tags: , , , ,

3 responses to “Making Decisions is Counterproductive to Making Disciples

  1. Dale Goodvin

    March 8, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    I recently finished reading the bible from cover to cover for the 2nd time. I am 65 years old and a non-believer from Kansas. The bible is a great book. The conclusion, Revelations, is magnificent. We even see Satan transformed from a serpent (snake-like apparently) to a dragon who is wrapped in chains and hurled into the mighty and eternal furnace of fire and brimstone. I have concluded that if you are a non-believer who loves literature and myth, you will be even more of a non-believer after reading the bible. If you are a believer, you will probably be even more of a believer after reading the bible. Of course, I believe that insisting that people believe in Jesus as the only way to get into heaven and escape hell is purely cultural, as we tend to believe in whatever religion we grow up with. It is amazing! Hindus believe in Hinduism. Muslims are Muslims! Buddhists believe in the Compassionate Buddha. Christians believe in Christ!! Egads!! Atheists like myself believe in being good. No one has a sole market on salvation, my friend. One of my gurus, Henry David Thoreau, said, “I like your Jesus, but I love my Buddha.” I’m pretty sure that God is a cool enough Dude that he won’t be punishing poor ole Henry! Peace!

  2. Derek Vreeland

    March 8, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Jesus never talked about getting into heaven and escaping hell. He did talk a lot about life on earth. And while it is true we are a product of our culture, there are those who challenge cultural assumptions and “jump ship.” Such things are possible. Each participant in a given religion believes salvation is found only in their religion (unless it is a pluralistic religion). However, Jesus is unique in that he is not a mere prophet (or enlightened one) leading people to God; he himself is God. He is God in human form. For me this gives Jesus much more weight and authority than the founders of other world-wide religions.

    • Dale Goodvin

      March 8, 2013 at 4:39 pm

      I would never want anyone to leave a religion that provides them peace and promotes kindness and charity. It was interesting to me that most Jews (by far) do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah spoken of in the old testament of the bible. Some of the translations made by Christians align with the new testament and the coming of Jesus, but many people believe that those translations were made in order to justify claiming Jesus as the Messiah. So millions of people on the planet, in all good faith, reject your assumption that Jesus is God. It is all very complex and, being no biblical scholar by any stretch of the imagination, all I can do is to interpret the bible based on my own (god-given?) brain.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: