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Making Decisions is Counterproductive to Making Disciples

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.

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Posted by on March 8, 2013 in Ministry

 

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The Comforts and Commands of Christ

Jesus rose from the dead. We believe it, but now what?

We are now in the second week of Easter. The celebration known as Easter is not just one day, but it is a season, a seven-week celebration of living life in light of the resurrection. We celebrated on Easter Sunday. We got dressed up. We went to church. We sang songs about the empty tomb. We reflected on resurrection Scriptures. We met the living Jesus through communion. We went home, ate our chocolate bunnies and marshmallow peeps (my personal favorite). We rightly celebrated on that one day, but where do we go from here?

In Matthew’s account of the resurrection of Jesus, the two Marys met the resurrected Jesus after they saw the empty tomb. Jesus instructs them to go tell his disciples to meet him in Galilee. When Jesus appeared to his disciples there, they worshiped him and he said:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)

After his resurrection, Jesus tells his followers to go. This command answers the “now what?” question for us, his followers some 2,000 years removed from his resurrection. Once we have celebrated, it is time for us to go and do.

Jesus intended there to be movement in the new community he was building. He has declared to us that he has received all authority in heaven and on earth. This authority is not spiritual power, but civic power, not religious power, but political power. In raising Jesus from the dead, God has made him Lord and King. Jesus is now the planet’s new reigning ruler. The first bill he signed into law in his new government was one to get his citizens up and moving and “back to work.” And the work we are called to do is to make disciples. This call and command to make disciples is not for a select few ministerial professional; it is for all of us who are following Jesus. It is for all of us basking in the light of the resurrection. We have entered into the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus through baptism. We have experienced (and are experiencing) forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, healing, and all the other benefits received from this resurrection life, but we cannot receive the comforts of Christ without following the commands of Christ.

Jesus commands us to make disciples, but he doesn’t stop there.He even helps us with how we are we do carry out this disciple-making mission. We go and make disciples by baptizing them and teaching them. Baptizing and teaching become the two pedals propelling our disciple-making mission forward. We baptize people into the Jesus story of death, burial, and resurrection. We baptize people not just IN the trifold name of God, but we baptize people INTO the life of God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God himself is a holy community of persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. When we baptize people, we are immersing them into a community of self-giving love, which is why we celebrate at every baptism. We are celebrating and welcoming people into the life of God (Trinitarian community) and the life of the church (humanitarian community).

Following baptism we teach. Certainly, we do more in church life than teaching, but the ministry of teaching is foundational to making disciples. We are to teach the newly baptized to observe everything Jesus has commanded. We do not teach in such a way to help people “apply things to their lives.” Jesus did not ever say that he was giving us “biblical principles” that we are to teach so people can apply them to their lives. He gave us commands; he gave us proclamations; he gave us descriptions of the kingdom of God, and then he told us to go and do. His teaching does not have application, but it does have motivation. We are not to try to figure out how we can fit his teachings into our lives, but we are called to adjust our lives and orient ourselves around his teaching. This uncomfortable re-adjustment we call repentance is not merely an intellectual exercise, but it implies action, rethinking things in order to live differently.

In the end, Jesus gives us a promise. He does not just give commands, but he gives commands with a promise. He promised to be with us, to help us, to guide us. Every Sunday we gather to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. He is present as we gather in his name. He is present as his word is proclaimed. He is present at the table in the bread and in the cup. He promises to be with us by his Spirit, so we have power to carry out his command. So we as the community of faith living in the light of the resurrection carry out his instructions by make disciples. We do this by his empowering presence in the light of his resurrection.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2012 in Ministry, Theology

 

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