Not Starting With The Gospel
Is Like Reading
From The Back Of The Book
Evangelism has two parts: disciple-making and disciple training.
The first part involves sharing the Gospel with unbelievers in the hope of converting them to Christ. Every converted person is referred to variously as saved, Christian, believer, and convert all of which are synonyms for disciple.
There are many ways to make disciples but the greatest number of conversions happen through personal evangelism, i.e., one person sharing the Gospel with at least one other person, face to face.
The important point is discipleship starts at the moment of conversion and no one is converted until they hear the Gospel.
The progression is simple: Hear the Gospel -> Convert to Discipleship -> Commit to Training.
We can’t get those things out of order.
Evangelism’s second part, disciple training, includes both instruction and practice.
Instruction lays out the principles taught in the Bible and practice is the hands-on phase where Disciples learn how to apply those principles to everyday life.
Both parts of evangelism are essential but there are problems.
The training part gets more attention than disciple-making. In fact, some religious groups bypass disciple-making completely, opting to start with baptism, not conversion, which clearly contorts the process and the purpose.
But even churches that believe strongly in disciple-making may occasionally get the process out of balance essentially neglecting disciple-making. The result is personal evangelism is rarely mentioned and the skills associated with it are lost.
There are several reasons this happens.
Training Makes The Trainer Look Smart
The training process involves a much broader range of information so training provides the trainer an opportunity to show off their personal knowledge.
The only information required to make a disciple is the Gospel. You can’t overstate the importance of the Gospel but it doesn’t take up much space compared to all the information in the Bible.
It’s alluded to and anticipated throughout the Bible but when it is finally revealed, it’s just a few words: the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for the sins of the world. That’s it.
Once the Gospel is embraced, it results in a new birth with a new heart and a new perspective evidenced by an openness to everything else in the Bible. Conversion results in enormous change but the fact remains, a disciple is made using very little information and it happens in a split second.
It’s like human birth. The time it takes to conceive and eventually give birth to a child is relatively brief when compared to the lifetime of learning that follows.
If you want to demonstrate a mastery of the Bible you’ll need more than the Gospel. It’s too brief and easy to comprehend. Everything else in the Bible provides the best fodder for proving how intellectually stout you are.
You would think the brevity of the Gospel would make personal evangelism more attractive but there are other issues to consider.
Training Is All Consuming
As I just mentioned, the time it takes to share the Gospel is relatively short. Training is what takes up the greater part of our time and we can become so focused on training that we lose sight of disciple-making.
Although training takes more time and effort than disciple-making there is an end.
Every trainee eventually becomes the trainer. If recruitment is not maintained and trainees are not taught to make disciples, the focus is turned too much on the insiders and outsiders become the enemy. It’s us against them.
But it gets worse. The more we train insiders to be right, the more wrong outsiders seem to be. When that happens, separation becomes isolation and the gap in between becomes the battlefield.
That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Jesus died for the outsiders. He’s focused on them.
An undercurrent that develops in this scenario is the contest for prominence within the group. The smartest and most articulate trainers will get all the attention.
It’s Much Easier To Gauge Training Results
When a person becomes a disciple – converted – only one thing changes: the heart – converts get a new one. The problem is, try as you might, no one can see a heart.
You can assess a person’s attitude. You can observe a person’s behavior but the attitudes and actions usually associated with the kind of faith that makes one a disciple can be faked or muted and they are NOT the same for one person as they are for another.
Believers in countries where Christianity is restricted use more subtle ways to demonstrate their belief and the number of ways they can do that is limited. For new believers in open countries, there is a broad range of responses that follow belief. Some are loud and boisterous and others more understated.
Those of us who live in open countries encourage the brash, loud declarations of faith. We tend to doubt the genuineness of quiet responses and disrupted development is also questioned. If a person starts out strong and then for whatever reason falters, we assume the worst.
The home in which I was raised was poor soil for Christian growth. In fact, in some ways it was anti-spiritual. As a result, my Christian growth stagnated for several years. Because of that the person who led me to Christ told me that he didn’t think I really got saved.
Training is different. Training outcomes are easier to measure. When disciples attend Bible study, fellowship at church, contribute and serve, you know they’ve learned.
Getting saved involves nothing more than faith and you can’t see that. Faith for salvation is accompanied by no outward activities to verify it. Paul said, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved!” He nor any other Apostle said anything like “believe and do.”
Believing in Jesus is the simplest part of the Christian experience but is complicated by the fact that we can’t see it. We want to share the Gospel and we want folks to get saved but we’re operating largely in the blind.
That works against personal evangelism.
Unconverted Disciples Are Difficult To Convert
Training people to be disciples before they become believers leads to long-term failure and it happens a lot.
I was baptized (sprinkled) as an infant. I don’t remember the experience but I know it happened because I have the baptism certificate to prove it.
Whatever significant statements were made at the baptism were also lost on me because, as an infant, I neither talked nor understood language.
Obviously, it’s easy to just train people and overlook disciple-making but getting the making and training aspects of evangelism out of order is problematic. It perverts the intended purpose, creates a false sense of security, and sets people up for failure.
For the record, baptism doesn’t save anyone. It is only ceremonial but the reason for the ceremony – personal public profession of faith in Christ – is totally obscured when infants are sprinkled.
I will admit that people who baptize babies have good intentions. They mean well. The parents who allow this are making a statement about their child’s future. They want the best for their child and are expressing that sentiment publicly through baptism.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the reason for baptism.
The sad truth is the people who baptize their infants, and the infants, both derive a false sense of security from the experience. Parents believe they have done something to innoculate their child from future harm and the baptizee has a piece of paper that gives them a false sense of security.
Baptism, of course, is just the first step and is often followed by thorough indoctrination. The further the trainee travels down this road the more insconced their misplaced belief becomes.
This is troubling because it is difficult to take a person who thinks they are safe and convince them they still need to be born again.
You have to overcome the wrong idea before you can present the right one. That’s not easy to do so some don’t even try.
It’s Impossible To Qualify Candidates
Leading someone to Christ and salvation is very straightforward. We share the important points about sin and salvation and then invite prospects to believe in Christ.
The truths we share are very obvious to us. They are also easily understood by unbelievers and responding is simple. We usually ask for some kind of outward response: come forward, stand up, raise your hand, pray a prayer, but none of those actions are biblically mandated.
We ask for these responses for many reasons. One is it makes us feel more secure. These responses are not a part of the salvation formula.
The Bible mentions “Calling on the name of the Lord” (Romans 10:13) but that can be done at the heart level, completely silently, with no words, noises, or physical actions required.
We can invite people to believe. We can persuade them to receive Christ and many will walk the aisle, say the prayer, and get baptized in response but whether they are sincere or not only God knows.
Some of them will get saved and some of them won’t. That makes us feel insecure but never stop trying because even the Apostles had a few false professions.
We mustn’t let the possibility of a few false professions stop us from sharing the Gospel as clearly as we can, as often as we can, to as many people as we can, and confidently inviting hearers to receive Christ.
Social And Political Issues Are More Attractive
Social and political issues are important and should never be left out of the discussion entirely, but if you want to change the world, the best place to start is the Gospel.
If you want people to obey the law, give them the Gospel. If you want people to be responsible, give them the Gospel. If you want to change social interactions, share the Gospel first and often.