Teach All Nations

teach all nations

Teach All Nations

Most of the time it is easy enough to tell what a company produces by simply watching its output. If it is an automobile manufacturer, one would expect to see cars, trucks, and SUV’s rolling off the assembly line. If it is a bank, people will go in and out with deposits, withdrawals, and loans. If we applied the same criteria to the twenty-first-century church, what would we determine to be the product? Do we see the raw material of unregenerate humanity entering the church and joyful, committed, and Christ-like saints emerge? Is the modern church good at producing lifelong saints? All too often, an honest appraisal would have to conclude that the “product” the modern church is most successful at producing is backsliders.

Some local churches have adopted a growth pattern based almost exclusively on evangelism. They have come to believe that the mission of the church is to make converts. I have often heard that it takes ten conversions to grow the church by one. That is, if you want your church to grow by one hundred this year, plan to get one thousand new converts in your altars. Most of us recognize that God cannot be pleased with the callous calculations that accept a 90% attrition rate, but the experience of “successful” growing churches sometimes make it seem as if there is no other way. However, the church has not been called to make converts, but to make disciples.

The Great Commission is, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations” (Matthew 28:19, Authorized Version). There are several words in Greek that can be translated “teach,” each having a slightly different connotation. In Matthew 28:19 God chose the word that means “make disciples.” There are profound differences between a convert and a disciple. The miracle of conversion is the work of a moment, but discipleship requires a lifetime. To be a disciple, in its New Testament meaning, requires intellectual adherence, ardent commitment, Spiritual empowerment, and passionate zeal. “The main meanings of the image include following Christ, loyalty to Christ and his work on earth, self-denial, aptness both to learn from Christ and to teach what has been learned, authority as Christ’s spokespersons, and power to perform signs and wonders…. The image is radical, for a changed life is fundamentally assumed; and it is dynamic, for progress and development are of the essence.”[1]

With discipleship as our mission, evangelism is a means, not an end. Just as the sinner is the raw material for conversion, so the convert is the raw material for discipleship. One cannot become a disciple without first experiencing true conversion. Yet, evangelism does not and cannot make disciples. The local church must have formal and informal structures in a place conducive to lifelong discipleship growth. Discipleship requires a much greater expenditure of effort and time than evangelism. It is also much more difficult to accurately judge progress and determine success. We often hear the wonderful testimony, “We had fourteen people get the Holy Ghost last year.”  Yet, on what objective basis can we testify, “We had fourteen saints grow in God last year”?  Therefore, there is a strong tendency to invest the major portion of the church’s limited resources in something that pays quick and readily identifiable dividends: evangelism.

The secondary emphasis placed on discipleship sometimes means that evangelists are heroes and teachers are zeros. In some churches Sunday school is entertainment for children, midweek Bible study is just another worship service, most sermons are topical and evangelistic, and once converts complete the new converts’ course (if there is one), they are left on the pew to soak up discipleship by osmosis. No wonder backsliding is so prevalent!

All Christians need to be passionate about winning the lost to Jesus Christ. Personal evangelism should be a priority for our lives. Evangelistic efforts should be viewed as the norm for any church, not the exception. Yet, the motive behind our evangelistic efforts and the methods we use for evangelism must be principled and biblically sound. Evangelism must be viewed as the first and most basic step in lifelong discipleship training.

[1] Ryken, Leland, Jim Wilhoit, Tremper Longman, Colin Duriez, Douglas Penney, and Daniel G. Reid. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998.

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