Evangelism: Disciples, Not Decisions

“10,000 Saved in the Philippines!” announced the bold, black headline across the top of the missionary newsletter. I read the letter with great interest. It indicated that 10,000 people had been led in repeating the sinner’s prayer at end of a series of large evangelistic rallies. However, unfortunately, this newsletter seemed to communicate that these 10,000 were now disciples of Jesus Christ.

In my understanding of the Bible, however, I believe that the missionary had confused decisions with disciples—a tragic mistake that many Christians make. It is no wonder that we have so many spiritually immature Christians and such a high attrition rate among those who make momentary, often emotional, decisions for Jesus Christ.

Most of us are familiar with the great commission that Jesus gave to his disciples before his ascension into heaven. When we read it, do we understand what the words really mean, or what someone has told us they mean? Jesus declared in Matthew 28:18-20, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have taught you. I tell you the truth: I am with you always, to the very the end of the world (of this age)!

The first thing we notice is that Jesus commands us to make disciples, not simply to solicit decisions. To make a person a disciple, we are to baptize them and teach them. Baptism signifies the public confession of a person’s new birth in Christ. And just like parents who teach their children over time to become adults, we also are to teach newborn Christians how to become mature followers of Jesus Christ.

As Great Commission Christians, our goal should be to make more and better disciples. This goal is not achieved by someone simply reciting a sinner’s prayer. Disciple-making takes a lot of care and investment of time on the part of the person doing the teaching and the person who is the learner.

Yes, it’s important that every non-Christian makes a willful and personal commitment to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior (Romans 10:9). They must be born-again. Their heart must be regenerated and renewed through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But this is only the first step in becoming a mature disciple. Ultimately, we are called to teach people how to live daily for the Lord Jesus Christ now!