DMM counter-intuitives—“Disciple people to conversion.” Jesus: “Go-make disciples-baptize-teach to obey” in Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20).
[Note: These counter-intuitive statements have been used by Disciple Making Movements practitioners to describe truths that are the opposite of what traditional missiology teaches. They have been formatted for Twitter, which limits the length of a post to no more than 140 characters. But I also wanted to include the biblical basis for doing it so differently.]
At the close of the first gospel, Jesus commissions the eleven, who graduate from his personal training system, to turn the world upside down (actually right side up). The beautiful thing for them is they have witnessed this approach while they have followed Jesus for three years. He called them to follow him. He taught them, trained them and mentored them. It is only late in this ministry that he asks the critical question, “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15).
In Western churches we usually attempt to convert people and then maybe sign them up for a six-week discipleship class. Jesus disciples for years and then asks his followers to reveal who they think he is. It is at this point in Matthew’s gospel that they answer their own earlier question, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:27).
Peter speaks for the group when he announces, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16). Jesus indicates that Peter is blessed to have received this revelation from God the Father. Peter did not learn this insight from another human, it was through divine revelation. Peter’s understanding of Jesus’ identity and willingness to surrender everything comes because he has been discipled to this recognition.
When someone comes to recognize who Jesus is, then he/she is ready to be baptized and to be taught to obey all of Jesus’ commands. Discipleship entails obedience to the one who has “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).
But who will allow you to disciple them to conversion? A Person of Peace. Someone who has already been stirred by the Holy Spirit. Someone who is waiting for the light to shine in his heart. Someone who desperately wants to know the answer to her brokenness. When you find a Person of Peace you have a candidate to disciple to conversion. Here is a person who will walk with you long enough to move from Creation to Christ, fall in love with God along the way and be willing to share what is being learned with others. Find a Person of Peace and you will have the opportunity to watch multiplication come in obedience to the Great Commission.
I am reading a book “The Celtic Way of Evangelism” by George G. Hunter III and had a learning experience. I had no idea of the accomplishments of St. Patrick and how that outside the fringes of Rome, had evangelized, probably tens of thousands following exactly this approach as modeled by Jesus. Thank you for this word!
The events of St. Patrick’s life are an amazing story. There are numerous historical examples of God calling his people back to the power of discipleship. I appreciate the comment.
Hey John… these are really good. I’m thinking about this one and wondering, is there an example of discipling to conversion in the New Testament Church, post-pentecost, after Jesus & The 12? And, my follow-up question, have you seen good fruit from a one-time telling of the creation to Christ story overview with a call to follow Jesus/believe, and then slow and steady discipleship if there is response? Thanks so much Brother!
I have spent my 53 years in a fellowship that often makes a harsh break between the gospels and the post-Pentecost church and it has grown very troublesome to me. I have even heard people discount things in the gospels by saying, “They were living under the law, then. That is Old Testament!” I am sure that is not what you are going for in this question.
No, there are no definitive examples in the rest of the New Testament. But it is possible this is what happened with Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:1-18). All Luke tells us is Paul sought them out and stayed with them because they were tentmakers like he was. For years I assumed they were already believers, but that is not revealed here. I also assumed that Paul’s time in Ephesus, when he “had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9), was a teacher up front with rows of students taking good notes. Today I envision a dialogue format that would be very comfortable for us, but foreign to our typical revival/church experience.
The epistles were written to already believers, so at best they give us snippets of insight into the process that was used to reach people in those communities. The Acts material is heavy on the idea that “households” came to faith together. Paul’s statement to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:18-35) paints a picture of a long, consistent process of modelling discipleship before them. He does not reveal how long into their time together transpired before they came to faith. I used to assume most of this life on life time happened after their conversion, but I recognize I was reading my experience back into the text.
I am reluctant to encourage any type of “one-time telling…with a call to follow Jesus,” unless God has done something to pull people together and there is clear evidence that the Holy Spirit is convicting them. Yes, we always need to be telling what God is doing in our lives, what Scripture reveals God has done (Creation to Christ) and the things we are learning as we live in obedience to Jesus’ call on our lives. But I am increasingly convinced our approach among resistant people-groups (wherever they live, but especially in closed countries) will be much more fruitful if we avoid this evangelistic strategy. I believe it grew out of The Great Awakening Revivalist context and we have uncritically applied it to inappropriate contexts.
Unless there are clear miraculous accelerations we should assume that people need time to process the worldview shifts that Creation to Christ material demands of them. With these thoughts in mind, go back and read 1 Thessalonians chapters 1 and 2. Re-read what Paul says to the Ephesian elders. How much of this necessarily happened after conversion? Why have we read this material with that assumption? Is it possible Paul used the Jesus strategy more than we have recognized? Is it possible the discipleship followed conversion only after there were miraculous accelerations? Blessings.