Quit Making Converts

If you know me or you’ve read any number of my blogs then you will know that I like theology. I like to talk about it, think about it, write about it, and go crazy over it. Because of this, some of my posts can get a little…dry. It takes a certain kind of person to really get into some of the things that I like to write about (God bless you people), but that hopefully won’t be the case with this post. With this one I want to be very simple, straightforward, and theological-jargon-free. Wish me luck.

Here is the main thing I want to get across: I think that Christians need to stop focusing on making converts and start focusing on making disciples. Now I definitely think we should want to “convert” people. We should want people to place their faith in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. However, I believe that far too much attention and effort is placed on the task of conversion and far too little on the task of discipleship. As a result we have a lot more Christians who aren’t very well rooted and perhaps aren’t even genuine.

It is my experience that we place a whole lot of effort in ways to get people to make that profession of faith but there is very little follow up to make sure they are continually discipled. The mindset of many Christians is that everyone who doesn’t say the magic words (or prayer) will be going to hell. We don’t think long term and we don’t think end game. We are just wanting to “save souls” in the sense of getting them away from hellfire. I think that Jesus was interesting in saving souls in the sense of bringing them into participation with the kingdom of God. To be transferred from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the Son He loves (Col. 1:13).

Look at this famous New Testament passage on evangelisim: Matthew 28:18–20.

Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 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 everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This is what most Christians will refer to as the “great commission.” Here we get a charge by the risen Christ to go out and make disciples. He doesn’t say go out and get people to have faith in me. He says go and make disciples, baptize them, teach them what I’ve taught you. The evangelism that happens today doesn’t really seem to fit this mold. To have call people to the front who want to accept Christ and then send them on their way without any real plans of continuing discipleship is hardly a great method of fulfilling the great commission.

Hosting large conferences where hundreds accept Christ and then are sent back home in hopes that they will find a good church to disciple them just isn’t quite going to cut it. While we have all of our eggs in the “get them converted” basket we won’t ever be as successful at making disciples. If we continue to feel satisfied with getting people to say a prayer we will continue to get a whole lot of seeds in a lot of bad soil (Matthew 13:1–23). In that parable, to simply receive the seed isn’t enough, it needs to have good soil to stay and produce fruit. The church needs to focus on making good soil just as much as it does on throwing out seeds.

We aren’t doing anyone favors by neglecting the task of making disciples. I have experienced this firsthand myself. I had a friend that I once shared Jesus with, and to my joy he accepted it very strongly. There were tears, joy, and so much celebrating. I can even remember him being excited to show me the cross necklace that he had recently purchased. I had given him one of my study bibles that was really good for beginner bible readers. He even came to church with me once. I was so happy to see him take to it so well. I had gotten my friend “saved!”

However, the story doesn’t end there. I neglected to continue to disciple this friend. I didn’t look to help him grow and learn all that Jesus had taught. I was happy with the profession of faith and the giving of a Bible. I figured the rest would work out fine, but it didn’t. Since then he had continued to live much the same lifestyle as before, engaged in various habitual sins consistently with no sign of repentance, and had not attended church again for a year. I would doubt that he ever picks up that Bible I gave him.

Now that is not to say that he didn’t have a genuine conversion or that he doesn’t have a saving faith because of some of his lifestyle choices. Only God truly knows his heart, yet by simply looking at the fruit being produced I have reason to worry (Matthew 7:13–23). I was successful in making a convert but I failed to make a disciple.

So why do I say all this? What is the point? I say this simply because I want to see the mission of the average Christian go beyond getting them to say a prayer. Doing that is really only the beginning. I want Christians to produce other Christians that are disciples of Jesus. I want Christians to take their need to grow in their own discipleship seriously, as well as their need to create other Christians who do the same.

In Luke 14:25–33 Jesus says that a person who would follow Him needs to count the cost. They needs to know what is required of them. They need to be completely aware of what any commitment to Him requires. To tell people to say a prayer to avoid hell hardly qualifies as allowing them to count the cost before committing to a life of discipleship and conformity to the Kingdom of God. After all “Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” (Luke 9:58)

So with all of that being said, I simply want Christians to think long about two things:

1) Am I in the process of following Jesus more and more and not simply using him as a get-out-of-hell-free-card?

2) Am I content to make converts or am I looking to make disciples?

There are plenty of converts and “professing Christians.” There aren’t a lot of disciples of Christ who are looking to deny themselves, take up their crosses daily, and follow Him (Luke 9:23). I pray that Christians will stop feeling content making converts and will strive to make more cross carrying disciples. It’s not easy and it’s not fun. I am in the painful process of stumbling my way along the road of discipleship myself. However, I have fully counted the cost and am fully in. Do everyone you want to tell about Jesus a favor and inform them of the cost of following Christ. Seek to make a disciple and not just a convert, anything less is setting them up for failure.


Image by Roslyn via flickr

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Curtis Snell

I am first and foremost someone who is trying to follow the example and teachings of Jesus. I serve on the pastoral staff of a church in Iowa and I love writing, reading, and my dog Pepper.

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