Conversion vs. Discipleship

My first year of discipleship included a steep learning curve, more mistakes than I care to remember, and a genuine beauty that has never been replicated. Numerous discipleship groups have formed since, each equally flawed and beautiful in their own right, but that first group will forever hold a special place in my heart. It was the gift of life, a breath of fresh air into a set of lungs that had forgotten how to breathe… or maybe the truth… they had never truly been taught how to.

My oldest daughter began singing at a young age, but never learned the correct way to use her diaphragm until years later. She always had this sweet, angelic voice, but with the guidance of a skilled instructor, she learned technique. She learned how to protect her vocal chords and how to tap into a powerful sound. Subsequently, she gained a confidence in her abilities. This is also true with discipleship. I grew up in the church, but was never taught how to disciple someone; I simply invited people to church. I went to VBS, but never told anyone about Jesus. I memorized all the books in the Bible (because my VBS teacher promised a Happy Meal to any kid who could accomplish the feat. I was the only kid who did, but I never got that Happy Meal… which may be where my disappointment in the church truly began!), but never sat down with someone to study the books together. I never discipled someone, because I was never discipled.

Years later, an elder informed me that discipling someone was as simple a ordering a pizza and talking about life. (This was also the same person who told me the Acts church was all but dead. ) Well, this I know for a fact: Discipling CAN take place over a pizza and will include talking about life, but it most certainly is not exclusive to those two components. Discipling is teaching. Discipling is what Jesus called us to in the Great Commission: 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 all that I have commanded you.

As our first year back from Rhode Island came to a close, the Lord started to open my eyes to His Word, to more and more discrepancies and inconsistencies being taught in the church. PLEASE NOTE: The accusation isn’t false teaching. Honestly, that would have been easier to deal with because scripture is clear about what to do in those cases. This was something completely different. It was more about how only part of the truth was being revealed… the parts that were easier to digest.

A great example of this came one Sunday morning as our associate pastor talked about an upcoming Baptism Sunday. His pitch for people on the fence (I’m not even going there… being “on the fence” about baptism deserves its own post!) included the admission that “following Jesus is as simple as proclaiming him as your savior and being dunked in some warm water, because ours is heated.” RIGHT FROM THE BEGINNING… we made following Jesus easy, comfortable. I was flabbergasted. I was speechless. So speechless that I sat in my chair until every last person left the sanctuary and I asked the pastor to clarify his statement. Did he simply misspeak? Was he confusing conversion with discipleship? Did he really believe that becoming a disciple was merely about baptism?

There was no accusation just a need for clarification. I asked him what he really believed about the importance of discipleship when it comes to following Jesus. His answer: He went to his office and came back with a book called The Master Plan of Evangelism. This answer left me with far more questions than clarity. (And for the record, I already own the book and LOVE it. My problem wasn’t with the book.) In that moment, I was looking for a conversation, not a referral. I wanted to look at what scripture said, not some author’s interpretation of scripture. More importantly, I wanted to know if our church placed an equal emphasis on discipleship as it did conversion.

Over the next few months, the Lord would continue to reveal this chasm between conversion and discipleship, all the while, showing glimpses of the true example Christ placed before us with his disciples and with the early church. The growing challenge in this season was to fight off the temptation to point fingers, because the truth was simple: I knew there was a disconnect between what I saw in scripture and what I saw lived out in the church, but I had no clue of anything past that. But, in His faithfulness, God would continue to grow and prune my heart, allowing me to see His truth… and my own sin.

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