The Disciple-Making Shift

In a now famous study of popcorn by Brian Warnsick at Cornell, movie goers were given two sizes of popcorn buckets. Each of the buckets was massive, too large for one person to consume all the popcorn. The question: when given an overwhelming amount of popcorn to eat, would the size of the bucket matter?

The result? Those with bigger buckets ate 53% more. The interesting reaction of people in the study is they didn’t believe the results. They couldn’t believe simply changing the bucket size had such an impact on their actions. Beyond the obvious application to diet (want to lose weight? Use smaller plates and order smaller portions when eating out), Warnsick discovered how hard it can be to help people see the need to change.

His conclusion: sometimes what we think is a people problem is a situation problem. Let me apply this to the church. Sometimes we pastors (I currently serve part time as a pastor at my church) we think people in church are apathetic and only want to do the minimum for God. I’ve preached in over 2,000 churches, and in my experience most people do care, but they also do the minimum. Why? They do what they do because they’ve been taught what they’ve been taught.

For too many...Christianity is focused on pleasing ourselves, not rocking the boat, and giving more attention to moralistic behavior change or simple felt-needs advice on making it in the world rather than living out the mission of God… Click To Tweet

For too many, the situation believers find themselves in is a Christianity focused on pleasing ourselves, not rocking the boat, and giving more attention to moralistic behavior change or simple felt-needs advice on making it in the world rather than living out the mission of God daily in the culture. The gospel has moved from an announcement of a great message to advice on how to be happy.

Why would I say that? Exhibit A: the largest study of youth and religion in American history, the National Institute of Youth and Religion, concluded that overwhelming numbers of young people have been taught a perspective of the Christianity called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. The Bible is taught more as a collection of moral stories to change behavior and help people be nice than a great epic of redemption. “Follow Jesus as Savior, then follow our standard of behavior” is too often the implied narrative.

This is fascinating to me as I minister a great deal to the next generation and those who minister to them. Barna discovered when a church shows young people how the good news in Jesus directly affects their future career plans, they are four times more likely to stay in church. I would submit the inverse is true as well: when they get a vision of the faith that is more like “don’t have sex, and invite a friend,” they are more likely to leave.

The difference between the early church and the current church is they only had hope in Christ, while we have hope in Christ, and our bank account, and our culture (either to like us or leave us alone), and our circumstances. Click To Tweet

I meet so many church leaders who see the need for renewal in evangelism and discipleship. They long for a new day of effectiveness in making disciples from a lost culture, growing those disciples so they in turn make more disciples, who do the same. Disciples who make disciples who make disciples is the need of the hour. We all know this, but we aren’t seeing it to the level we desire. How are we to experience a disciple-making shift?

Take a moment and read Acts 8:1-8. Philip, an early leader, has been run out of Jerusalem in a wave of persecution. He goes down to Samaria—you know, the place Jews liked to avoid—and he witnessed a movement of God. He ministered in a cultural context hardly favorable to Christianity. It seems to me so many Christians today live in fear and have made a shift, but it’s a shift to protectionism and fear of the culture rather than a shift to make disciples in the culture. We are at a far better place in America than Philip and the early church!

Here’s a suggestion to begin recalibrating your disciple-making: Rehearse the gospel of Jesus every day until it consumes your affections, informs your perspective, and guides your decisions.

Here’s a suggestion to begin recalibrating your disciple-making: Rehearse the gospel of Jesus every day until it consumes your affections, informs your perspective, and guides your decisions. Click To Tweet

This is why Chapter 2 of my Sharing Jesus book focuses on the gospel, and encourages the reader to take a week and start getting in the habit of rehearsing the gospel to yourself before you share it with others. Why are so many Christians living in fear? We have forgotten the greatness of the good news in Jesus and how it affects not only our church lives, but in every aspect of our lives.

Look at Acts 8:4-5: “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.  Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there.”

The difference between the early church and the current church is they only had hope in Christ, while we have hope in Christ, and our bank account, and our culture (either to like us or leave us alone), and our circumstances. We live divided lives that create weakened convictions about both the providence of God and the call of God to make disciples no matter the society’s perspective on the gospel. Too many of us talk more each week about our sports team than our Savior and fret more over our financial portfolio than the lost around us.

Too many of us talk more each week about our sports team than our Savior and fret more over our financial portfolio than the lost around us. Click To Tweet

We can understand the gospel in at least a couple of ways. One is the essence of the gospel: the announcement of the good news of Jesus Christ made possible through His death and resurrection. The gospel is never less than this. And yet it is more. The gospel also can be seen as a great epic: the grand narrative of redemption seen from Genesis to Revelation, the Story that makes sense of all stories. In his wonderful book Fool’s Talk, Os Guinness reminds us the gospel is both truth and a beautiful story. We need to recapture the wonder of the gospel story while affirming its truth. Or as the early church father Ignatius observed: “Christianity consists not merely of persuading people of ideas, but also inviting them to share in the greatness of Christ.”

As the early church father Ignatius observed: “Christianity consists not merely of persuading people of ideas, but also inviting them to share in the greatness of Christ.” Click To Tweet

In the great awakenings people recaptured a wonder for the glory of God. Dramatic movements of evangelism, church planting, and social justice erupted from these works of God. But central to these movements was a renewed vision of the gospel. Great awakening preachers did not preach “how to have revival” sermons; they preached the gospel. We don’t talk about Jesus with our lost friends because we don’t talk about Him enough in our churches! Let us always be gospel-minded in both our words and actions so that we can truly make disciples as Jesus commanded!

Alvin Reid Contributor
Senior Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry , SEBTS
Alvin L. “Doc” Reid serves as Senior Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he has been since 1995. He is also the founding Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism. Alvin and his wife Michelle have two married children: Joshua and his wife Jacqueline, and Hannah and her husband Corey. Hannah and Corey recently welcomed Doc’s first grandchild, Lincoln James. He also serves as Pastor to Young Professionals at Richland Creek Community Church. Alvin travels extensively speaking and has authored a number of books. His most recent is Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out (B&H Academic).
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