When does discipleship begin? Does it begin after a person steps over the line of faith and receives Christ as their Lord and Savior or long before that?
Is evangelism restricted to an event where you invite someone to attend, praying that they will respond positively to the message of the gospel? Is that not just a little too nebulous, sporadic, and maybe even could be called haphazard? Could we not be more intentional in cultivating relationships that facilitate spiritual conversations? Barna research has reported that, “The United States is an ever-increasingly secularized nation made up of increasingly secularized cities.”
What was Jesus’ primary mission when He came to do the will of the Father? In Luke 19:10 Jesus said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.” Then right before He ascended back to heaven He told His followers, “Go and make disciples.” Maybe the making of disciples begins when a person who is not a converted disciple of Jesus makes contact with someone who is already following Jesus. That could be you! When were you first aware of the gospel and its implications in your life? Did you immediately respond, or did it take years until you eventually placed your trust in Christ?
When did the disciples actually place their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior? Was it when they dropped their nets, when they fed the five thousand, or when Peter declared, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God?” Some would suggest that maybe it was in John 20 when Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
You could argue over the exact time and date, but that is not the point. The more important truth here is that it is a process from the time you first meet a follower of Christ, begin to hear the gospel, and feel the Holy Spirit drawing you to Him.
Resist the temptation to get hung up on a strict definition of discipleship and miss the point that discipleship can begin at the first point of contact with someone not following Jesus and a follower of Christ. Evangelism preceeds conversion and is tightly intertwined with the process of discipleship. Maybe a dichotomy has been built between the two that does not exist? That requires you becoming just as intentional on the pre-conversion “seeking” as you are focused on the “post-conversion” saved side of spiritual formation.
So are you actively engaging in the mission of Jesus daily? Are you intentionally “seeking” people far from God?
One of the hardest things for a church to do is keeping the 99 found sheep focused on finding the one lost sheep. Jesus deliberately connected with people who were lost such as Zacchaeus and the woman at the well. The mission is seeking and saving the lost, while making disciples is how we carry out His mission.
Are you making disciples? This is the question that must be asked of every individual follower of Christ, every church, every church planter, and every mission organization. The individual believer must be asked, “How am I making disciples?” Every local church needs to ask, “How are we making disciples?”
Then the next logical question must be, “How are we equipping disciples, leaders, and churches to make disciples in their context and in their neighborhood?” Not only must these questions be asked, but there must also be an obedience mechanism implemented with accountability being non-negotiable. Develop metrics for discipleship in the “seeking,” pre-conversion contact that tracks weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly progress. Many churches have metrics for post-conversion discipleship though discipleship courses that have been designated by many different titles such as 101, 201, 301, and 401 spiritual formation.
But the tougher question is, ”How will you track progress in the “seeking,” pre-conversion discipleship where you are deliberately and intentionally connecting with lost people?”
Here are four stages shared by Steve Pike in his book New Wave Discovering the 21st Century Church that give us a track to run on:
Over the last week how many people have been made aware of you in a positive way? The key is that you broaden your influence by loving others the same way Jesus loves you. How can you demonstrate the love of Christ in a practical way? You represent Christ and the key here is touching others in a positive way.
Pre-conversion discipleship should focus on intentionally meeting lost people, remembering their name, and praying for their salvation by name. Prayer is not an optional element of disciple making, because discipleship is a spiritual endeavor and will require spiritual warfare.
Begin building relationships with those who are far from God by learning their story and continuing to stay connected with them. Jesus did not walk away from the woman at the well but continued to talk with her and challenge her. You know their story and they know you know their story.
When done well, this can lead to authentic and genuine spiritual conversations about Jesus and how to have a relationship with Him.
Hold yourself and others accountable in weekly discipleship to utilize these metrics, by asking these questions: Who are you making aware of your presence in their life in a positive way? Who are you connecting with by meeting them by name and praying for them by name? Who are you intentionally building relationships with to know their story and to love them even when their story does not change? Who are you having spiritual conversations with that are far from God?