There was a quote making the rounds of Twitter and Facebook recently that got my attention. I don’t normally write about what I disagree with, but this time it has been rolling around in my head for a couple of weeks and I want to jump in and open a discussion on something. The quote is attributed to George Barna, a man I respect and who is much smarter than I am for sure. However, this time I disagree with the quote. Here it is:
“Evangelism without serious discipleship is abuse.”
At first read, it is an “OUCH” statement that hits the church and church leaders in a let’s-wake-up-and-get-busy kind of way.
Before I state my disagreement with this quote, let me qualify a couple of things. First, discipleship is a primary function of the church. A pastor’s main job description as given in Ephesians 4:11 is to train people, which is discipleship. As the church and as a local congregation it is vital that we have systems and strategies in place to give people an opportunity to grow in their journey with Christ. On the one hand, I believe that is what Barna’s point is. I don’t know the context in which he said (or wrote) it. Up front, let me be clear that I am taking this statement exactly as shown and addressing that alone. I am not and cannot presume to know Barna’s full thoughts on this and in no way intend to suggest anything negative toward him. My comments are handling this as a stand alone, unqualified quote.
In fact, it was more the shear quantity of times and short statements of agreement with this stand alone quote that got my attention. Many even wrote “Ouch!” or some other form of exclamation and seemed to indicated that the church has majorly missed something here. There is no question that we as the church have areas to improve and need to put more energy and effort into this.
My question is this: does it really qualify as abuse to tell someone about Christ and then not make sure they are discipled? Abuse is a really strong word. It invokes images that are difficult to look at and unpleasant to even think about describing. It makes an accusation of someone with malice in their heart. An abuser is generally thought of as evil. I do take issue with that choice of words and all it entails. It also doesn’t line up well with scripture.
For this statement to be true as presented here, then Philip, Peter, Paul, and even Jesus were guilty of abuse.
In Acts 8:26-40 we have the account of Philip and the Ethiopian. While they did have time to talk and Philip shared a lot with this man, it was hardly what we classify as discipleship. In fact, as soon as the man was baptized, Philip disappeared.
After bringing healing to the crippled beggar in Acts 3, Peter shares the truth of God’s Word with those that had witnessed it and anyone else who stopped near. In chapter 4, he and John were arrested. While they did return, there is no indication of any form of follow up with the crowd that heard that day. Not to mention the day of Pentecost itself. Again, we have no record of any form of follow up or what we call discipleship taking place after this with those who were there that day. Many were foreigners and did not remain in town after that event. There was no way to make sure they got into a new believer’s class or anything else.
I know Paul started churches most places he went, but not everywhere. In Acts 28 on the island of Malta, Paul prayed for and healed many people. This is evangelism though admittedly not expressed as such. Then he left. Again, no discipleship program.
Finally, we have Jesus. He went around preaching the Good News and healing people and He rarely stayed any place longer than a few days. One of the better examples of this is found in Mark 5. A man who had been possessed by many demons is freed. As Jesus is leaving the area at the request of the people, the man “begged” (word used in Mark 5:18 NIV) Jesus to let him follow. Jesus told him no. Definitely no discipleship.
It is just hard to use the word “abuse” in this context in light of the Biblical accounts we have. My whole view of discipleship changed upon the understanding and realization of how Jesus approached it, particularly in that last passage.
We are to help each other grow in Christ. We are to train and lead. We are to make disciples. Absolutely.
We should do both: evangelize and disciple.
We are also to tell the story of Christ and share His love. Sometimes, there will be no follow up program to plug people into. That does not mean it would be abuse to tell them anyway. Is it abuse to save a drowning person even if we have nothing else to give them? Or is it abuse to let them die?
I say we do both, but we make sure we are saving as many as we can, even if we have no way of following up in a givne circumstance.
What are your thoughts?