When Southern Baptists hear the words “training union,” memories of the late nineteen sixties come to mind. During that time, “The normal Baptist formation tools were finding it difficult to succeed;” comments Molly T. Marshall, “Sunday School, Training Union and the missionary organizations were all scrambling for their existence and seeking new ways of forming disciples.”[i] The negatives of the training offset the positives by reducing discipleship to a class, a program, and a time slot. To this day, many training union participants have a misunderstanding of what discipleship really is.
These shortcomings birthed new approaches in the arena of discipleship. Two organizations emerged as frontrunners during the middle of the twentieth century: the Navigators and Campus Crusade for Christ, which was begun by Bill Bright.
Bill Bright envisioned a ministry reaching the lost through evangelistic events with the sole desire to disciple those responding to the message of Christ. Campus Crusade may have been the first to start, dating back to 1947. Early successes can be attributed to the partnerships with Dan Fuller and Billy Graham.2 The ministry was known as an “aggressively evangelistic movement, which places a strong, wholesome emphasis on the living Christ, the authority of the Scriptures, the importance of the Church, personal and group evangelism, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the adventure of Christian discipleship.”4 The impact of which is still seen on college campuses around the world today.
In the early fifties, Navigators was birthed in Colorado Springs, with the primary aim to make disciples. According to one of their authors, “The Navigators is an international, interdenominational, Christian organization. Jesus Christ gave His followers a Great Commission in Matt. 28:19, ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.’ The primary aim of the Navigators is to help fulfill that commission by making disciples and developing disciple makers in every nation.”[ii] In 1976 Bright wrote the forward to a foundational work on discipleship entitled, A Guidebook to Discipleship. He commented, “Campus Crusade for Christ International believes that the awakening of the first century will be duplicated in our time through the Church, the Body of Christ, under the direction and control of the Holy Spirit, as Christians win people to Christ, build them in the faith, and send them out into a ministry of discipleship. Though our ministry is best known as a ministry that emphasizes evangelism, far more emphasis is placed on discipleship.”[iii] Leading men and women to Christ is important, but evangelism without discipleship produces unequipped, immature believers.
Some would put the burden on seminaries to equip men and women for future ministry. However, creating a disciple-making movement requires more than classroom lectures or passed proficiency tests. Don’t get me wrong: I am thankful for my seminary experience. As a believer one year removed from a drug and alcohol addiction, I left the school with a big-picture view of pastoral ministry. Unfortunately, one class that was not taught, and sorely needed, was disciple-making. Although the concept was discussed every now and again, most students graduated without a comprehensive strategy for making disciples in the local church. One seminary professor lamented, “Graduating seminarians don’t seem to know how to minister to people in such a way as to help them really live the Christian life.”[iv]
Discipleship has unfortunately been overshadowed by evangelism, even though the two practices are to work in tandem with one another. Evangelism and discipleship are two oars attached to one boat. With only one oar in the water, you will go in a circle. Both oars are necessary to reach your destination. Both are essential to carrying out the Great Commission.
In other words, the Gospel is received through evangelism and lived out through discipleship. Evangelism without discipleship will end when the evangelist dies. Likewise, discipleship without evangelism will cease when the disciple-maker dies. A friend of mine says, “If our churches are not evangelistic, then our discipleship process has not been holistic.”[v] True disciples make disciples, and disciples cannot be made without evangelism. It is a “both/and” rather than an “either/or” proposition.
Discipleship has been cast aside because the results, compared to evangelistic efforts, are hard to measure. The time investment is long and the work is arduous. “The task of building disciples takes longer, is more demanding, and is harder to publicize and sell. People are more impressed with statistics on evangelism than with those on disciple building. It’s more dramatic to have a baby than to care for a child. But the former is tragic without the later.”[vi] You can’t microwave a disciple. Discipleship is a crockpot recipe. It takes time for spiritual growth to take root.
One of the main issues we face is the vast number of pastors whom have never been discipled. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to take someone on a journey you haven’t been on. The church is for disciple-making and disciple-making is for the world. It’s time we stop making excuses and start making disciples.
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[i]Molly T. Marshall, “The Changing Face of Baptist Discipleship,” Review and Expositor vol. 101 (2004), 70.
2Bill Bright, Revolution Now (San Bernadino: Campus Crusade For Christ, 1970), 195.
4Ibid., 197. Bright is referring to the Universal Church.
[ii]Francis Cosgrove, Essentials Of New Life (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1978), i.
[iii]Doug Hartman and Doug Southerland, A Guide-book to Discipleship (Irvine, CA.: Harvest House Publishers, 1976), Foreword.
[iv]Carl Wilson, With Christ in the School of Disciple Building (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2009), 37.
[v]Twitter, 9:27 AM. (Accessed 19 Jan 2013), @derwinlgray.