Evangelism + Discipleship = True Church Growth

We thank God for the 16th century Reformation which produced the Protestant Church. It was like the long overdue rain that sent much needed refreshment to the sin-sick, parched souls throughout the European soil. Churches and small cell groups soon sprouted everywhere. As the Protestant movement grew and multiplied in the 16th and 17th centuries, it became apparent that the Protestant Churches as a whole were beset by the same plight that plagued the Roman Catholic Church. Such was the condition of the Church of England in the early eighteenth-century. However God raised men like Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley and George Whitefield to revive His Church throughout England, Europe and North America. Jonathan Edwards was known for his theology that deepened the quality of the revival. George Whitefield was remembered for his transatlantic evangelism.

However it was John Wesley who pioneered the new structures of ministry that would extend the revival’s impact by making disciples out of the new converts. His idea was based on this principle: The church changes the world not by making converts but by making disciples. In order to preserve the fruit of revival and transform society, the church must move beyond making converts and give its attention to bringing converts to maturity. I believe this is still a need in our churches today. Hull in The Disciple-Making Pastor, writes, “I maintain that the evangelical church is weak, self-indulgent, and superficial.” His observation is that while the churches are filling up with spectators, they are emptying out of disciples. In other words, today’s churches may be having ‘quantity’ at the expense of ‘quality’.

What kind of quality are we looking for? Wagner, in Your Church Can Grow, writes: “Bringing a person to accept Christ … is important as one of the means toward making a disciple. But if the person does not eventually make a commitment to the Body of Christ, usually validated by baptism and church membership, there is little to suppose that a disciple has been made.” I contend that the commitment to church membership must be the kind that we see in the early Church: “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (ESV Acts 2: 41, 42, 47).

A disciple is one who is committed to growing in the Word; caring and sharing with one another; worshipping God with joyful reverence and reaching out to the world with the gospel of Christ. This is the kind of disciple that our Lord wants. And it is only by the true kind of grace that will produce true disciples.

In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, and grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate … Costly grace is the Gospel which must be sought again and again. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

Let us with honesty and humility examine ourselves and where necessary make that costly change and commitment to be a true disciple and to make disciples for our Lord Jesus Christ.

Pastor Mark Tay