Discipleship: The New Evangelism

The Roman Road. FAITH. Four Spiritual Laws. The bridge illustration. These are all names of good, useful tools for evangelism, and I’m sure you can add to the list. The goal of each is to introduce someone to a relationship with Jesus Christ in a simple, straight-forward way. And they have worked well. Really, really, well. The question is not whether or not they have worked, but are these the best models for evangelism in today’s culture?

It’s worth asking the question because things, they are a-changin’. The postmodern mindset is one of exploration, journeying, and mystery. It craves depth in all aspects of life, whether in relationships, experiences, or faith. So given that is true, is there a new way to be engaging in evangelism that connects specifically to a mindset like this?

It’s also worth asking the question because back when we were doing the research project that would eventually lead to the formation of Threads, (the company I work for), a question was asked to those both inside and outside of churches, both believers and non-believers. The question was simple but has big implications. The question was about depth in Bible study and whether it was appealing or not.

Now before we talk about the answer, consider some of the assumptions that led to the seeker-sensitive model of church that was visible throughout the country just 20 years ago. The assumption was that people needed to be introduced to the concept of faith at a church. So any attempt to go too deep would inevitably scare people off. They were, after all, just “seekers”—those coming to try out religion and faith and see what it’s all about. The goal was simply to get them to come back again and then eventually move them from that introductory phase into a real discipleship phase. That, too, was effective. At least it was then.

But now? The answer to the little question revealed that an overwhelming number of believers wanted depth in their times of study. It showed a dissatisfaction with easy and pat answers, and a desire to really study and wrestle with God’s word and its implications for life. The surprising thing was that the number of non-Christian respondents was nearly identical to the number of Christian respondents in terms of who wanted that depth. Both non-Christians and Christians wanted depth in Bible study.

Really?

Really.

I think that means a lot of things. I think it means that people are out there looking for real answers, not easy ones. I think people want to see that men and women of faith struggle with questions, too, and I think it means people are looking for a belief system that actually has something to say. I think it also means, however, that people are looking for a belief system that demands something. They’re looking for something challenging. They’re looking for something that will engage their whole person—body, mind, and spirit. I think they’re saying that they don’t want Christians to try and “back-door” the gospel to them; say what it is, and be upfront about it. It’s a complete life commitment, and something worth giving your whole life toward.

That sounds a lot like discipleship to me. Could it be that evangelism and discipleship are trending together in the future? That’s not to minimize the need for the moment of truth, when a person steps from being an unbeliever to believer, because there is still the profound need for that. But maybe it does beg the question as to whether we need to have “seeker-sensitive” worship experiences and classes, or is the best evangelism to show people the gospel lived out and engaged in worship and study?

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7 Comments

  • Very good post! Discipleship and the need/desire for it, is a fast growing topic. I have set Google to alert me everytime the word discipleship shows up – in fact, that’s how I found you. Every single day I sift through plenty of discussion regarding this subject – it is clear that God’s people are hungry for more than a”feel good time” on Sunday mornings.

    Discipleship… it’s a way of life!

  • Michael K. says:

    Thanks for reading, Adam. I agree – both inside and outside the church. Seems like even those who aren’t God’s people want more than a feel good time.

  • Megs says:

    My goodness – this correlates so much with what i wrote here this week. i *heart* affirmation.

    And PS – i got to see Jon Acuff speak this morning . . . and his presentation had a lot of the same elements. i also *heart* seeing God work!

  • andy says:

    i think more than people want something real (instead of the 4 spiritual laws that seems like if you pray them you automatically get to heaven) they need something real. im not sure that God created us to be satisfied with the shallow. i mean i look at jacob wrestling with God, and david, psalms is so full of all his questions and struggles and need for real confidence, joy and fulfillment.

    a pamphlet can’t love, serve, laugh and cry with people like those of us who are created in the image of God can. and evangelism merging with discipleship is headed that way. i think thats great.

  • Michael K. says:

    I think so too, Andy. For a long time, we’ve tried to “formulize” God, which in my opinion, is another way we try to remake God in our own image.

    For all the good formulas do, it can be argued that they seek to take the mystery out of God, to simplify what should be complex, and to make easy that which is supposed to be wrestled with.

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