Before Jesus ascended into Heaven, he gave Christ followers the command to “make disciples.”(Matthew 28:19-20) He stated that His command was based upon the fact that He possessed all authority in Heaven and on Earth.(Matthew 28:18) Yet, when one examines the decline in conversions and church members in Southern Baptist churches, it is apparent that we as a denomination are not being obedient to the command to “make disciples” in the Great Commission. In this post, I offer five major reasons why we do not make disciples.
- We don’t love God. Jesus told His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”(John 14:15 ESV) He is not implying that we will live a life of perfection here, but He refers to the overall posture or trajectory of our lives. We turn from loving ourselves to loving Christ. We turn from loving our sin, including sins of omission, to loving Christ. If we encounter someone who repeatedly sins in a particular area and never repents of that sin, we would say that the individual does not show evidence of repentance and is probably not a disciple; however, the willful refusal to make disciples is a sin of omission against Christ. Can we claim to love and follow Jesus and yet willfully disobey His command to make disciples in light of John 14:15? If we love God, we will make disciples.
- We don’t love people. Paul states that the love of Christ compels him to share the gospel of reconciliation as an ambassador of Christ.(2 Corinthians 5:11-20) This love refers both to his love for Jesus and to his love for people who don’t know Christ. When Jesus encounters the leper in the Gospel of Mark, His love moves Him to touch and heal the man.(Mark 1:40-45) The Good Samaritan’s love moves him to act and save the man left wounded on the side of the road.(Luke 10:33-34) Can we say we love our neighbor and not share the gospel with him/her? Can we say we love people and not seek to lead them to Jesus? If we love people, we will make disciples.
- We don’t think sharing the gospel is essential for salvation. A recent poll states that 92% of evangelicals believe that people are saved only through Jesus Christ; however, another survey of Protestant church attenders indicates that 48% of Protestants believe that people can obtain eternal life by sincerely following other religions apart from Christianity. Do we really believe that disciples sharing the gospel and making disciples is the only way people will come to saving faith in Christ? Do we think people can find God through other religions as long as they are sincere? Do we think people will receive the gospel apart from the church pursuing the Great Commission by seeking to make disciples? If we believe in the exclusivity of Christ and the need to share the gospel verbally, we will make disciples.
- We don’t share the gospel because we are afraid. Some self-professed Christ followers do not share the gospel because they are afraid of rejection by the unchurched. They might also fear losing a relationship if they share the gospel. It is significant that Jesus’ last words in the Great Commission are, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”(Matthew 28:20 ESV) Christ promises His presence to allay our fears. We can also take encouragement from the evidence of how the Holy Spirit empowered and emboldened early Christians, sending them out to witness boldly.(Acts 4:31) Do we really believe that the Holy Spirit will empower our witness of the gospel? Do we believe in His ability to bring the spiritually dead to life? If we believe in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, we will be bold witnesses of the gospel.
- We don’t share the gospel because we do not feel sufficiently equipped. Another reason some people who claim the name of Christ do not share the gospel is they feel they lack training or knowledge to share with people. First, we must remember our role in sharing Christ. We are called to be witnesses who give testimony regarding Jesus and how He changed our lives.(Acts 1:8) We are also called to know God’s Word and the content of the gospel so that we can share God’s Word. Paul told Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”(2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV) We do need to rely on Scripture and the content of the gospel found in Scripture in order to make disciples. Regular intake of Scripture will help to equip us for making disciples. Do we really believe that our role is to be witnesses? Do we really believe that the gospel of Scripture can change lives? If we believe in the power of the gospel and the Word of God, we will use Scripture to make disciples.
None of the 5 reasons for not making disciples listed above sufficiently excuses us from disobeying the Great Commission. If we take sins of omission as seriously as we take sins of commission, our hearts should break over our failure to obey Jesus’ command to “make disciples.” So I ask us, do we love God? Do we love people? Do we believe the gospel is essential to salvation? Do we trust the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in sharing the gospel? Do we believe in the power of the gospel and the Word of God? If we answer “Yes” to these questions, we will make disciples.
Dr. Tim McKnight is Assistant Professor of Missions and Youth Ministry at Anderson University. He has over 21 years of experience in ministry, serving churches in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, North Carolina, and South Carolina. He served in youth ministry for 12 years and in the pastorate for 9 years. In addition, Dr. McKnight served as an infantry chaplain in the U.S. Army, deploying on Operations Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom in 2001. He holds a BS in Criminal Justice from Bluefield College, and a M.Div. and PhD from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. His primary field of study for the Ph.D. was in evangelism, with additional studies in missions and church history. He has also co-founded Carolina Family Planning Centers and founded Twin Vision Consultants, a church consultation team that helps congregations become healthy and growing churches. He has also served as a disaster relief chaplain in multiple settings in recent years, including in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake and Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina.