The Missing Link

I’ve been wrestling with a complex question for years that I’d like to share with you.

If we as Christians are supposed to be salt and light in the world (Matt 5:13,14), if we’ve been filled with the Holy Spirit and made alive in Christ (Eph 2:5), and we’ve been given “fullness in Christ” (Col 2:10), then why, especially in a nation where we have freedom of religion, is the church not flourishing and making a more significant impact on our society?

I hope this is a question you wrestle with, too.

I want to acknowledge that this isn’t what most people would classify as a missional topic. I suppose most people would classify it as a discipleship problem. I hope, though, that over the last year—and through the Missions Fest 2019 conference theme “Mission: Discipling”—we’ve shown that our primary mission as Christians is to make disciples (click HERE for past articles). However, when the process of making disciples is broken, we, as a community, need to suspend business as usual and get back to basics.

As I mentioned at the beginning, the question is complex.

Conversion vs Discipleship

Oswald Chambers wrote, “There is nothing easier than getting saved, because it is God’s sovereign work: ‘Look to Me and be saved…’ (Isaiah 45:22). Our Lord never requires the same conditions for discipleship that he requires for salvation. We are condemned to salvation through the Cross of Christ. But discipleship has an option with it: ‘If anyone…’ (Luke 14:26).”

I, and others, would suggest that one of the reasons that the Western Evangelical church is not making an impact proportional to the life of Christ in us, is that we’ve had the wrong focus. We’ve had a focus on making converts instead of making disciples. We’ve emphasized being saved from sin and hell as part of the conversion narrative, but then our story runs out of steam.

So, I thought I’d go into the community and ask some people who actively disciple others: What moves a person from being a convert to a disciple? Or, in other words, what makes the difference between someone who is a “Sunday morning Christian” and a person who is “sold-out for Christ”?

Travis Whims, General Director of Discipleship International

Travis reframed the question a bit by asking, “What is the difference between behaviour modification and transformation?” At the core, if we want to see someone “sold-out for Christ”, there has to be a change of heart. Travis disciples people and teaches them to do the same. In his experience, it’s often the case that people have never had a personal experience of God.

What has been transformative at Discipleship International are the moments when they do. These encounters often come about through simple spiritual disciplines that we often overlook in our busy world, such as prayer, Bible reading, Bible memorization, and daily time with God.

Steve Schroeder, President of the Christian Ministers Association

Steve suggested a couple of distinctions that we all need to consider. The first—and maybe most important—step is to distinguish whether we are “in by revelation or by attraction”. Many churches use(d) an “attractional” model to bring people into a community and give them a sense of belonging. However, at the end of the day, if people don’t have a revelation of Jesus’ love for them, and how the Father has made them daughters and sons, there will always be a disconnect between Sunday morning and the rest of the week.

Secondly, Steve suggested a question that needs to be asked up-front in the conversion narrative: “Are you willing to die to win?”

The atonement conversion story that many Evangelicals are familiar with often includes the words “sin”, “hell”, and “free grace”. We understand what we’re saved from, but not as many of us can articulate what we were saved to or its cost. Being saved to something is a question of identity. The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) starts with an identity question. The first question is “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Historically, it seems to be a fairly recent thing for us to forget our place in God’s redemptive story, and that needs to be recaptured.

Jase Lavigne, Director of the Omega Program at Summit Pacific College

When asked, Jase described sold out as “a desire for Jesus that overcomes every obstacle.” Among the top obstacles that he sees young people face is the lack of an intergenerational commitment to community in the church. Most churches have a generation gap that by default make the Youth Pastor the principle discipler and the only adult contact for youth. If they leave or have a moral fall, the repercussions can be severe. Alternatively, when an intergenerational community is nurtured—with mature saints mentoring younger saints—the experience enriches everyone, particularly if the discipling takes place outside of a formal classroom setting so that young people can see others living life, flaws and all.

Jase also shared a growing peace with discipleship being more like the disciples’ experience on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13). In that story, the disciples were journeying with Christ. They perceived him as a stranger, but over time they recognized who he was; the whole process was led by the Holy Spirit.

The answers from Travis, Steve, and Jase all hold pieces to our understanding of how to help people move from being a “Sunday morning Christian” to being “sold out for Christ”. Asking three different people meant three different answers, so we know the task is complex, but it has to be examined if we are going to see a renewal in the church.

In light of the complexity, it might be good to give the last word to John Stott. In his book Radical Discipleship, he says,

Decoration image for quotation

Our common way of avoiding radical discipleship is to be selective; choosing those areas in which commitments suits us and staying away from those areas in which it will be costly. But because Jesus is Lord, we have no right to pick and choose the areas in which we will submit to his authority.

John Stott

Holy Spirit, examine our hearts so we can fully live out the life of Christ in us.

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About the author

Profile photo for John Hall

In 1997 John Hall, his wife Wei, and brother in-law started Eco Outdoor Sports in Metro Vancouver. In 2003 the business was sold, and his family entered a seven-year ‘desert experience’. During that time the Lord impressed on John and his family the importance of hearing and obeying Jesus every day, something that he tries to integrate into everything he does. In 2010 God changed the family’s direction and led him to finish his degree at Regent College in preparation for life as a full-time missionary overseas. That ministry opportunity didn’t develop as planned, as a whole new perspective and participation-in Christ’s mission was born at Missions Fest Vancouver. It’s now a daily occurrence for John’s business background and theological training to get a workout.

John served as the Executive Director at Mission Central (formerly Missions Fest Vancouver) from 2014 to April 2023.

John and Wei live in Richmond, BC. They have two wonderful adult girls. John completed his MA at Regent College in 2010.

The Tapestry Church (Richmond, BC)

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