The nature of discipleship has become something of a hot-button topic in recent years in the Christian church. Growing up Southern Baptist, I have seen firsthand the struggle to balance evangelism—getting people out of the pew and down the aisle during the invitation—and discipleship—getting people out of the pew to follow God in their everyday lives. For many years the emphasis was almost exclusively on getting people to “make a decision to get saved”, to receive the forgiveness of Christ through His atoning death. Whatever it took, the priority was getting people down the aisle during the “altar call.”
Certainly the centrality of people’s need to repent of their sin and receive the forgiveness offered by Christ alone is unarguable within the context of biblical Christianity, but this was treated as the end of journey and not the beginning. There was need for a system of developing new converts into mature believers, that much was certain, but the implementation of such a system was woefully inadequate. Relying upon program after program, Southern Baptists fell into the trap of seeing discipleship as a Sunday or Wednesday night option instead of an everyday part of the Christian life.
Much of the damage from the programmed imitation of true discipleship comes from the fact that it so easily replaces genuine relationship with busywork. God is not impressed by our class attendance, nor is He moved by the number of evangelism program outlines we have memorized. He desires an intimate relationship with His children, one freed from legalistic barricades and programmed responses. This relationship, of Master and disciple, is a process that begins at the moment of conversion and continues until we meet Jesus face to face. We short-change ourselves when we seek the shortcut.
Why are we then so tempted by the pull of the quick and easy way? Because it is exactly that. Genuinely following Christ is not only difficult, it is impossible. Only through the power of the Holy Spirit that takes up residence in the heart of the believer at the moment of conversion do we have any hope of being a faithful follower of Christ. It is this total, constant dependence upon Christ which drives genuine discipleship. Programs are only the framework upon which everything hangs. They are not the foundation, and when they become such they prove to be shifting sand at best.