The phrase make disciples, not converts is popping up around the world in magazines, blogs, books, and academic journals as if it’s a great revelation even though Jesus clearly commanded us to make disciples.1 So what’s all the fuss? Is there a substantial difference between a convert and a disciple? It has been said that converts are just new believers. … they aren’t bad or wrong. They are like babies and there’s nothing wrong with being a baby.
This statement is true – The problem is when a convert—a baby Christian—never grows up to be a disciple—an adult Christian.
As Christians, we seem to miss part of Matthew 28:18-20. We go and make converts, we may even baptize them, but then we don’t teach them to obey Jesus. We don’t continue on in relationship with our baby Christians, raising them up to adulthood.3
“Just as babies need parent figures to actively, intentionally prepare them throughout childhood for adult maturity and responsibility, so also God has placed us in a spiritual family for parallel purposes. In both our physical and spiritual families, God intends family members to engage in open, two-way, give-and-take relationships.”4
The discipleship we’re called to, as Jesus modeled, is “intentional, relational, and transparent. Yes, discipleship involves teaching. But it’s much more. It’s about you inviting (or being invited) to share your life. It means you teaching someone what Scripture says about loving his or her spouse, then inviting the person into your home to show them what it looks like.”5
A pervasive lack of intentional disciple-making creates a church full of people who have “heard and accepted the message of Jesus saves, but somehow missed that Jesus has something to say about how we live every day.”6
They completely miss the goal of discipleship: “to produce accurate copies of Jesus. We must be making the kind of disciples that Jesus Himself produced.”7
And we can’t just lecture our converts into disciples. Just like the physical process of growing up, growing up spiritually takes time, effort, and relationship. I’m not an adult just because I know how to tie my shoes or because I can make mac ‘n cheese without burning down my house or because I follow the law while I’m driving. In the same way, “many Christians think they’re spiritually mature because they know Bible stories and facts or understand correct doctrine. Some Christians even think they are mature because they follow rules or have the ability to teach. But if a person can’t resolve issues to learn to work together in unity with other believers, or if he’s not known for great love for others, then the Bible is clear that the person isn’t truly spiritually mature.”8
One key difference between physical and spiritual maturity, however, is the fact that we never really “arrive” at complete spiritual maturity. “Maturity does not mean that we have no more to learn, or that somehow we are complete and have no need of continual relationship and growth in our lives—that never ends. …
However, there comes a time when we are able to invest in others. Even if we are only one step ahead of a person, we can still lead them as we progress.”9
Catch that? Each of us has the ability to make disciples even as we are still growing up ourselves!
31 Corinthians 13:11
4Powell, Frank. “Make Disciples, Not Converts: What Christians Get Wrong About Discipleship,” Frank Powell: Restoring Culture Through Christ, Accessed March 16, 2018. http://frankpowell.me/disciples-converts-christians-wrong.
5Putman, Jim. The Power of Together. Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2016, 9.
6Putman, Jim. Power of Together, 21.
7Putman, Jim. Power of Together, 52.
8Putman, Jim. Power of Together, 48-49.
9Putman, Jim. The Power of Together Workbook. Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2017), 13.