Dennis Pethers was drawn to
faith by reading the copy of Mere Christianity his boss gave him. He was
embarrassed to be reading a Christian book, but did it out of obligation to his
Pethers, now founder of
Viz-a-Viz Ministries in the United Kingdom and International Director of More
to Life, was one of six panelists in a question and answer session about
“missional discipleship” Nov. 8 in conjunction with the Baptist State
Convention of North Carolina (BSC) annual meeting.
“Missional discipleship is
not a new way of recruiting people for church. Missional discipleship is living
out the reality that the Son of God came to seek and to save the lost,” Pethers
For someone who had never in
his life thought about God in a country where only four to seven percent of
people attend church, believing in God was not easy. Pethers eventually came to
receive Jesus as Savior and better understands why so many people want nothing
to do with God or the church.
“We don’t present a credible
Christ,” he said. “We often present the completely wrong message.”
Christianity and the gospel become a set of rules or a recruitment campaign.
Alvin Reid, professor of
evangelism and student ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary,
began the discussion by fleshing out the term “missional discipleship.”
“Missional is an adjective,”
he said. “It is taking the posture of a missionary and living the life of a
Missional discipleship will not happen when believers see the
church as a building they go to. Believers must get out into the world,
investing in peoples’ lives and always being mindful of opportunities to share
Reid said disciples must
“confront the idols of our time” among which he numbered consumerism and sexuality.
Reid also said “there is a
crisis of manliness in our culture.” The church has been “neutered” Reid said,
and it values “virtues that are feminine” such as compassion, mercy, love and
kindness. Not many are championing qualities more typically associated with
maleness, such as risk, wisdom, boldness and discipline.
The answer may not be
explicitly spiritual, he said. Christians need to get a clue what’s happening
in the culture and be able to theologically, spiritually and biblically
confront those idols.
Nate Akin, Southeastern’s
student development liaison to the churches, put it this way: “Missionaries
create disciples, they don’t create converts. The gospel creates disciples.”
Akin said the church should be the primary means of accomplishing the Great
Commission and thus of making disciples. “Discipleship takes place best in
community,” he said.
One reason missional
discipleship is not part of the lifestyle of more believers is because families
do not take responsibility. “Discipleship begins at home,” said Winfield
Bevins, founding pastor of Church of the Outer Banks. “We have privatized
Christianity in North America; we need to walk together.”
Brian Upshaw, BSC church
ministry team leader, can relate. He shared during the panel that although he
grew up in a Christian home, he was raised in an “attractional, programmatic
church” that viewed attendance as the platform for making disciples. Now,
Upshaw is trying to do things differently. He is leading his family to reach
out to their neighbors and to begin a Bible study in their neighborhood, all in
an effort to share Christ and make disciples.
Missional discipleship is
not without challenges, one of the most prevalent being lots of church
While programs do not need to be tossed out and can be platforms for
evangelism and discipleship, “programs can replace personal responsibility for
discipleship,” Bevins said.
Bevins also said churches
often silo evangelism and discipleship and fail to realize the cost of either.
Whether time, money or inconvenience, “real discipleship will cost us
something,” he said.
begins with leadership. “We have to start in the mirror,” Reid said.
“An air of humility from
leaders would go a long way,” said Sean Cordell, pastor for preaching and mercy
ministries at Treasuring Christ Church in Raleigh.
Cordell said believers must
speak the truth in every opportunity they get.
“You must gospel with your mouth
every day,” he said. “When people see a beautiful Jesus, then they will want to
be like Him.”
Discipleship also requires
humility. Believers must never come to the point where they see themselves as
having any sense of entitlement. “We are only entitled to hell,” Reid said.
“Everything else is grace.”
Upshaw is being intentional
about sharing the gospel in his neighborhood, providing a “safe place” in his
home where neighbors can “ask some pretty scary questions about God.”
“I may be planting a church
in my neighborhood. I don’t know. But I am planting the gospel in my
neighborhood,” Shaw said.
Pethers said “membership”
will not be the way churches measure their success in the future. “If we
started a Baptist movement now, like we did centuries ago, our measurement
would not be about members … it would be something more meaningful, deeper. In
missional discipleship are we even about wanting to recruit more members or are
we about wanting to make more disciples?”