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Words of Life

Keeping First Things First

By James L. Garlow and David Barton July 21, 2019 Words of Life

Jesus said… “Go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:18-20, NIV 

The last mandate Jesus gave His followers while on earth is called the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) – to go and make disciples of all people. To “disciple” is to engage in the process of teaching, training, preparing, and equipping. For centuries, this was the primary objective for Christians, whether individually or collectively. 

In the early twentieth-century, the Church’s traditional understanding of this Great Commission shifted from discipleship to evangelism. Mass crusades therefore became common, such as those led by Billy Sunday, a professional baseball player who came to Christ and worked to evangelize others. In that period was introduced what became known as the Sinner’s Prayer – a simple prayer to ask Jesus into a person’s life. The prayer became an easy way to count converts and know who had been reached in the services. But becoming a convert is only a starting point, not an arrival destination; yet for many churches today, making converts has become almost the singular focus of their ministry. This is not the Great Commission as defined by Jesus.

The change from making disciples to making converts resulted in the Church shifting from qualitative measurements (that is, measuring how spiritually mature and individual became) to quantitative measurements (counting the quantity, or numbers, of those who said the prayer or did something else measurable). Because quantitative numbers now drive so many church operations, Sunday and Wednesday night services are largely a thing of the past because the number of those attending such services are so much lower. But if the objective were discipleship, we would take every opportunity to teach, train, and disciple individuals regardless of how small a crowd might be. (Some churches are proactive in discipleship, but most are not or are producing “Christians” whose core beliefs and thinking are hardly different from that in the culture at large.) 

If the church still followed the Great Commission (that is, if we taught others what Jesus specifically taught His disciples), it would be addressing what Jesus addressed, which definitely includes current issues. After all, Jesus taught against no-fault divorce and on God’s definition of marriage (Matthew 19); the economic principles of profit, reward, and taxation (Matthew 25); employer/employee relationships and contracts (Matthew 20); and the right to face your accuser (John 8, which became a central feature of civil court procedures in the western hemisphere). Pastors today certainly ought to be teaching what Jesus taught. 

Jesus was focused on discipleship – on changing the thinking paradigm of His followers. Discipleship is usually a slow, difficult, laborious, and even uncomfortable process. Nevertheless, Jesus spent more time instructing His handful of close followers then He did the massive crowds, and it was the highly trained qualitative group that change the world, not the larger quantitative group. 

As the statistics have shown, very few Christians today are truly His disciples – few live by Jesus’ teachings, and even fewer read or study His word. Converts may be getting their “fire insurance,” so to speak (that is, getting their spiritual ticket punched for Heaven rather than Hell), but they are not transforming the world and its culture, which is the objective of true Christianity. What is needed today are more disciples.


David Barton appears this Tuesday and Thursday on LIFE TODAY. This is an excerpt from This Precarious Moment: 6 Urgent Steps That Will Save You, Your Family, and Our Country by James L. Garlow and David Barton. Copyright ©2019 by James L. Garlow and David Barton. Published by Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing. Used by permission.

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