I often think back to my college years. Those years were the most formative years for me in my own walk with Jesus. I had become a Christian in the spring of my senior year of high school, so I went into college with a deep desire to grow and be discipled. And praise the Lord because what I longed for, He provided for me.
I was thinking about some of my students recently and was reminded again of my own discipleship journey in college as I thought about how to be most effective in theirs. I was asking this question, “what is the best context for discipleship?”. Where should discipleship take place if we want to be the most effective? And as I looked back at my own growth, I came up with 2 answers: Evangelism & the Local Church.
When I reflect on my own discipleship track, I don’t really remember the discipleship groups, or many of the one-on-one meetings with W.C. Garrett (the man who discipled me in college). What I do remember though are the times that he invited me into his evangelistic conversations or challenged me to share my faith. What I do remember are the opportunities to be engaged in the life of the Local Church. Getting to be around believers from every background: socio-economically, culturally, racially, and generationally who were passionately pursuing Jesus in front of me. That’s what I remember most.
I believe in the fiber of my being that these 2 contexts are the best for catalyzing the often-slow marathon of discipleship. Our problem is we tend to neglect these contexts in our discipleship/leadership pipelines if we’re looking at college ministry as a whole. Our context is our small groups, our college gathering, or maybe some leadership training meeting every month (all of which are necessary and good for discipleship). We need to ground our discipleship back in the local Church and especially in discipleship.
So, why do I believe in Evangelism as a necessary context for discipleship?
First, evangelism reveals to us our need for God. There’s nothing more humbling to the Christian than sharing the Gospel with someone and them not getting it. All of us have story after story of a person not responding the way we wanted to a Gospel presentation. It drives us to fall on our knees and cry out to God to show up!
Because unless God removes the veil from their eyes that blinds them from seeing the beauty of the Gospel (2 Cor. 4:3-4), they will remain unaware of their need for Jesus. I remember multiple times in my own discipleship where I was invited into a conversation with a lost student and was driven to pray afterward! Disciples need to see their need for prayer, and I believe evangelism drives us to it.
Secondly, evangelism reveals our need for deeper understanding and knowledge of Scripture. I am often reminded in my evangelistic conversations of the fact that I don’t know as much as I think I do. Evangelism drives the disciple to spend more time with God in His Word to better understand it! But not just that, it drives us to memorize God’s Word more. To hide it in our hearts.
Thirdly, evangelism reveals our pride. This goes along with our first point. But I believe that evangelism exposes the areas of our lives where we’re trusting in our charisma, our tools, or our giftings other than the Lord. I’ve recognized in my own life as I’ve sought to share the Gospel, I can lean on my own understanding rather than the Gospel that’s sufficient to save the sinner.
Lastly, evangelism opens up opportunities for developmental conversations. I remember many times in college when after sharing the Gospel with a student, W.C. would talk to me afterwards about areas I could grow, ways I could be developed in my Gospel presentation, my testimony, etc. Those were so formative for me and God has used it in my ministry now when I get opportunities with a disciple to share Christ with a lost student.
Now, I feel like all of us would agree that evangelism isn’t enough, our disciples need the local Church! JT English in his book Deep Discipleship says it best, “churchless discipleship is purposeless discipleship”. If our students graduate from our ministries without a deep love and conviction for the local Church in their lives, then we have desperately failed them. There’s nothing I lament more as a college minister than hearing a student graduating and not connected to a local Church post-grad. And that’s a common story probably for all of us. Here are some truths:
The local Church is necessary for discipleship because it’s God’s plan A for His mission, and there is no plan B.
The local Church is necessary for discipleship because our disciples need diverse voices speaking into their lives and living out the Gospel in front of them. Not just ours. They need to see 70-year-old men and women worshipping Jesus.
They need to see minority men and women and hear their voices/stories. They need to see Godly marriages, husbands who love their wives and vice-versa.
The local Church is necessary for discipleship because it is all they will have post-grad. They won’t have a college ministry to spoon feed them.
The local Church is necessary for discipleship because discipleship is a community project, and that community is the local Church. It doesn’t just happen in coffee shops and living rooms, it happens also in the sanctuary with God’s Word is sung, prayed, and preached, and is displayed through communion and baptism. Our disciples need a place to belong and the Church needs to be that place.
The local Church is necessary for discipleship because it offers opportunities for development and growth through the various opportunities to serve. As our disciples get opportunities to serve, regardless of the ministry, they are developed as leaders and laborers.
So, as you think through your discipleship pathway or pipeline, is evangelism and active involvement in the life of the local church your MAIN contexts for discipleship? If not, I would argue that you’re missing a great opportunity for deep discipleship and enhanced equipping.