Our Discipleship Problem Is Actually a Gospel Problem

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by Matt Dabbs and Bobby Harrington

What is the gospel?

Why aren’t more Christians making disciples?

The answers to these two questions are inextricably linked.

Our definition of the gospel will affect if and how we make mature disciples who can make more disciples. Here are two ways having a misinformed definition of the gospel leads to poor or non-existent disciple making.

First, if we define the gospel too loosely, some people might conclude that discipleship entails anything and everything related to Jesus.

For example, some might define making disciples as feeding the homeless.

Others might think a Bible class only results in making disciples or being involved in small groups is all that’s involved in making disciples.

Some might believe the gospel is just about having one’s sins forgiven, so their disciple making would focus solely on getting people’s sins forgiven. But defining the gospel narrowly in this way results in conversion-focused discipleship rather than discipleship that is truly about trusting and following Jesus right here and right now.

If we each define the gospel in whatever way we want, then we can reasonably conclude our disciple-making will result in weak and misinformed disciples. If we don’t define the good news properly, chances are we won’t help anyone move closer to it.

Second, overcomplicating the gospel is easy.

Thousands of books have been written on various aspects of the good news, and many of us love learning new perspectives. But our love for learning can lead to a complicated message, and complicated messages are rarely clear.

If we aren’t careful, we can develop such a nuanced gospel that no one can communicate or understand it. Such a gospel won’t do much saving at all.

Since the Bible itself is pretty specific about what the gospel entails, let’s go straight to the source, to the New Testament, to discover a clearer definition of the term. Throughout Scripture, we can clearly see specifics about the problems we face and how an unsullied gospel makes the good news truly good.

Take a look at Mark 1:14–15, for example, and how Jesus concisely sums up the gospel. We should also examine the sermons in Acts where the gospel was preached (Acts 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 10, 13, etc.), in addition to looking at 1 Corinthians 15:1–8, Romans 1:16–17, etc.

Last, we must make the gospel practical.

As we imitate what Jesus did in the New Testament, as we engage those outside of the church in conversation, as we share firsthand how the gospel has made us completely different, then we will connect the gospel to life.

The gospel has placed our lives on a different trajectory than we would have been had someone not shared the wonderful good news with us. The more we connect with non-believers and share the gospel, the more our gospel will become simple and practical.

And then we will see the fruit of that simplicity result in disciples who trust and follow Jesus!

So let me ask it again: What is the gospel and why aren’t more Christians making disciples?

Here are three books that we recommend to you—they have been helpful to us as we work through these questions:

  1. “The King Jesus Gospel” by Scot McKnight
  2. “Conversion and Discipleship” by Bill Hull
  3. “The Discipleship Gospel” by Bill Hull & Ben Sobels
  4. “The Gospel Precisely” by Matthew Bates

All of this can be summed up with what Dallas Willard once said: “The gospel you preach will determine the disciple you get.” Let’s work on achieving both clarity in the gospel and clarity on how it relates to the practice of disciple making.

As a result, we will honor Jesus.

As we finish out 2021, we are re-airing the top ten podcasts from the Discipleship.org “Disciple Maker’s Podcast.” If you missed these or need to hear them again, here are numbers nine and ten!

#10 – S8E63: Build Strong Discipling Relationships With Your Children to Overcome Sexual Impurity and Pornography (Dr. Marcus De Carvalho, M.D.)
#9 – S8E64: Surrendering to God in Discipling Relationships (Shodankeh Johnson, David Clayton, and Mandisa)

Thank you for listening!

By Matt Dabbs and Bobby Harrington for the Discipleship.org team

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