“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” - Matthew 28:19
Any Christian who remembers the 90’s knows it was the heyday of bizarre, evangelical fashion. If you were a teen, WWJD bracelets were all the rage. Left Behind and I Kissed Dating Goodbye were on everybody’s bookshelf, while an edgy Christian band called Switchfoot had just broken into mainstream radio. Even adults were getting into it, decorating their cars with silver fish ornaments and shiny bumper stickers that read, “Warning: In case of Rapture, this car will be unmanned”. There are few times (at least in my memory) when Christianity enjoyed such an unabashedly visible place in American culture.
Hindsight is 20/20 though, and no trend lasts forever. Most of these “bold” faith statements have long-since been abandoned, and not just because of cultural fatigue. A slogan on a bumper sticker will never help someone dealing with the loss of a family member. “What Would Jesus Do?” doesn’t always prepare you for life’s grey areas, and a tawdry novel about the apocalypse feels redundant in the face of real, world-changing problems. As creative as these religious fads were, they were interested in winning converts, not making disciples.
There is a sharp distinction between a convert and a disciple. Tyler Edwards, a pastor and frequent contributor to Relevant Magazine, has noted the differences between the two in a recent editorial. He writes,
“Converts are new believers. We all start as converts. Too often we stop there. We make Christianity all about what we believe. Converts aren’t bad or wrong. They are like babies. There’s nothing wrong with being a baby. The problem comes when that doesn’t change. When a baby acts like a baby, it’s cute. When a 35-year-old does, it’s sad. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:11, ‘When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.’”
Edwards continues to elaborate by explaining that while a convert may cheer Jesus from the sidelines, a disciple is someone willing to step onto the field and work for Christ. This can take a number of different shapes; getting involved at Church instead of just showing up, removing a negative influence from your life, perhaps even making the long walk towards repentance. A true disciple should never be satisfied with pithy mantras and accessories of faith. Rather, their belief in Christ should be at the core of their being, and flow from them in thought and deed. The Christian novelist Madeleine L’Engle once said,
“We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”
Each of us should ask ourselves, “Am I behaving more like a convert, or a disciple?” Are you sitting comfortably in the dark, watching the world go by without much care? Or are you shining a light so bright and beautiful, that when people turn towards it they see the love of God reflected in you?
*Ryan Duncan is an editor for Crosswalk.com