What Forced Conversion and Poor Discipleship Have in Common

The Second Half of the Great Commission

If the Orang Rimba’s government or the missionaries to the Dayak hoped to make converts simply by telling them what they should believe, they are in for a huge disappointment. Yet the American church faces a similar risk.

If we educate our congregations or converts by only engaging them on an intellectual level, we’ll likely see a disconnect between what we teach and fruit borne in their lives. In this scenario, scriptural truth is not moving from their heads (intellectual education) to their hearts (values that are lived out).

The root problem is discipleship. Teaching people to obey everything that Jesus commanded is different from teaching people everything Jesus commanded. Teaching about Jesus’ commands increases people’s knowledge about God and Christian life, while teaching them to obey equips them to live out the Christian life.

Increasing knowledge does not always translate into daily obedience. Teaching obedience requires an example lived out. It requires time, and effort, and, at times, hard correction—all things that are best accomplished through deep-seated discipleship that goes beyond a momentary encounter.

The solution is not to stop engaging people’s mental capacity. However, if we want to see true, contagious life-change occur in our congregations, we must engage their hearts through meaningful discipleship.

Matters of the Heart

Heart engagement occurs through life being lived out one-on-one, which is a significant time investment. It can’t be relegated to a Sunday sermon series, otherwise people will be just like the Rimba, who only hear Islamic teaching when they attend a mosque, then generally stay true to life as they have always known it.

Even the Dayaks—many of who genuinely believed the gospel they received—had limited contact with early missionaries because of the vast geography of their native island. In both cases, without someone to model the message they chose, the Dayak and the Rimba fell back to their heart-led practices. In the same way, if we desire for the people we reach at home and abroad to live out their faith, the application of that faith must be effectively transmitted.

The idea of a remote tribe being practically forced to accept Islam is shocking to our western minds. The fruit of years of Christian missionary labors being marred by syncretism saddens us. Let us not make the same mistakes by assuming what comes out of our mouths is always sufficient for sustained heart transformation.

Praise God that he is able to bring others to salvation in spite of our mistakes. But let us also walk in obedience to the Great Commission, teaching discipling them to obey Christ with all their hearts.

This article originally appeared here.

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Dr. Thomas Kay served in US churches fifteen years before moving overseas. He now teaches at a seminary in Indonesia. He loves equipping young pastors for success in church planting and exploring their island with his wife, Amy, and their three children.

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