Why we shouldn't start discipling people when they trust Jesus

Let’s correct a misconception among church folk: we shouldn’t start discipling people when they trust Jesus.   

Church people tend to think that evangelism and discipleship are two steps in a linear process. Something like this:  

But the reality is that people are discipled well before they come to faith. Most often, people try out some aspect of Christian living before they put their faith in Christian doctrine. They start to attend worship services, or they go with a friend to a community group. Maybe they start to pray, not really knowing the one they pray to. Or they read the Bible for the first time. These are all rhythms of a disciple — prayer, scripture, community and worship. In the vast majority of conversion stories, people engage one of these aspects of Christian living before they ever surrender control of their life to God. Rather than evangelizing people to Jesus, what the church actually does it disciple people to Jesus.  

The other half of the above diagram is similarly inadequate. Proclamation of the gospel should not stop when faith starts. We never stop proclaiming the truth of the gospel because we never stop needing to hear it. I, as a pastor, need to hear the gospel, not so that I can be saved again, but so that I can die again. There are places in my heart where the gospel needs to be applied — places where I need to experience death and resurrection, places where I need to receive grace.  

Instead of two steps in a linear process, proclamation and discipleship are more like parallel lines. All of us — believing and unbelieving, mature and immature — need both. We need to hear the Jesus story (evangelism) and practice following him (discipleship) every day.