Share the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.
The phrase is usually attributed to St. Francis of Assisi and is often invoked by the timid Christian, the too-cool hipster Christian, and basically every Christian ever who is afraid of evangelism.
Ed Stetzer — president of LifeWay Research, speaking from the Q conference on Tuesday — said there are two problems with that statement: it’s not true, and Assisi never said it.
“We don’t want to separate those two because biblically we can’t, and statistically we don’t,” Stetzer said.
LifeWay recently completed a study looking at, among other things, the future of discipleship. The study examined eight attributes of discipleship: biblical engagement, obeying God and denying self, serving God and others, sharing Christ, exercising faith, seeking God, building relationships, and being unashamed.
The study showed how closely serving others is related to growth in discipleship.
“When [people] take spiritual formation spiritually, they take serving seriously,” Stetzer said.
Jesus served others, but Stetzer said we are surrounded by nominal Christians who use the name but don’t follow the example of the one they’re named after.
So what does real discipleship look like? And how do disciples really grow?
Stetzer said the study uncovered a “transformational sweet spot” at the center of Truth (clarity in what we believe as Christians), Posture (of humility and weakness), and Leadership.
Leadership plays a pretty central role, but leaders aren’t necessarily called to be pastors or given some sort of special gift of evangelism. Leaders are all of us who are take the Great Commission seriously.
“The Gospel is not ‘you do,’ it’s because of what Jesus did,” Stetzer said, adding that because of what he did, we are compelled to tell people.
The end result?
A person who has been discipled is 7.3 times more likely to disciple someone else. Living missionally means a multiplication of believers.
And multiplication of believers happens when we use our words in addition to our actions. People don’t understand the death and resurrection of Jesus just because you’re nice to them.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Sandi Villarreal is Associate Web Editor for Sojourners. Follow Sandi on Twitter @Sandi.