Winfield Bevins on Discipleship

I had the chance to chat with Winfield Bevins, author of the newly published Creed and Pastor of Church of the Outer Banks. As we look forward to discussing discipleship intently this next year I wanted to share some of his answers on questions I asked about the subject. Read and join the conversation.

1. How would you define discipleship?

Discipleship is the entire process of making disciples of Christ. Therefore, it is not a one time event in the life of a believer, rather it is the ongoing work of following Christ. In Growing True Disciples, researcher George Barna reports that the church in America is comprised of “many converts, but shockingly few disciples.”[1]  Therefore, it is imperative that we rediscover what a disciple of Jesus Christ actually is and is not.

2. Do you think the way that we define discipleship makes a difference?

Yes, I do think we need to be clear about what discipleship is and is not. For instance, some churches focus on evangelism at the expense of discipleship by seeking to win converts instead of making disciples, but the goal of evangelism is disciple making.  The Great Commission in Matthew chapter 28 is to make disciples who will follow Christ rather than simply win converts.  When Jesus said, “make disciples” the disciples understood it to mean more than simply getting someone to believe in Jesus and they interpreted it to mean that they should make out of others what Jesus made out of them.

The Great Commission compels Christians to focus on keeping people through discipleship as much as they focus on reaching people through evangelism.  With the rise of the modern evangelical movement in North America in the 20th century, came an over emphasis on evangelism at the expense of discipleship.  At the First International Consultation on Discipleship, John R.W. Stott called attention to the “strange and disturbing paradox” of the contemporary Christian situation.  He warned, “We have experienced enormous statistical growth without corresponding growth in discipleship.  God is not pleased with superficial discipleship.”[2] The church must once again make discipleship a priority for a new generation of believers.

3. How do think many contemporary definitions and models of discipleship differ from the understandings of the early church?

I think the early church had a much more robust understanding of discipleship and evangelism that we need to revisit. They were much more intentional about training new believers in basic Christian truth than we are. One of the ways we can do this is by rediscovering the lost art of catechesis of new believers. A catechism is the process of instructing believers both young and old in the basics of the Christian faith.  The Greek word for “instruct” or “teach” is katecheo from which we get our English word “catechize”.  Catechisms provide basic summaries of the church’s teachings to ensure that all members of the church understand the essentials of the faith for themselves.  Most catechisms generally have questions and answers accompanied by Biblical support and explanations. Ask the average pastor what they do to disciple new believers and their eyes will gloss over.

 4. In your book Creed you urge pastors and churches to reconsider the value of The Apostle’s Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, and The Ten Commandments for discipleship tools. Can you briefly state why you think these tools should be valued again for disciple-making

We need to rediscover the historic foundations of the Christian faith by revisiting the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments for the following reasons. The Apostles’ Creed addresses the doctrinal foundation; the Ten Commandments address the ethical foundation; and the Lord’s Prayer addresses the spiritual foundation. When the doctrinal, ethical, and spiritual dimensions are woven together, they offer us a balanced model for the Christian life. These three summarize the heart of Christianity and offer us a glimpse of the Christian faith as a whole.

5. Why do you think the church has moved away from the simplicity of these statements?

In short, I think the church has been too influenced by modernity. The more we focus on secondary and tertiary issues, the more we splinter and create new divisions. Think about it. There are nearly forty thousand different protestant denominations. That should tell us something.

See more in this series of Discipleship Interviews: Don Whitney’s Interview

[1] See George Barna, Growing True Disciples.

[2] John R.W. Stott, “Make Disciples, Not Just Converts: Evangelism without Discipleship Dispenses Cheap Grace.” Christianity Today, October 25, 1999 Vol. 43, No. 12, Page 28.

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