Being a disciple of Jesus is one of my greatest joys, but making disciples of Jesus is one of my deepest fears. In other words, I am a cross cultural worker who is scared of evangelism. God does have a sense of humor, doesn’t he?
When we were sent off to the field with the Great Commission ringing in our ears, I secretly assigned all of that disciple making business to my outgoing, theologian husband. I’m more of a behind-the-scenes kind of gal, I reasoned. Plus my medical training makes me better equipped for practical, hands-on kinds of ministries. I feel much more competent bandaging a festering wound than trying convince someone to become a Christian.
My fear of making disciples has roots in the harmful history of colonization and the political overtones of evangelism in the U.S. In addition, I’m insecure about my lack of preaching abilities and have a deep aversion to confrontation. I remember an experienced cross cultural worker once told me that hungry people don’t need to hear the gospel, they just need to be fed. That resonated with me as I felt called by Jesus to meet the practical needs of His people overseas. I figured God would bring someone else along to preach the gospel.
So imagine my surprise when my husband decided to use his COVID-supplied free time to write a Bible study series on evangelism! I tried to appear calm as he excitedly laid out his talking points. I was ashamed to tell him how terrifying this topic was to me. So, trying to be a good wife, I read his drafts and listened to his plans.
The first point that jumped off the page was that the Great Commission is more accurately translated not as “go and make disciples” but as “in your going, make disciples.” This is not a command to go and do something marvelous or heroic. This is advice to take your everyday life and infuse it with the good news of the gospel. Jesus spent much of his ministry meeting the felt needs of those around him. I can communicate his message by doing likewise.
So as I’m tending to the sick, I am pointing to the Great Physician. When I’m visiting a widow, I am sharing about God’s love for the least of these. As I pause to pray before a meal, I am bearing witness to the fact that all that I have comes from God. My disciple-making is not contingent on eloquent arguments or powerful words from a pulpit. Instead I can follow the wisdom of Leslie Newbigin, who said, “Live your life in such a way that people ask you questions to which the gospel is the answer.”
As I worked through my husband’s notes on evangelism, God began to redeem my understanding of this loaded word. I was still wrestling with these new realizations when I read the theme for this week: “Disciple.” And, to be honest, my first response was a flash of guilt. I can’t point to anyone that I’m actively discipling. Then came the excuses. Finally came the truth: I’m not making disciples because I’m not trying to make disciples.
I firmly believe that God’s love is communicated more clearly in actions rather than words. And I’m learning that I can be an evangelist by living a life of sacrifice and service like Jesus did. Yet, there is no getting around the fact that Jesus does call us all to make disciples and that at some point words are necessary to “give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).
Like Moses, I want to say “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent… I am slow of speech and tongue.… Please send someone else” (Exodus 4:10, 13). And I hear the Lord’s response to Moses ringing true even for me, “Who gave human beings their mouths?… Who gives them sight?… Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (Exodus 4:11-12).
These verses drove me to my knees, praying,
Oh Lord, please forgive me for running away from your calling to make disciples. Thank you for demystifying evangelism for me. Thank you for reminding me that even Moses felt inadequate. I praise you as the Creator God who knit me together in my mother’s womb and gave me the gift of speech. I trust you to supply me with the words that I need to point people to you. Please show me how to be a disciple maker as I go about my life today. Amen
Is the call to make disciples overwhelming for anyone else out there? How have you seen God use you to disciple others despite your weaknesses and fears?