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Making Disciples Is Different from Gathering Converts

By Zac Poonen

The great commission the Lord gave us was “to evangelise” (Mark 16:15) and then “to make them into disciples and teach them to do everything He commanded” (Matthew 28:19, 20). Consider an illustration: If you saw 100 people carrying a log of wood, with 99 of them holding up one end of the log and only one at the other end – at which end would you go to help? Today, in many lands, 99% of Christian workers are engaged in evangelism and 1% in making converts into disciples and building them into a local church. That was why I decided to help at the 1% – end of the log. I am not against those at the other end of the log. They are needed too. But there are already many people there.

“I want to build with gold, silver and precious stones. I want to do a quality-work for the Lord now.”

Paul and Apollos worked together, and their converts were for the Lord and their churches were also for the Lord. Paul planted and Apollos watered, but God was the one who gave the growth. So all the glory should go to God. Paul says about himself and Apollos, “We are nobodies. We are nothing” (1 Cor. 3:7). That’s why they could work together harmoniously. Two nobodies can work together easily. It is when one of them thinks that he is a somebody, that problems arise.

If you ever build a local church anywhere, let me give you a suggestion from seeing the Lord plant churches in India and elsewhere for 40 years: Be a nobody yourself first and make all your converts into “nobody” s. Then you will build a wonderful church – where there is cooperation and no competition. A church where everyone, from leader down to the newest convert, is just a zero, will be the best church in the world. They may all be zeros, but when you put Jesus in front of them all – He being a “1” will make even a church with 9 people worth a billion – 1,000,000,000!! So determine that you will never become a somebody, but always a nobody, like Paul and Apollos were.

Then Paul goes on to say about laying a foundation and building on it. Both foundation and superstructure are equally important. Paul first used the illustration of growing a tree – planting and watering. Now he uses the picture of a building – foundation and superstructure (1 Cor. 3:10–12). The foundation of the church is Christ alone – His perfect atoning work on the cross, with none of our works added to it. But then we must know how to build an eternal structure on this foundation. What sort of a church are you building? Is it one that is impressive in size or in quality? The question every Christian worker must answer is this: Shall I seek for quantity or quality? We can build with gold, silver and precious stones, or with wood, hay and straw (1 Cor. 3:12). In the final day, it will be quality that matters, not quantity (1 Cor. 3:13, 14).

With the same amount of money, you could buy a lot more of wood, hay and straw than of gold, silver and precious stones. So if you are interested in building something huge that impresses people now, you would choose wood, hay and straw. But if you knew that the fire would test your building as soon as it is completed, you would choose to build with something that can endure the fire like gold, silver and precious stones – even if your building would be only 1% in size compared to the former. We all have a limited amount of time. We don’t have thousands of years to live. We may have 60 years to live for the Lord after we are born again. How will you spend those 60 years? Will you spend it building something big, but of poor quality, that will be burnt up in the final day? Or will you build something that will last a testing by the severest fires – even if it be small?

Many believers build churches that are large in size but poor in quality. But a few build wisely – building smaller churches of good quality – preaching repentance and discipleship. The statistics of the latter are not as impressive as that of the former. But one day when the Lord tests everything in the fire, the huge structures of wood, hay and straw will be burnt up completely and nothing will be left. But the small structures built by those who spent all their life making disciples and who were despised by other Christians because their work was not so big, will find that their structure comes through the fire and endures for eternity.

So how are you going to spend your life? Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Are you producing something that will last forever? That’s the question that must always be on our minds. Am I building the way God wants me to build – with the principles that Jesus taught? Am I making disciples who love Jesus more than anything else or am I just gathering converts who only say, “Lord Jesus, I believe in You,” but are not interested in becoming disciples? Think of the regret you will have when you stand before the Lord, if your entire life’s work will be burnt up on that day. You may be saved and go to heaven, but you will live in heaven with regret throughout eternity that you wasted the one earthly life that God gave you. I don’t want to have that regret. I want to build with gold, silver and precious stones. I want to do a quality-work for the Lord now.

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