Deciders and Disciples

These guys were disciples. We’re called to be, too.

Continuing through Richard Stearns’ Unfinished, he next distinguishes between deciders and disciples. It’s a distinction that I think it is fair to say Anabaptists have been making for 500 years, but it is amazing to watch as more and more people brought up in decider traditions – like many who are the target audience of this book – realize that it just isn’t enough.

Most of the Western Church has reduced Christianity to a religion for deciders, especially in the evangelical variants with ideas like the Sinner’s Prayer. Deciders are those who have intellectually assented to some idea. The specific idea will vary from church to church: sometimes saying that Jesus is God, sometimes expressing a penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement, sometimes things even more peripheral like a 6-day creation and voting in a certain way. But the common thread is that it is a matter of intellectual assent and generally stopping there with little or no influence on daily life.

Stearns points to Scripture where this idea of faith being only intellectual is very foreign. If we dare to reduce being a Christian to simply become deciders, we have to ignore pretty much the entire Bible. Faith is always treated as a fully relational way of life in Scripture. Jesus’ call is simpler but far more challenging at the same time: “Follow me.” That’s a disciple: one who follows Jesus. We may look more like Jesus on some days than on others. We will inevitably stumble, but we always strive to stumble forward in the direction that Jesus leads us.

Using the same analogy used throughout the Bible of discipleship as marriage, Stearns says this:

A marriage is built on thousands upon thousands of daily expressions of love and sacrifices made for the ones whom we love. In strong marriages we reorder our entire lives around the desires and expectations of our spouses. Everything changes. We can’t just say “I do” and then do whatever we please. Can we put ourselves first, be unfaithful whenever we want, spend our time and our money to suit our whims, ignore the deepest desires of our spouses, and still claim that we have fulfilled our wedding vows? Of course not. Neither can we say “I do” to Jesus and then live our lives ignoring his desire for obedience and service. There are dramatic and serious implications to saying “I do” to our spouses, and there are dramatic and serious implications to saying “I do” to the Lord of the universe. It is not enough to be simply a decider; Jesus wants disciples.

Stearns, Richard (2013-04-30). Unfinished: Believing Is Only the Beginning (p. 59). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

To reference Stearns’ previous book (which I haven’t read), settling for deciders creates a hole in our Gospel. After all, didn’t Jesus define the Gospel in terms of the Kingdom come? His teachings and life made it pretty clear what kinds of things this Kingdom would mean: the slaves are set free, the poor are cared for, the sick are healed, the transgressors (all of us) are forgiven, and religion is made redundant at best or counterproductive at worst, just to name a few.

In the next chapter of Unfinished, Stearns goes on to summarize the implications of choosing to live as part of God’s Kingdom in three points: submitting to God’s Rule in Our Lives, Forming Communities Governed by God’s Values, and Going into the World as God’s Ambassadors. That is a great summary as well in that it hits on the main three dimensions that we should be working. We must make sure we work inwardly, that we ourselves are following the ways of Jesus, not just saying the right things. Part of this is banding together as a community, helping each other along the way. Individualized faith was never an option for Jesus or the earliest Christians, or really for pretty much anybody until the Protestant Reformation threw the baby of community out with the bathwater of the corrupt institution.

Finally, this life-giving invitation is for everybody. Part of the Kingdom by definition is its openness to everybody. There is nobody not good enough, nobody excluded from the invitation. So get out there and show the world what God’s Kingdom looks like. That’s an important point for evangelism, since the difference between deciders and disciples starts there. If your evangelism is simply “say this prayer and you’re good,” where there is no call to discipleship and no demonstration of discipleship, it is no wonder that the person becomes (at best) a decider. But show them the Kingdom, invite them into that radical life, and even if they do not begin a walk of discipleship they will have encountered God in a living way that is not possible with the propositional decider approach to faith.

Note: the book has become fairly redundant – necessarily so for most of its readership – so I’m not sure how many more posts I’ll be doing. It could be that I reduce all of the remaining chapters into one post.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.