Discipleship: Defensive and/or Offensive

Greg Strand – June 2, 2015 Leave a comment

The gospel is the key message of and about Jesus. It is the message with which he began his ministry (Mk. 1:15). Evangelism and Discipleship, rooted in the gospel, are the focus of Jesus’ final command given to His disciples (Matt. 28:19-20). Christians refer to this as the Great Commission (there are other similar Great Commission texts, cf. Lk. 24:45-49; Jn. 20:21; Acts 1:8).

Since the time of Jesus giving this command, the church has been grounded in the gospel and committed to follow through with Jesus’ command to make disciples by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). This is also true of the EFCA. Our commitment to these truths are embedded in our EFCA Bylaws. It has been reiterated over the years. It is emphasized again in our vision statement.

But it is vital for these truths, this gospel message and command given by Jesus, to be more than just a statement made in Bylaws or a motto on a placard. It also ought to be implemented and applied in and through the life and ministries of the local church.

In this day in which we face some incredible changes in our society, do we engage in gospel-grounded disciplemaking and the discipleship process defensively or offensively? The inevitable challenge is to capitulate or accommodate to culture and the world, which means the church is being conformed to the world (Rom. 12:2). The other challenge is to separate, to insulate, to pull away from culture and the world, and to be concerned to protect self with little concern for those outside, which means the church is not being salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16).

We are in the world, but not to be of the world (Jn. 17). We are not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed (Rom. 12:1-2). We are salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16).  

In an adaption from his book, Transformational Discipleship, Eric Geiger writes of the difference between offensive and defensive discipleship. Please note the emphasis is on the gospel and the heart change and transformation the Holy Spirit brings about in our lives through the gospel. This is our critical call and goal of the church of Jesus Christ. 

Defensive discipleship plays to not lose the hearts of people to the world because defensive discipleship believes the hearts of people are pure. Consequently defensive discipleship focuses primarily on protecting people from influences in the world, from anything that could corrupt the perceived purity of the heart. Defensive discipleship strategy is prevalent and ranges from teaching people to isolate themselves from the culture to constantly alerting people of the influences they should avoid. 

While defensive discipleship may sound appealing to some, it is theologically inaccurate. Our hearts are not pure in need of protection; they are wicked in need of transformation.

We are sinful from birth, sinful from the time we are conceived. We are born diseased and tainted with sin. We don’t always prefer to be reminded or to remind others of this truth. No sane and loving person looks at a baby and says, “Aw—congratulations on your brand-new seven pound ball of sin. I brought you a stroller so you can roll that sin baby around.” But it is true.

Defensive discipleship monitors behavior and plays defense. Sadly time reveals that the tweaked behavior was never grounded in a transformed heart.

Offensive discipleship is different. It seeks primarily not to protect people from the world but to empower believers to overcome the world. Offensive discipleship understands the power of the gospel, trusts the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, and knows that if Jesus brings His transformation, obedience will be the joyful result.

Certainly offensive discipleship includes some protecting as the apostle Paul warned about wolves threatening to hurt sheep, but protection is not the end goal— heart change is the goal.

How do you approach gospel-grounded discipleship? Do you see it more defensively or offensively? How does this impact/influence your disciplemaking ministry?

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

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