Conversion is not the touchdown, it’s the kickoff
The other day I sat down with a college student for lunch. During the conversation, he asked some great questions about being a follower of Jesus. After hearing these questions, I then proceeded to ask him when he gave his life to Christ. He grew up in the Bible belt (Arkansas, specifically) so he had a very similar story to many of the students in our ministry. He gave his life to Christ during his student ministry days, but since giving his life to Christ there has not been much fruit. Stagnant. Void of growth.
I see this problem time and time again with many students who come through our college ministry. The story is like a broken record and goes like this: I was saved at a young age, grew up in the church, attended every Sunday, but I haven’t really grown since then. For whatever reason, it seems we have boiled salvation down to a decision instead of casting the vision for what it truly means to be a lifelong disciple-maker for Jesus. Upon sharing the gospel with every student, I tell them this: Salvation is not the finish line, it’s the starting line. I want them to know that following Jesus is a lifelong decision. It’s a one-time decision with lifelong implications for their life.
J.T. English, in his book Deep Discipleship says it another way: “Conversion is not the touchdown, it’s the kickoff. It’s the beginning of the game.”
The conversation I had with this student was heartbreaking but a good reminder to press on in the ministry Jesus has assigned every single one of us—to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18–20). This student didn’t know how to read his Bible, had never been discipled, but desired these things. The solution to this problem is not more programs, shallow Bible studies or events, but deep discipleship.
I shared with him that day a tool we use in our ministry called “The Life of a Disciple.” The simple tool is an easy, reproducible diagram that can be drawn out wherever you are. All you need is a pen and something to write on. We say a disciple is a devoted follower of Jesus, who is becoming more like him, meeting with mature believers and multiplying one’s life. There are four important parts to this definition.
Level 1 – A devoted follower of Jesus
Level 2 – Becoming more like Jesus
Level 3 – Meeting with mature believers
Level 4 – Multiplying one’s life
As I drew this on a napkin in the middle of the food court, it also happened to be the season of Life Group Leader applications in our ministry. He so desperately wanted to apply, but we both knew he wasn’t quite ready. He even questioned if he was being disobedient by not applying. I told him that day that to make disciples, you first must be discipled. Having walked through his salvation story, he was clearly on Level 2. He needed to begin reading the Bible, praying and practicing the spiritual disciplines we see in Scripture.
Towards the top of the napkin, I wrote spring 2023. He then asked what that meant, and I told him that in spring 2023 I want to see a Life Group Leader Application with his name on it. Now we are working toward that. The process has started. Students in our ministry are seeking him out to disciple him with the intention that he’ll be a disciple who makes disciples by next year.
There must be a lifelong vision for lifelong disciples. If our ministries only serve as destination points and not launching pads, we’re doing ministry wrong. Our goal as leaders should be to make disciples who will go on to make disciples in college, in their new families and in local churches. God desires to see lifelong success in his disciples.
In your ministry, what is your vision for college students? What do you hope is true about them by the time they leave your ministry/local church? Answering questions like this about the future impacts ministries today. If you don’t know where to start, I encourage you to begin praying for direction from the Lord on this. His Word is clear: Jesus has called his disciples to be lifelong disciple-makers. So, how does that look in your context? What must take place to make this happen?
As I think about the potential of this student, it excites me and energizes me as I join Jesus in his mission. I know it can happen because it’s taking place right now. I think about another student in our ministry who came in as a freshman four years ago with the hope of making a name for himself on our college campus. He wanted success, popularity and fame. Well, he got all those things, but it did not come how he expected. This freshman got invited to church by some of our students in the first week of school. He came, heard the gospel, and had questions.
A few weeks later, this young man sat across a table from us in a coffee shop and gave his life to Christ. What a joyous moment that was, but there’s an even greater joy today as I see what God has done in his life. He applied to be a Life Group Leader in the spring semester of his freshmen year and began to lead. He did a great job forming community among his friends and investing in them. Fast-forward then to his junior year and God began to call him into full-time ministry. After seeing God’s hand on his life in so many special ways, he finally surrendered. He later got hired at our church as an intern and began to grow into God’s calling on his life.
Now, he’s about to graduate and begin his first full-time ministry job. That’s what deep discipleship can do. It starts with a vision, Jesus’s vision. A lifelong vision to make lifelong disciples. God’s people are called to make disciples. Our God is a God on mission and God’s people should be a people on mission. Go make disciples, better yet, go make lifelong disciples.
This article originally appeared on CampusMinistry.org and is reposted here by permission.