Week 5: Why our goal can’t be conversions

scenic Rwanda

Keeping Christ central

A weekly series from HOPE’s director of spiritual integration

Country: Rwanda
Population: 8,000,000
Days of widespread bloodshed: 100
Deaths: 1,117,000
Percentage of the country self-identifying as Christians: 93.6%

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. As I reflect on these statistics, I can’t help but question: How do people who know the Gospel and regularly attend church take up machetes against their brothers and sisters in Christ?

This question has haunted me over the years, and I sought an answer from HOPE’s country director for the Rwanda SCA program, Erisa Mutabazi. In addition to his duties with HOPE, Erisa has served as an ordained pastor in the Anglican Church for almost three decades. He shared:

An important movement called the East Africa Revival began in Rwanda in 1929. It spread to Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya during the 1930s and 1940s. The preachers’ message focused on the severity of sin and the need for individuals to confess their sins publicly. The revival contributed to the significant growth of the church in East Africa in the 1940s through the 1970s.

However, what is extremely perplexing is that genocide was possible in Rwanda with such a large “Christian” population. How could true followers of Jesus do this to one another? I have concluded that the idea of being a Christian at that time did not mean living as a disciple who was called to a completely new life in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).

This problem of conversions without discipleship is by no means unique to Rwanda. The country has come a long way in the past 20 years, and the local church has witnessed incredible stories of reconciliation through programs like HOPE’s savings and credit associations. But the fact that people often “convert” to Christianity without surrendering their lives to Christ compels HOPE to pursue nothing short of full discipleship in our spiritual integration efforts.

So what did Jesus say about what disciples should be and do?

  • First, a disciple in the first century was a fully committed “follower.” These followers learned their master’s teaching, method of ministry, and way of life. They imitated his thoughts, actions, and habits.
  • Second, in the Great Commission, Jesus called His disciples to teach others to obey everything He commanded. Conversion without commitment to total obedience is foreign to a true disciple of Christ.
  • And third, disciples go to others to help them find and follow Christ. Making disciples is not a spiritual gift or a call for the spiritually “elite.” It is not just for professional Christians or the highly educated. All disciples are called to multiply.

As the global community vows “never again” in places like Rwanda, I believe one way we can fulfill that promise is by fully embracing this call to become new creations in Christ. May we boldly choose Christ as our first identity—over nation, race, political party, or religious denomination. May we seek to make disciples in whatever calling He has given us. And may we choose each day to follow God’s call to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him (Matt. 16:24).

Matthew Rohrs

Matthew Rohrs

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Matthew Rohrs joined HOPE as director of spiritual integration in 2010. He counts it a privilege to help HOPE fulfill its core objective of honoring and obeying Christ in all aspects of its work.

4 responses to Week 5: Why our goal can’t be conversions

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    Cheering loudly for Hope as you answer Jesus’ call “Follow me” with Christ-Centered MF. Then, taking seriously that call in every corner of service on the globe.

  2. Avatar

    I work in Tanzania doing church planting as well as development work, a combination that sometimes gives me a different perspective in that I work with new churches as well as already grown churches. I think discipleship is one of the biggest struggles of the church in East Africa. There is a confusion between a disciple and church attendee with many churches measuring their spirituality by very shallow metrics that allows them to continuously focus on growing numbers without producing fruit. The challenge in development than becomes very serious as the church in East Africa is often seen as the field for development instead of as fellow development workers.

    The light that a mature Christian is supposed to be becomes much less when they are not expected to take on the holistic mission of the church, that of bringing peace to their communities as well as addressing the physical needs of those around them. Often the local churches focus on the spiritual needs, but expect a mission organization or an NGO to address the physical needs, something that to me shows a lack of discipleship in the churches.

    In that regard I am interested in your comment that HOPE, not a church but an organization, is pursuing full discipleship. How do you see discipleship and development integrating and how do you see HOPE integrating with the church in its proper role of disciplining church members?

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    I was in Rwanda when the country remembering the 20th anniversary of the genocide, it was really heartbreaking. I was also wondering how people in a ‘Christian’ nation killed each other like this, a neighbor rising up against his neighbor. I like the idea that discussed in the post, the problem of conversions without discipleship, and sadly it is the current reality. In Africa, the number of Evangelical/Pentecostal Christians is fast growing, but the continent has many problems including corruption, bad governance, etc. I agree with the post that the main problem is focusing only conversions but not making disciples as the word commands us.
    There are many Christian organizations which are working on evangelism, and I personally think that the church is well situated to evangelize and make disciples. Thus, any Christian organization working in development should partner and strengthen the church. Otherwise, we will be only numbers without any real influences on the world system.

  4. Avatar

    Truly a great reminder that we are not called to make converts, but we are called to ‘make disciples’. I think the North American church also needs to learn how to disciple better -not just the Church in the global South.

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