The topic of “conversion” has come up in conversation rather frequently lately. Generally in the context of ministry: As in, it’s our goal in ministry to bring people to Christ, to encounter Him and have a conversion experience.
In my experience, people don’t have conversion experiences by being immersed in doctrine. They don’t have conversion experiences because of a ritual. They don’t have a conversion experience while studying Scripture. People have conversions when they encounter Jesus. When they begin building a relationship with Him. People come to conversion through praying not reading.
Which begs the question, should we be teaching doctrine to the people who haven’t met Jesus? Should we be throwing people into rituals before they’ve built a relationship with Him? Should we skip the conversion and just hope that with enough scripture and doctrinal knowledge conversion will happen eventually?
That seems so backward. It’s a cart-before-the-horse approach to ministry. It doesn’t make sense. And it isn’t Scriptural either. In the Bible, the people immersed in Scripture, doctrine and ritual are the Pharisees. They’re the ones who’ve gotten it backwards. They’re the ones that Jesus says are missing the point.
Jesus’ ministry wasn’t about doctrine. He only taught doctrine when people asked for it. Jesus’ ministry was about LOVE. Jesus’ ministry was about LIFE-CHANGE. If we’re called to follow His example, shouldn’t are ministry be modeled after His?
But let’s throw out a logistical question: how do we know when to switch gears and start feeding people the doctrine, the Scripture, the ritual? Because that stuff IS IMPORTANT. How do we know when people have had that conversion experience?
“You can’t know that. It’s personal. Only God can know that.”
Really? That’s not what Scripture says. That’s not what JESUS says.
“By their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:16)
If they’ve encountered Christ, if they’re living in Him, they will bear much fruit. You should be able to look at their lives and SEE CHRIST. If they haven’t changed, if their life hasn’t changed…then their heart hasn’t changed. Then they haven’t truly encountered Christ. They don’t have a relationship with Him. They haven’t experienced conversion.
It is IMPOSSIBLE to know Christ and not be changed. And if HE is the one who is changing lives (not Scripture, not doctrine, not ritual), shouldn’t He come FIRST?
After people have encountered the WHO, then they’ll start asking the other questions: the WHY? WHAT? WHEN? HOW? And then, that’s when we bring out the cart. That’s when we dive into Scripture. That’s when we connect doctrine to their life.
The horse always comes first. Jesus always comes first.