Offensive vs. Defensive Discipleship

There is mammoth difference between offensive discipleship and defensive discipleship. And a leader’s approach reveals his theology about the heart of people.

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.

Adapted from Transformational Discipleship (B&H Publishing Group, 2012)