Evangelism vs Discipleship

There is an ongoing conflict among churches and pastors that puts evangelism in one corner and discipleship in the other. Typically when people think of evangelism they think of conversations or events that may result in non believers turning into believers. This is true. Typically when people think of discipleship they think of helping people grow and mature in their faith. This is only partially true. There are churches, often known as “seeker” churches, that cater everything they do toward attracting non believers or “seekers”. I attended a mega-church in Ohio for a few months (I only lived there for 4 months) that would be classified as a “seeker” church. Everything they do; decorations, welcome crew, coffee/drink bar, music (including recognizable secular songs), production, sermon length/depth, etc; was catered toward nonbelievers. Their goal was to provide a place that non christians would feel welcome with the hope that those that came would meet Jesus while they were there. There are other churches, that don’t really have a name, that focus everything they do on what is typically known as discipleship. They sing the old fashioned hymns because of the deep truth that’s contained in them. They have sermons that go deeper into the word (maybe even the original hebrew and greek!). The goal of these churches is to provide a place that believers can grow and deepen their already existing faith in Jesus. What is the focus of each of these churches? On the surface it seems that these churches are focused on two different missions. You may have even identified which of those two churches you would prefer to attend as you read. The first one is focused on evangelism, whereas the second is focused on discipleship. RIght? Well, kind of.

In actuality, both of these churches are focused on the same thing. They are both focused on making disciples or discipleship, or at least one aspect of discipleship.

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father, and of the son, ​and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.”
Matthew 28:18-20

As an act of making disciples, we are instructed to BAPTIZE people.

The command to “baptize” implies the act of EVANGELISM followed by CONVERSION.

This passage is known as The Great Commission. When Jesus tells his disciples to “make disciples”, he is giving them a mission that will consume the rest of their lives. The overarching command to followers of Jesus is to “make disciples.” After giving the overarching mission, Jesus gives two components of that mission. In this post we will look at the first one.

“...baptizing them in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit…”

The command to “baptize” implies the preceding act of evangelism that resulted in conversion. Baptism can’t happen without conversion. Conversion likely won’t happen without evangelism. Evangelism is the act of telling others about Jesus and what he has done for us (the Gospel).

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?
And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?
​And how are they to hear without someone preaching…”

Romans 10:13-14

The point here is that without someone taking the message of the gospel to those who don’t believe they will not be saved. If they are not saved they will not be baptized, thus we have failed the call to make disciples. The command to baptize indicates that evangelism is a necessary component of discipleship. They cannot be separated from one another.

A great example of this comes in Acts 8:26-40. This passage gives an account of a believer, Phillip, taking an opportunity to preach the gospel to an unbeliever.
Phillip is one of the believers who have been scattered throughout the region due to what Saul was doing to the church. However, being scattered did not mean being “shut up.” or “lying low”. Acts 8:1 says that “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word” there’s very little emphasis here and is easily overlooked by the events that follow. The fact that is easily overlooked, though, almost adds to how mind blowing it is. Think of it this way. These believers were moving about, finding new places to live and settle and others were going from place to place, yet wherever they went, they went about preaching. Wherever they went the gospel went with them. Maybe this is just a passing statement because it really should go without saying that wherever a believer goes the gospel goes with them. Wherever I go as a believer the gospel, the message of salvation, should be  prominent on my mind and on my mouth. This is what is driving Phillip as he goes from place to place. He is allowing the Holy Spirit guide him and he is following in obedience to share this message with those he encounters. As he is going about he encounters an Ethiopian Eunuch that happens to be reading Isaiah, but has absolutely no understanding of what he is reading. Phillip takes the opportunity to tell the Ethiopian how this all connects to Jesus (The Gospel). We don’t know all of the details of the conversation, but we do know that Philip preached the Gospel to the Ethiopian and the Ethiopian responded positively. The culmination of this entire interaction comes when the Ethiopian is baptized. Philip preached the gospel. The Ethiopian believed and was baptized. Evangelism lead to conversion which lead to baptism.

Evangelism is a necessary component of discipleship. They are not two competing ideas. They are inseparable from one another. Here are a couple additional take aways for us as we try to follow Jesus’s command to “make disciples.”

  1. Like Phillip, be open to opportunities
  2. Like Phillip, be prepared with the Gospel.
  3. Take a few minutes to write down some names of people that you could share the gospel with. What has prevented you from doing so up to this point? Pray for opportunities and be ready when opportunity arrives.

If you feel like you need a better understanding of what the Gospel is; check out this ( https://www.amazon.com/What-Gospel-9Marks-Greg-Gilbert/dp/1433515008/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491998822&sr=8-1&keywords=what+is+the+gospel ) book by Greg Gilbert called What is the Gospel?