Recently, I was asked to work with a congregation to improve their discipleship and evangelism processes. Almost instantly, I discovered a phenomenon that is present in many mainline congregations throughout the country: a division between discipleship and evangelism. The advice of the pastor was “I pray your good success.” What he was actually saying was “good luck.” I thought, “With this kind of division, it is impossible for them to make a kingdom impact among their membership and the community.
Therefore, go 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 everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age (Mt 28:19-20 CEB).
We know Matthew 28:19-20 as the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. For many, this passage is the compelling argument for establishing and growing the church since the day of Pentecost. Yet, over the course of time, American churches have somehow compartmentalized and divided the Great Commission into two separate ministries; discipleship and evangelism; but this is not what Jesus taught. By separating these two processes, a false sense of “reaching out” and “building up” has emerged. As a result, acute tension and competition between discipleship and evangelism is occurring in our churches. They should be considered two sides of the same coin or two elements of a single process. Said differently, if we are to make disciples of Jesus Christ, both processes must work together as a single unit or disciple making.
Going, baptizing, and teaching, is what Jesus commanded us to do with the end goal of making disciples. It seems our interpretation of Matthew 28:19-20 is not a single command but two separate commands. Churches see discipleship as teaching and evangelism as sharing the Good News toward making converts. The result is that a lot of teaching and witnessing takes place in our churches, but we are not making a lot of disciples. Jesus taught us how to make disciples with the calling of the Twelve and the subsequent three years of teaching before sending them out. Upon His ascension, he reiterated the command to make disciples until his second coming.
Linking Discipleship & Evangelism
So, what is the solution to this systemic problem? One method of resolving this age-old conflict is to link discipleship and evangelism together as Jesus taught and modeled. Evangelism should result in attracting converts, and converts should be trained to become disciples. Then, disciples should evangelize to reach more converts who are trained to become disciples. Therefore, evangelism leads to disciples and disciples evangelize until the Gospel is spread throughout the world. This is disciple making based on the Great Commission.
When possible, discipleship should follow evangelism. The end game of evangelism is the transformation of converts into becoming spiritually reborn. Once reborn, converts need to be taught by seasoned disciples in order to grow to maturity.
Thank you for taking the time to read.