Often I hear the debate on whether discipleship or evangelism is more important. Typically the argument is between people who have differing gifts. For example, those who evangelize naturally believe that evangelism is highly beneficial. Yet, those who excel in one-on-one connections will argue that discipleship is the key form of growth. I want to settle this dispute by giving a Biblical basis to both discipleship and evangelism. There is no need for debate when we follow the model that scripture so clearly portrays.
How do discipleship and evangelism differ? How are they similar? Discipleship and evangelism are both Biblical concepts. They differ because they focus on different levels of spiritual growth. Both discipleship and evangelism spread the Gospel of Christ. Evangelism is typically used with unbelievers, while discipleship is used for both unbelievers and the development of believers.
First, we will be looking at discipleship. Then, evangelism. This is so we can understand both concepts fully. We will be able to clearly see the differences and similarities. We also will uncover the fruitfulness of both tactics. In addition, we will see if one tactic works best and what scripture says about both of them.
Christianity began through discipleship. When Jesus first came to earth and began His ministry, He did so through discipleship. He became a Rabbi to a group of 12 particular men. There were additional disciples who followed him, some of whom were women. Jesus spoke and taught as many as would listen. He taught crowds, within the synagogue, and within houses.
Yet, not all who listened were disciples. The true disciples were the ones who physically followed Jesus. Many of the disciples walked alongside Jesus. For others, who did not walk with Him during His three years of ministry, they were marked as disciples because they obeyed what He commanded.
The interesting thing about Jesus’ discipleship, was that His disciples didn’t even know who they were following. Initially, they did not recognize that Jesus was the Messiah. In fact, after they recognized Jesus as Messiah, they had to set aside their preconceived notions to recognize Jesus as God.
Furthermore, followers of Jesus weren’t recognized because they were called Christians. They were called Christians because they were disciples. In many churches today, we believe we are Christians merely because we believe in Jesus. However, if we are to truly follow the example of scripture, we must first be disciples to even be considered Christian.
Jesus’ model shows us that discipleship can be preliminary conversion. Discipleship is not dependent on whether or not someone is a believer. Rather, discipleship occurs so that people can become believers. Discipleship is a close and lengthy process. Jesus lived with His 12 disciples. He did His everyday life with them. Whether that was eating and preparing meals, working, traveling, praying, and spending leisure time.
Additionally, discipleship is persistent. Jesus had extreme patience with His disciples. So often, we neglect the fact that Jesus’ disciples didn’t know who they were walking with until later on. Today, having scripture and explanation of Jesus, it is easy to question how the disciples were so ignorant. Yet, we must remember that Jesus was showing them exactly who He was. When they were first called, they did not know all that Jesus was or would become for them.
What We Learn From Jesus’ Discipleship
Therefore, disciples are not required to first be believers. Discipleship is marked by one individual teaching other individuals. This is precisely what Jesus did. Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God and repentance. He taught scriptures and expanded on concepts to prepare the people for the New Covenant.
Once the disciples believed and accepted Jesus as Messiah, Savior, and God, the discipleship continued. Discipleship didn’t end just because the disciples were “saved”. The disciples discovered the purpose of Jesus and continued to learn about it. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus came back to further this discipleship. Before Jesus ascended, He made sure that His disciples had all that they needed to continue in the faith and to be productive to bring others into it.
Jesus was not content that His followers were simply saved. He cared greatly of eternity, yet that was not the end-all. Jesus desired that His followers be bold and equipped to produce fruit in this life that would last all the way until the next.
How We Respond to Jesus’ Discipleship
As an individual believer and as a church as a whole, believers have the responsibility to disciple as Jesus did. First, this requires current “Christians” to really access if they are what the New Testament would consider “Christians”. Recall that Christians got their name because they were disciples.
All “Christians” should ask themselves, “Do I simply believe in Christ, or do I actually live as He did?” As seen in the New Testament, true Christians are those who are obedient to Jesus’ teachings. Before discipleship can occur on another level, the first level of believers must be correctly aligned with God’s design.
Once a believer can confidently express that he or she is following and striving to follow Jesus’ commands, then that individual is a disciple. This disciple can then become a disciple-maker. Because disciples don’t have to be converts initially, discipleship can look different than some may assume.
Practical Example of Discipleship
In the Middle East, there is a massive discipleship movement. The tactic of Christians in this area is to first find people who are willing to learn and form a relationship.
Then, the believers in the area form a relationship with non-believing individuals. This disciple-maker does life for a while with the disciples. He or she teaching them the values and teachings of Jesus. Any other type of ministry can occur in this setting. Prayer, deliverance, healing, and other spiritual gifts are used.
After the disciple shows that he or she is open to any of this, the disciple-maker can move deeper. Eventually, many of the disciples become converted. After conversion, the disciple-maker teaches the disciple all that is left to know.
The disciple is then equipped to replicate this process with other people. The original disciple-maker may still connect with the first disciple to continue training, edification, and encouragement.
To learn more about the discipleship process refer to my blog, “How Discipleship Works for Disciples and Disciplers”.
Christian principles should always be backed by scriptural examples. This is why I have provided a few of the key verses about discipleship in the New Testament. This shows that discipleship was an early command and that it was the original intention for believers. Furthermore, these verses show us how discipleship continued after Jesus’ ascension.
|“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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”||Matthew 28:19-20|
|To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”||John 8:31-32|
|“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”||John 13:34-35|
|“Then He called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.”||Mark 8:34|
|“and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year, Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”||Acts 11:26|
Evangelism is similar to discipleship because it involves interaction with non-believers. Typically, evangelism is categorized by an expression of faith from a Christian to another individual. Evangelism can include preaching, teaching, and conversation.
Evangelism is often broad in focus because it serves to reach multitudes of people over the course of a year or even a day. The main focus is presenting the gospel in such a way that people will receive Christ. Evangelism is a short term ministry. Evangelists don’t typically remain in one area for a long period of time. It can either be impersonal or very personal and direct.
The main difference between evangelism compared to discipleship is that discipleship is a longer process. Evangelism only meets a person once or twice, whereas, discipleship continues the meeting and ministry for days, weeks, months, and even years.
How Evangelism Works
When evangelism is done on a person-to-person basis, it begins with a conversation. This conversation begins in much of the same way that a disciple-maker would begin a conversation. The beginning of the conversation does not have to initially be of faith. Once the conversation is naturally brought to an appropriate place to share, the evangelist will use the opportunity.
The goal of the evangelist is to tell unbelievers about the good news of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, evangelists want the conversation to open up for discussion about sin, Jesus’ sacrifice and love, His death, and resurrection. Then, the evangelist prompts the individual for action. The evangelist wants the individual to accept Jesus into his or her life.
Usually, this is done through prayer and a declaration of faith. The evangelist may give a couple follow up steps, such as continuing prayer and following Jesus’ example. However, for some people, they are so new to the faith that they do not have the resources to continue on their own.
At other times, evangelism is used to slowly open up an individual to the gospel. It may begin with a simple conversation. Evangelists may ask to pray over an individual. Or, they may give a prophetic word, a word of knowledge, or simply some encouragement.
Evangelists don’t always spread this gospel. This is known as “planting seeds.” The philosophy is that over time, the seed will grow within the person, either from another person watering it or from the person’s own decision to look more into Christianity.
Was Jesus an Evangelist?
We know that Jesus was a disciple-maker. The gospels show this clearly, especially because the term “disciples” was used to explain Jesus’ followers. However, does scripture ever mention Jesus as an evangelist? If Jesus wasn’t an evangelist, why would that gift be added to the early church and the current church?
Jesus was, in fact, an evangelist. Jesus often spoke in front of large crowds, preaching the Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 4:17 explains, “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Jesus preached repentance to large numbers of people. Only a few of these people followed. Others left after difficult teachings.
Additionally, Jesus ministered to unbelievers who were also Gentiles. Jesus evangelized to the Samaritan woman at the well. He began a conversation with her and then shifted it to talk about faith. Then, Jesus told the woman personal facts about herself. This is compared to a believer receiving a word of knowledge for someone.
John 4:10 portrays, “Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and he would have given you living water.”
Jesus also evangelized to Zacheus, the woman caught in adultery, and Nicodemus. He did many miracles to portray the Kingdom of God throughout the Middle East. Jesus traveled to many towns and households to use the miraculous as an example of His Kingdom and His gospel to come.
Why Evangelism is Important
Evangelism is important because it is an initial way to meet and impact people with the gospel. At times, one individual cannot disciple numerous people at one time. However, this person can live an evangelistic lifestyle and reach people no matter where they are.
For example, those who take an evangelistic approach to life can spread the gospel and plant seeds while going to the grocery store, picking up children from school, getting coffee, or any other activity.
After evangelizing, if the individual wants to grow in the Lord, the evangelist can connect that individual with other local churches or believers in his or her area. That way, the new convert can be discipled. This type of evangelism is important because all people need to hear the gospel. It is beneficial because more people are hearing the gospel.
If Christians only share the gospel with those they can disciple long term, the gospel won’t spread as fast. If all a believer can do at the moment is to share a word of the Lord to a person, it is still better than not sharing at all.
Additionally, evangelism is a great tool to open up discipleship. Evangelism can be recognized as the first step of discipleship. Evangelizing in the location that you currently reside will allow you to disciple whoever you reach out to, considering that you aren’t already discipling many other individuals.
If you are discipling numerous people, you can connect the people you reach out to with your local church. Then, your local church and its members can pour into these individuals.
How Evangelism Can be Ineffective
Despite the numerous benefits of evangelism, it can also be ineffective. Evangelism isn’t ineffective because it is a faulty tactic. In fact, it is only ineffective when it is done incorrectly or the circumstances aren’t ideal. If believers follow the model above, evangelism is extremely beneficial for both the spread of the Kingdom of God and the transformation of people living in darkness.
Evangelism is ineffective when:
- It becomes more about a conversion prayer than an actual lifestyle of obedience to the teachings of Christ.
- It is not followed up by some type of discipleship.
- Conversion is viewed as a “get out of jail free card” that focuses more on escaping hell than living for Christ.
- The gospel is not properly taught considering cultural and social barriers.
- Christians preach a message then live a lifestyle that actually causes harm to the area, culture, or people group they are around.
- Christians aren’t aware of how their own cultural tendencies and worldviews affect other people and their way of life.
- The gospel is shifted to be like Western culture, rather than a Biblical model.
- A message of hate is preached.
- There is a lack of love and compassion.
- Evangelists view themselves are higher than other people.
- There are hypocrisy and hidden sin in the evangelistic life.
- Evangelism is more focused on the evangelist than the work of the Lord and the people who need saving.
Scripture teaches that evangelism is a spiritual gift. This gift is to be used for the edification of the Body and the work of the Lord in the world. Furthermore, we see early believers functioning as evangelists in a time when the church was rapidly spreading.
|“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors, and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”||Ephesians 4:11-13|
|“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”||2 Timothy 4:5|
|“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”||1 Peter 3:15-16|
|“Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven.”||Acts 21:8|
The Main Differences
By taking a closer look, evangelism and discipleship aren’t as similar as one may think. Although the over purpose to glorify God and spread the news of Christ is the same, the tactic and strategy behind them are different. The following list will help you recognize the main differences if you are still seeking to understand them.
- Discipleship involves a long term interaction with another individual, whereas evangelism is short term.
- Discipleship is much more relational and personal. Evangelism can be personal, but not to the extent of discipleship.
- Evangelism is a means that leads to discipleship. Discipleship is the overall goal.
- Evangelism may lead to initial faith in Christ or conversion. Discipleship develops faith.
The Main Similarities
In addition to the differences, there are many similarities. Despite the similarities, it is helpful to know that either tactic should not replace the other. It is common for Christians to focus heavily on one strategy and completely neglect the latter. The Bible makes it clear that the similarities aren’t great enough to overlap the two. Both discipleship and evangelism should continue.
- Both are Biblical. Jesus functioned in both ways.
- The apostles, disciples, and early Christians took part in evangelism and discipleship.
- Discipleship and evangelism can be easily replicated and reproduced.
- People who are new to the faith are encouraged to be evangelistic in sharing their faith with family, friends, and peers. They are also encouraged to begin the process of discipling other people while they themselves are being discipled.
- They both bring the Kingdom of Heaven in different manners.
- Both focus on salvation, faith in Christ, and new life.
If you are looking for more tools and resources concerning discipleship and evangelism, refer to our website, JustDisicple.com. Here you will discover Biblically focused answers to common questions. Some of the topics include worship, fasting, discipleship, Christian disciplines, missions, the local church, theology, Jesus, and the Bible.