Discipleship and evangelism are two distinct actions, yet entirely connected to each other. But both function in different ways and are equally important in their roles in the church, so let’s break them down to properly understand how they work, and what they mean to the body of Christ.
How is discipleship related to evangelism? Discipleship and evangelism are tightly related because without evangelism, there aren’t new believers to disciple. Discipleship serves to strengthen and deepen the new believer’s walk while evangelism aims to bring unbelievers to Christ. Evangelism plants the seed in the soil while discipleship waters the seed, cultivates it, and helps it grow.
If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.1 Corinthians 12:17-20
As with any function in the Church, evangelism and discipleship are different but both are integral to the body of Christ and help to further the Kingdom and bring new members into the family of God.
What is Evangelism?
When I think of evangelism, I think of people like Billy Graham, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards. These mean traveled around the US, UK, and even the world, fiercely preaching the Gospel.
These men, along with many others, were not afraid to address controversial problems or to speak directly to heart issues. They proclaimed to the world that there is freedom in Christ and that surrender was the key to that liberty,
Spend more time in study and prayer. That’s the secret of successful evangelism.Billy Graham
The object of the evangelist’s efforts is to stir hearts to repentance so that they can be ushered into a relationship with God. So this means that the main focus of evangelism is to plant seeds in the hearts of men.
True evangelism sets out to bring the Gospel message to anyone and everyone; it is not confined to large gatherings, church services, tent revivals, or any other sort of organized meeting. It is instead, taking any opportunity to reach the lost.
And it is clear that it is the responsibility of the whole church body to evangelize and seek to save the lost. Not everyone is called to large scale platform opportunities, but we are all called to be faithful with what we have been given.
Though I do believe some are more naturally inclined to evangelism; these people just seem to have a gift with breaking down walls and sharing the Gospel, but this doesn’t mean that some are gifted and others are not and therefore we don’t pursue it. No, we are all called to be a light in whatever way we can, whether we are uncomfortable or not.
What is Discipleship?
So now that we have an understanding of evangelism lets explore discipleship.
Discipleship is a model of mentorship that was first seen practiced by the Jews in ancient times. They established a system in which a rabbi (teacher) would select young men whom they thought had the aptitude to learn what they intended to teach. These young men would then follow and live life with their rabbi, soaking in everything they could.
Their main intent behind this system was for the rabbi’s disciples to learn by watching how he lived his daily life, how he treated his wife and family, how he worshiped and prayed, etc. And they implemented this system in the hopes that their disciples would extend their legacy or further their way of thought and living.
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.Matthew 4:18-20
When Jesus came on the scene, we see this very model unfolding and being laid out for us to practice. Jesus selected twelve young men to follow him, and throughout the four Gospels, we find that they are daily living life with Jesus. They eat, worship, pray and live together, all the while Jesus actively pours truth and Godly principles into them.
All of this points us to the reasoning behind and importance of discipleship.
Discipleship displays the model by which we are to live our lives with God and gives us a Biblical picture of how we should help deepen the walk of fellow believers in Christ.
First, it shows us that constant communion with Christ brings us closer into His likeness. A gaze set on Christ in which we are constantly watching Him and meditating on how He thinks, loves, and cares, will, in turn, transform our hearts.
Next comes the model that the Body is supposed to implement to help new believers.
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.1 Corinthians 11:1
The above instructions were given by the Apostle Paul. This shows us that the model for discipleship did not die at the cross, but was both taught and practiced later on. And discipleship today is not much different from the practices of the ancient Jews; we practice building relationships with those who are being discipled. We eat together, fellowship, break bread, go to church, and study the Bible together.
As a pastor’s kid, I watched as my mother and father made discipleship a main priority in the church, and I was able to observe firsthand the fruitfulness of intentional discipleship in an individual’s life and how effective it is even today.
The key is relationship building, those who seek to be discipled or seek to disciple another, are making the decision to enter into a friendship to both cultivate and be cultivated. I’ve watched through the years the difference between those who are left on their own, and those who are walked alongside of. There is no comparison.
How Evangelism and Discipleship Relate
Though both discipleship and evangelism function differently and have distinct targets, both shoot for the same goal, and that is to lead people to Christ and make them oaks of righteousness.
….They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.Isaiah 61:3
Here is one example of how evangelism and discipleship work together.
Let’s pretend that you are a church planter in Africa. Evangelism would come first and share the Gospel with the people, and this does not mean that evangelism equals standing in the square shouting doom and gloom. Instead, evangelism can look very normal.
Evangelism could simply be going to the market to do some shopping and then finding some people to share the Gospel with, and even this can be done in many various ways.
Another type of evangelism would be deliberately going out in search of people to pray and share the Gospel with. Another form could be preaching in a public place. And still, another could be going to churches to preach. The main theme, however, is that though they are speaking the truth this doesn’t necessarily mean they are being discipled.
This is where discipleship and evangelism come together.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.Acts 2:42-47
The church planter comes beside those who give their life to Christ and teach them and guide them in the word of the Lord. This is how churches are birthed–through the preaching of the message of God and daily living and encouraging to press on towards the goal.
Acts 2 says that the believers devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, this again shows the importance of discipleship and how it is an active breathing thing. The believers are not simply left alone once they become a Christian, but are daily encouraged and spurred on towards the goal.
The Difference Between Discipleship and Evangelism
In the book of Acts, we follow the 3, possibly 4, missionary journeys of Paul. During his journeys, he preached the word of God and as a result, many were saved and churches were planted in the darkest most Godless places.
This is the difference between discipleship and evangelism.
Paul planted the seed and then they converted and began following Jesus. But the discipleship came in when Paul stayed with them for set periods of time helping them to follow sound doctrine so that they would bot be ensnared by all the false doctrines surrounding them.
The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.Titus 1:5
Another example is in the book of Titus. Paul had to leave his disciple, Titus, on the island of Crete because the other church plants needed him. So, he left someone he trusted to be mature in the Lord to oversee the congregation there.
This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, proving yourselves to be My disciples.John 15:8
So we see through Paul’s ministry that evangelism is the tool that leads to discipleship, and discipleship to mature Christians who bear much fruit and can repeat the cycle of growth and going out to make more disciples.
Evangelism and Discipleship is not an Option
Many people think that discipleship and evangelism are optional or that only certain people are called to practice them, this, however, is the farthest thing from the truth.
Take a look at the Great Commission.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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: 18-20
Nowhere in the command from Jesus does He say, “if you’re comfortable, naturally inclined, or a people person.” No, though He is kind to us in our fears, He still commands us to go and share the good news and make disciples.
Discipleship is not an option. Jesus says that if anyone would come after me, he must follow me.”Tim Keller
Evangelism and discipleship are at the core of the church, it’s impossible to separate them, and this principle is a signpost of a healthy church. Healthy churches place the great commission at the forefront of their mission. Churches are to be in accordance with the example the Bible gives us, we don’t get to make up our own model.
If you find that you are in a church in which they do not make discipleship, missions, and outreach/evangelism, a top priority, then you may want to reconsider or examine where their time and efforts are being placed.
To call a man evangelical who is not evangelistic is an utter contradiction.G. Campbell Morgan
In reality, if we are not obeying the Great Commission, something is off in our priorities. Discipleship and Evangelism are integral elements to our faith and a life that is lived in obedience to this command from Jesus shifts the way in which we think and live.
If we live with the Great Commission, which is evangelism and discipleship, as our end goal, then we shift from worldly living and selfish gain to a mindset on heavenly things and how we can serve our brothers and save the lost. It is an utter shift in thought and outlook.
Disciples Not Converts
A fundamental point must be observed. And that is that there is a distinct difference between a convert and a disciple. The church has slowly gone down a hill that has brought us to congregations of comfortable converts who are not being discipled.
Jesus said to make disciples of all nations, and this means alive and active walk with God. One in which there is daily growth, learning, and fellowship with our creator.
Christians need to understand that to be a believer is to be a committed disciple/follower of Christ. Converts are people who have accepted Jesus into their life but are not actively following Him in a life of obedience, they are not being transformed, and are not digging deep and growing in Christ.
This is NOT the goal of evangelism, evangelism should always point to being an active disciple of Christ who is discipled by other more mature believers.
And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.Luke 14:27
Here is the equation. Jesus said that in order to be His disciple, we must carry our cross and follow Him. So this is the goal of discipleship, discipleship serves to help our brothers and sisters carry their cross and deepen their walk with Jesus Christ.
Evangelism is not meant to create converts who left their cross at home and sit in a pew on Sunday. Evangelism is meant to lead to discipleship in Christ, the model Jesus gave us was alive and breathing. If we lay down all of our methods and processes by which we hope to convert people, and instead apply the teaching of Jesus and Paul and the Bible, we ill be alive and active like the church in Acts.
I leave you with this, evangelism and discipleship leave no room for lukewarm Christianity because it requires the whole body of Christ to be walking in it, not just some, not just the gifted, not just the charismatic, all are called to step into this blessing from God.