It seems to me that there is a constant discussion, or you could call it a debate (or you could even call it a family fight) among us evangelicals over whether we should be focusing all our attention and efforts on evangelism or discipleship. Trust me…this is a big deal in the church right now. If you could hear just a small fraction of the conversations I have as I travel and preach…
Because I am an evangelist (see Ephesians 4) by call and trade, I get bombarded by the discipleship camp with questions like, “What happens after all those people respond to the gospel when you preach?”
Because I am a pastor, I also get comments from soul winners like, “If all you ever do is teach the Bible to Christians, how will the lost ever hear the gospel and be saved?”
These are both very good, and, eternally important questions. And to answer those questions, let me first draw your attention to the false dichotomy that we have created in our little evangelical church culture here in the West. This is a simplification…but is a fairly accurate synopsis of the two teams, tribes, camps, etc.
- We follow the Great Commission! Jesus never said make converts. He said make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). And that is what the church must do.
- A true disciple will become a witness, will share their faith, and will lead the lost to Jesus. Therefore we don’t have to focus on evangelism.
- Focusing on evangelism hurts the process of discipleship because evangelism is all about numbers and results and ignores spiritual growth.
- Discipleship takes more time and investment than evangelism, and therefore is spiritually superior and more important.
- We would never declare that a person is “saved” or a “Christian” until they have proven their faith by following Christ over a period of time.
- God alone converts people to faith, but it is our responsibility to make disciples out of those that God saves.
- Jesus made disciples! (Peter, James, John, Thomas, Mary, Martha, etc…)
- We follow the Great Commission! Jesus told us to preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15-18). We preach the gospel and God saves the people.
- A true Christian should automatically want to share their faith, so we teach them how to be a witness and bring others to Christ.
- Focusing on discipleship hurts the work of evangelism because it focuses too much on the individual who is already saved, ignoring those who are lost.
- Evangelism is more grueling and difficult than discipleship because it takes us to the front lines of the lost world, making it spiritually superior and more important.
- The Bible says that when a person confesses sin, repents and believes in Christ, they are saved (Romans 10:13, 1John 1:9). It’s not “false assurance” to say they’re saved.
- The same God who saves a sinner will complete the work of discipleship in that new believer (Philippians 1:6).
- Jesus was an evangelist! (The woman at the well, Zacheus, the woman caught in adultery, Nicodemus, etc…)
Go back and re-read these lists. Do you see how the wedge can easily be driven down into the church if all we ever do is repeat our platitudes?
Are these two tribes really in disagreement? Are they mutually exclusive?
Tomorrow I will unpack this debate further and humbly offer some hopeful insights that the church could benefit from.
What do you think about this? What “team” do you more naturally fall into?