Evangelism or Discipleship? Yes!
Last Friday night I had the privilege of leading an associational evangelism training seminar near South Boston, VA. There were several pastors there, as well as a good number of lay people. It was encouraging to see 30+ people who were willing to give up a Friday evening for the sole purpose of being challenged to share their faith more consistently and effectively. Here are the highlights of what I shared:
Our Mission and Motivation: When we consider our mission, what we realize is that the mission is actually not ours, it is God’s. His mission – through creation, redemption and restoration – is to bring glory to Himself. As Christopher Wright puts it, “It is not that God has a mission for His church. He has a church for His mission” (my paraphrase). If we think the mission is ours, we will decide what we want to do and how we want to do it. If we first realize that the mission is God’s, and that He simply allows our participation in what He is already doing, we will understand that we must do His will, in His way, for His glory. Seeking to glorify God by serving in God’s mission is also a superior motivator for evangelism. Our normal motivation – the plight of the lost – is inferior because it will not last. Left to ourselves, we don’t love the lost as we ought. We love ourselves. That is why we allow the busyness of life to crowd out any room for sharing Christ “as we go.” We are simply to busy with “us” to worry about “them.” When seeking first to glorify God by participating in His mission, He places His love for the lost in our hearts, giving us a burden to take His message to them. That is a motivation that will last.
Our Mandate: Our mandate is not simply to “share the Gospel,” but to “Make Disciples.” Certainly making disciples requires first sharing the Gospel, because people must hear the Gospel in order to become a disciple, through faith and repentance (Romans 10). Our focus, however, must be on Making Disciples. This will ensure that we are not only consistently communicating the Gospel (as faithful disciples do) to those who do not yet know Christ, but that we are also helping those who trust Christ grow up to maturity in Him. The real test is whether or not those who are becoming disciples of Christ (by responding to the Gospel in repentance and faith) are then growing up in Christ and seeking to make disciples of others as well. For this reason, I am emphasizing more and more these days: We cannot separate discipleship and evangelism! Our evangelistic practice MUST flow from our identity as followers of Christ.
Our Message: We must proclaim a biblical Gospel. I, like many others, like using a creation – fall – redemption – restoration paradigm to ensure we are sharing a fully-orbed biblical Gospel message. Simply offering someone the “benefits” of the Gospel (i.e. hope, peace, heaven, eternal life, etc.) in exchange for “praying a prayer” is not presenting a biblical Gospel. The benefits of salvation pale in comparison to the real prize and purpose of salvation – reconciliation with God Himself. When you get saved, what you get is God! We have often held out the benefits of salvation as the end, and Jesus as simply the means to get what we want. No! Jesus, the eternal Son of God, IS the prize. As one pastor succinctly put it, “No one will go to heaven who does not want God!” And, as I heard another person ask the other day, “If Jesus was not going to be in heaven, would you still want to go there?” This is yet another example that demonstrates why discipleship and evangelism cannot be separated. People must see IN US not that Christ is a part of our lives, but that Christ IS our life! They must see that what we want is HIM, and that the “benefits” that accompany salvation are simply the wonderful byproducts of being In Christ. We have hope, peace, purpose, direction and life eternal and abundant not because we got them from Christ, but rather because we have them in Him.
Our Methods: There is not room here to discuss specifics of different evangelistic methods. I would say, however, that the most important factor for guiding both our individual and corporate evangelistic practices is ensuring that our practices flow from within the context of our Christian discipleship. In other words, our “methods” must be such that they keep the evangelistic responsibility upon EVERY follower of Christ, not just those who are comfortable sharing their faith. We must make clear to those in our churches that it is the privilege and responsibility of every Christ-follower to share Christ “as they are going.” So, your primary “program” for “doing evangelism” in your church MUST be nothing less than every believer in Christ living the Gospel every day, and sharing the Gospel everywhere, as they are walking in the leadership and power of the indwelling Spirit of God. Other “programs” can serve as tools for training Christians to share their faith more effectively. Those programs, however, must never be perceived as replacing the only biblical “program” for evangelism – every believer living the Gospel and sharing the Gospel, as they go, for the glory of God.
Clearly, all of these categories could be expanded to book length. My goal in sharing these brief descriptions here is simply to challenge and encourage you to live the Gospel more faithfully and to share the Gospel more consistently, as a follower of Jesus Christ, for the glory of the great God we love and serve – for He alone is worthy!
(If you would like to talk further about these issues, feel free to comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org)