Evangelism and discipleship are big words that tend to mean many different things to different people. For example, one person may hear the word evangelism and think of methods on how to tell others about Jesus. The next person could hear the same word and think of the message of the gospel and how it has impacted his/her life. But regardless of your initial thought when you hear the word evangelism, there are a few important things to understand as we look to the Bible to define what evangelism and discipleship mean.
Why is Evangelism Important?
Evangelism is the call of every believer in Christ. Lewis states, “The glory of God, and, and our only means of glorifying HIm, the salvation of souls is the real business of life.” This “real business of life” is evangelism. It is how we glorify God with our life.
In addition, as Christ’s followers, 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 tells us we have been given the “ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” Our ministry role in life is to continue as Christ has shown us and tell others about Jesus. We are to be on a permanent mission to share Christ with the world. As Dave Early states in the book Evangelism is…. “We are His ‘representatives in residence’ sent from the kingdom of God into the kingdom of darkness, is ‘authorized messengers’ sent to tell others about Him.”
As followers of Christ, evangelism is our call according to the scriptures.
What is Evangelism?
First of all, evangelism is not simply a method of sharing Christ nor is it only the message of the gospel. Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus tells his disciples to “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”. In this “Great Commission”, Jesus clearly explains evangelism to all of us.
Evangelism includes going out and building relationships with others. (go) It also includes helping them understand the necessity of the death and resurrection of Christ as well as each person’s individual need to turn to Christ for this salvation. (make disciples) In addition, one must help them understand the life they now live is one of obedience and faith in Christ. (baptizing/teaching).
As we break down evangelism according to this passage in Matthew, we can clearly see it is not simply a method for sharing the gospel nor is it simply the message of the gospel. Rather it is all of the above. It is sharing the gospel and then discipling, or helping the hearer know and follow God.
One list that I think is helpful as we continue to define evangelism comes from the book Evangelism Is… by Dave Earley and David Wheeler. They state, “Evangelism is…”
- Friends telling friends about Jesus.
- An intoxicating increaser of the joy for everyone involved
- Joyfully addictive
- The real business of life
- Refusing to be quickly and easily distracted away from the real business of life
- Serving as Christ’s ambassadors
- All-out obedience to the Great Commission
- Sharing the gospel to the ends of the EArth whatever the cost
- Standing up for your faith even if everyone else remains seated
- Going against the grain of culture
- The supreme challenge of this generation
- Loving those whom Jesus loves, lost people
- Actively pursuing and retrieving lost people for God
- Identifying with lost people where they are and where we are
- A matter of involvement, not isolation
And this is just a partial list! As you can see, evangelism involves more than one simple moment in our life. Our life is built around evangelism and sharing the good news of Christ. It is our mission and the “business” of our life.
What is Discipleship?
Discipleship goes hand in hand with evangelism. Discipleship is the 2nd part of Matthew 28:19-20 and is a necessary step in the evangelism process. This step goes beyond simply sharing the gospel message. At this point in the relationship, one walks side-by-side with someone who has newly accepted the message of the gospel and teaches them how to obey God.
This discipleship process takes more investment than simply sharing the message of Christ. No one is born to instinctively know how to obey God. Rather, after salvation, although one is completely a new creation, learning to walk in this new identity takes intentionality and work. The work of discipleship is to help one learn how to trust God, read his work, and apply it to his life.
While evangelism is the initial step in sharing the gospel, discipleship is a life-long process as we learn to follow Christ.
Why is this important?
As we study the character of God and long to become more like him, we can’t help but recognize the heart of God has always been and will always be for his salvation to be shared with the world. Throughout the Old and New Testament, God continually made a way for his name to be known among all the nations. This is of utmost importance to God and should be to us as well as we become “imitators of God”. (Ephesians 5:1).
As a follower of God, we are called to share our faith. Jesus’ last words to his followers were to tell them to be his witnesses in all the world. The last thing Jesus commanded was for us to share the gospel with everyone we come in contact with throughout our lifetime. Obedience to God requires this individual action from us.
But evangelism and discipleship isn’t just an individual responsibility. The church as a whole should also be focused on evangelism and discipleship. As a body of Christ, the church is called to live in obedience to Christ’s message as a collective whole. Collectively they must be about the business of Christ which was sharing the message of the gospel. But not only is the church called to share the gospel with the world, the church is also called to “feed the sheep” through discipleship. The church should be a community that encourages each other toward a deeper relationship and obedience with Christ. This happens through the discipleship that takes place through the preaching of the Word, the environment of godliness and grace set by the leaders of the church, and the equipping and training opportunities churches provide for their body.
Jesus instructed and demonstrated to his disciples the importance of sharing your faith as well as training others how to follow and obey God. As Ephesians 5:1 tells us, we are to “follow God’s example”, and do the same, both individually and collectively as a church.
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