As followers of Christ, we certainly thrive when discipleship and evangelism work synergistically in our lives. God created us for both! Sometimes, however, we misunderstand the relationship between discipleship and evangelism and therefore perceive them as mutually exclusive.
I think there are two solutions for the church that will help integrate, and therefore balance, evangelism and discipleship.
First, we need to move away from the thought that evangelism is just what happens before someone becomes a believer and discipleship is what happens after conversion. If we perceive evangelism as simply sharing the Good News, then we need to continue to “evangelize” one another, even after we begin to follow Christ. I certainly need to be reminded daily of God’s love and the reality of what it means to be an adopted child of God. For example, like many, I am tempted to take my identity from my accomplishments rather than from the righteousness of Christ. So I need to continually be saturated with the Good News.
Discipleship happens best when each person approaches their own discipleship in a way that is personalized to how God is already at work in their lives. – Dana Allin
At the same time, there are ways in which we may help others become disciples of Christ even before they become believers. This trajectory is a little harder for us to wrap our minds around, but let me explain. When we are in relationship with someone who is considering following Christ, we may share about prayer, theology, the narrative of Scripture, and the cost of discipleship, for example. During this time of learning and growth, people may change behavior to become more Christ-like even before they have crossed the line to become full-fledged believers. In a case such as this, evangelism and discipleship are more integrated than they often appear.
Second, I would say that we must emphasize that sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ through evangelism is growing in our discipleship. On occasion when I talk about being missional or evangelistic, I get the response that someone just wants to work on his or her “own discipleship”. However, engaging in evangelism and missional endeavors is one aspect of Christian life that exponentially enhances one’s own discipleship! The gospel accounts are full of promises from Jesus to the disciples that by following him they will end up fishing for others as well. And of course the Great Commission tells us that we are to be in a continual process of “going” – and as we do so, we are to make disciples of all nations.
The church and its leaders will be greatly strengthened when discipleship is not seen as either/or but both/and.
This was an interview with Dana Allin, author of Simple Discipleship. Originally published in Outreach magazine here. Read a free chapter, learn about the discipleship assessment, or get the book at simplediscipleshipbook.com.