Too often, people view the connection between discipleship and evangelism in one of two ways: either they inseparably lump them into one category, or one gets relegated to the wastelands of our faith life. If we are honest, usually evangelism gets the short end of the stick. The truth is, discipleship must include evangelism. Being a disciple of Christ means doing the work of evangelism.
First, though, it is helpful to get clarity on what both terms mean. Evangelism is telling somebody about Jesus, so that person might respond by grace and through faith. There is a verbal description and explanation of gospel work. It is more narrow in scope. It always includes words.
But let me be clear: evangelism is not necessarily leading someone to faith; instead, there are many opportunities to verbally share the gospel which may not result in a person making a declaration of faith at that moment. Evangelism is the combination of the words we plant which God may use at any point to draw a person to himself.
Discipleship is much broader. It is our broad mission in which we engage in activities and practices which help others grow to be more Christ-like. It encompasses our words and our actions. It is our faith life put into practice, for the benefit of ourselves and others. Discipleship is teaching others what it means to be more like Christ in word, thought, and deed.
When Jesus said to “make disciples” (Matthew 28), he was including evangelism, but wasn’t setting that parameter. He was conveying the idea that both broad discipleship and narrow evangelism are critical: "Go, therefore, and make disciples.”
So how do we as leaders guide those in our care to become disciples who have a high priority of evangelism? Let me offer a few thoughts.
First, model it.
It’s an unfortunate reality that most of our churches are growing through transfer rather than conversion. Part of the reason for this is because we as leaders are lukewarm when it comes to our own personal evangelism life. If we aren’t prioritizing being with non-believers and sharing the good news on a regular basis, others are less likely to view it as important. Evangelism is contagious.
The more we do it ourselves and talk about it, the more our congregations will get excited about how God will use them. At the Billy Graham Center where I serve, my team and I regularly share with each other about recent opportunities we’ve had to share the gospel. There have been times when the excitement in the room is palpable and we all leave ready to engage in conversations immediately!
Pastor, be contagious in how you live.
Second, teach it.
Once we have demonstrated a passion for evangelism in our own lives which is evident to our congregations, we must equip our churches to effectively share their faith. Our churches are filled with ministries—some inward facing, and others outward facing: small groups, women’s and men’s ministries, children’s ministries, worship, hospitality, local missions, global missions, the list goes on.
Every place where people are plugged in our churches should have a component of clear evangelism training included. What does it mean to lead our children to share the gospel with others? How are our greeters prepared to hold out the gospel to visitors in our churches?
Let me share two resources we have at the Billy Graham Center if you are unsure where to start. First, our Church Evangelism Initiative is for senior pastors looking to move their congregations towards being more oriented around evangelism. Consider joining a cohort. Second, we developed a 6-chapter curriculum for churches and small groups on how to develop a passion for evangelism that translates into action. Check it out at ourgospelstory.com and begin using it in your church.
Pastor, use every available opening to train up your people in evangelism.
Third, move it.
So now that you are a disciple that models evangelism and you have created training opportunities throughout your church, we follow the call of Nike: Just do it. Get your people into the world to share Jesus!
If you currently don’t have any outward facing ministries that allow your people to engage non-Christians with the gospel, start one or two. Consider taking a team of people out on the town once a month to share the gospel with others. One leader I know regularly takes college students to the streets of Chicago. He starts the conversations with, “I am trying to teach these guys how to share Jesus with others. Can we practice on you?” It’s a funny, but effective way to start a conversation!
Finally, consider creating space in your Sunday services for one to two people to share with the congregation about an evangelism experience they had. The more our people understand that being a disciple of Christ means pointing non-believers to Christ, the more our mission, and impact, will grow.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.