Every local church must make disciples.
Much has been written over the past few years on the topics of evangelism and discipleship and their fundamental role in the local church. There are a host of books, conference’s and blogs that highlight one, or both central functions of Christ’ church. But what does it really mean to evangelize? What does it look like to make disciples in our daily lives? How do these two missional elements of The Great Commission work together to advance Christ’ mission in the world?
What is Evangelism?
Evangelism is the intentional act of telling others about the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and calling those individuals to repentance and faith as the proper response to this Good News.
It is important to note the centrality of “news” in evangelism. Christians and not called to be “life coaches” or merely offer tips for better living to the lost; we are called to be “reporters” of actual events. When we evangelize, we engage non-Christians by telling them a true story: that Jesus has died for the sins of all those who would ever repent of their sins and trust His finished work.
What is Discipleship?
Discipleship is the ongoing, formative work of helping others follow Jesus by teaching them, modeling Christ-like character for them, correcting them and loving them within the context of a Christian relationship.
To put it another way, discipleship is one Christian helping another Christian to mature as a follower of Jesus. It is a commitment to develop another for their good and God’s glory.
Evangelism and Discipleship in the Local Church
To obey Jesus and His Great Commission, the local church must commit itself to evangelizing non-Christians and discipling all Christians. These two core elements of New Testament mission work hand in hand, often crossing over into each other as non-Christians and made disciples.
In the diagram below this connection between evangelism and discipleship is illustrated.
Jesus commands Christians to “make disciples of all Nations”. (Matthew 29:18-20) “Making” disciples requires the intentional engagement of non-Christians with the Gospel message. Those who are not yet “made disciples” must be engaged with biblical, intentional evangelism. Indeed, the Great Commission is an evangelistic charge to “send and go” to the Nations. Why? Because the Nations must be told Good News.
But the Great Commission also commands us to “teach all that Jesus has commanded us to obey”. Here, we see the Great Commission requires the ongoing spiritual development of Christians, committed to serving one another through life-on-life relationships. We could perhaps call discipleship “evangelism continued”. Converts are evangelized through the telling of the Gospel (Reid) and they are developed through the continued instruction in that Good News in their daily lives.
What is the local church’s role in all of this? The church’s mission of evangelism and discipleship can be summed up in three words: Engage. Develop. Deploy.
Engage: At this stage, the local church engages non-Christians evangelistically with the Gospel message.
Develop: At this stage, the local church baptizes and develops mature disciples of Jesus through the teaching, preaching and one-on-one discipleship of believers within the context of a healthy local church.
Deploy: At this stage, all Christians are deployed back into their circles of influence and sent out to all Nations to engage non-Christians evangelistically.