Evangelism: Disciple Making

My first ever “convert” was a man in his mid-fifties who had been hospitalized for heart trouble. He had spent his entire adult life closing down one bar after another. I was so eager to notch my first conversion that I spent one minute literally reading and explaining John 3.16 and then one minute reading and explaining Acts 2.38 so that I could get my first baptism.

I got what I came looking for. The man was scared enough about his heart condition, about the prospect of dying sooner than later, that he was willing to be baptized if that meant he would now have the promise of eternal life. After having a pacemaker installed, the man was released from the hospital. With the fear of imminent death no longer a threat, he forgot his “conversion” to Christ and went right back to his old ways. So much for making a disciple!

Looking back, that was too much about me than it was about God. Yes I wanted to teach the man something about the Gospel but I also wanted a conversion so I could justify myself as a legitimate preacher to my peers.

As I’ve continued to grow in my own faith, I continued to try and evangelize people. I don’t consider myself any expert or guru on the ministry of evangelism but I have learned some things along the way. I’m still learning and have so much to learn. Yet between my own experience and what I’ve learned from others, I’d like to believe that I might have something useful to say.

After several years of making “converts” but failing to make many disciples, I decided that my approach to evangelism had to change if I was going to actually be faithful to Jesus. After all, the imperative of the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28.19-20 is to make disciples. The baptizing and teaching, while indispensable as well, is the response to disciple making.

If we take the imperative of Matthew 28.19-20 seriously, it means the question of evangelism is “are we making disciples of Jesus Christ?” No matter how many conversions and baptisms we can report, if we cannot answer this question affirmatively then we have a problem. And let’s not be fooled, the fruit produced will tell whether we are making disciples of Jesus or something else.

I’ve also come to realize that the ministry of evangelism is also misunderstood by many churches. Some think evangelism means inviting a person to a church service, some think its trying to convert a person to a set of doctrines, others think that evangelism involves nothing more than teaching or leading a person in a Bible study. Evangelism is more, it’s bigger, and yet it is not as difficult as some might believe.

Consequently, I want to write some posts on evangelism because it is an indispensable ministry if we are to be participants in God’s mission. I’m not sure how many posts this will be but stay tuned for more to follow if you want to think a little more critical about evangelism.

19 responses to “Evangelism: Disciple Making

  1. I just finished reading THE KING JESUS GOSPEL by Scot McKnight which, for me, addressed the very concern you posit. I recommend this book – the author struggled with what many of us have and do struggle with – choosing to get people wet or choosing to make disciples.

    • I have the book on my Amazon Wish-list. So I obviously haven’t read the book but I have had the opportunity to hear Scot McKnight present some lectures on some of the book’s material. Definitely good stuff!

  2. Brother in Christ, Rex,

    No, I do not “want to think a little more critical about evangelism.”

    Why do you paint such a negative picture, as if to imply that this is the way it is at churches of Christ?

    “Evangelism misunderstood by many churches?” In all of my years in the church of Christ, and its various congregations around the country, I have never seen such an example as you point out here. It was good that you learned from your own error, but your error is not what the Bible nor the church of Christ teaches or condones, as you seem to imply.

    As far as Bible study goes, –with over 15,000 references to God, the Bible is the best book to read and study to find out about him. ” Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) This is where we learn about Jesus and the gospel of Christ, so important that Jesus had to go to the cross in order to seal the New Testament with His blood, that we may have the hope of salvation.

    About “doctrines;” in the church of Christ; we go to the Bible for instruction, God’s word, –not the doctrines, or creeds, or empty traditions or teachings of men.
    In 1 Tim.1:10 the apostle Paul instructs Timothy about “sound doctrine” that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which God entrusted to him. And he told him “Watch your life and “doctrine” closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (verse 16.)

    About the law of Christ: “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law…” (Rom. 7:22). “…(though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.” (1 Cor. 9:21). “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2).

    Of course, this is just a short sampling of what I am talking about. How do we know we are right? We can know we are right by doing what the Bereans did. (Acts 17:11). Plus, see 2 Tim 3:16 about handling scripture.

    But when studying God’s word with someone, it really doesn’t make any difference what we ourselves believe. What matters is what the scriptures actually teach. People need to work out their own salvation (Philp. 9:12). –which means to work it out to the finish; not a reference to the attempt to earn one’s salvation by works, but to the expression of one’s salvation in spiritual growth and development. Salvation is not merely a gift received once for all; it expresses itself in an ongoing process in which the believer is strenuously involved (cf. Mt 24:13; ! Cor 9:24-27; Heb 3:14; 6:9-11; 2 Pet 1:5-8) —the process of perseverance, humble service, spiritual growth and maturation.

    • If your not interested in thinking a little more about the way we go about evangelism, why did you comment? Is your interest simply in arguing? And for the record, I never mentioned the Churches of Christ or any other particular church fellowship by name.

    • don: Per your statement: “About ‘doctrines; in the church of Christ; we go to the Bible for instruction, God’s word, –not the doctrines, or creeds, or empty traditions or teachings of men.”

      Really? Like the 5-finger exercise? My brother, one can’t get more “empty tradition” or “teaching of men” than that. At least the creeds talk about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

      IMO: The SCM is heavily burdened with man-centered traditions and doctrines.

      • For clarification: SCM is the “Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement” I assume.

        I also agree with you that our fellowship and the wider SCM movement as been too human-centered…i.e., focused on what we do, like studying the Bible and responding to the gospel. We need to learn how to talk about the work of God and the work of God in us so that our participation (obedience) in God’s mission is God at work in us through his Spirit. That doesn’t negate the command to obedience but it does point beyond us so that God is both clearly seen and remains the subject of what is happening in us and the world.

      • Rex: I would not put “studying the Bible” in the category of man-centeredness. I would put the issue of man’s role in salvation as an area where we are definitely man-centered (i.e. Pelagian/semi-Pelagian).

        By the way, I highly recommend Kevin DeYoung/Greg Gilbert’s “What is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission.” It is a fair critique to the popular level “missional” books out there today (like C.Wright’s); while yet still promoting mission.
        http://www.amazon.com/What-Mission-Church-Justice-Commission/dp/1433526905/

        Grace be with you –
        Jr

      • Jr., Thanks for the book recommend. I’ll place it on my wish list.

  3. Don has lived a fortunate life. I have seen things like Rex described.

    I remember being on a campaign in South America with a group of young men from a “preacher training school.” After seeing a number of people being baptized who seemed to have little idea of what they were doing, we sat down in a general meeting to discuss what was going on.

    The leader of the group defended their actions. “Look at Matthew 28,” he said, “It says ‘baptize,’ then it says ‘teach.’ We baptize them, then we hope to get a chance to teach them as well.”

    • I’ve had those conversations before. When I press the issue about the imperative to make disciples, I hear people try say “but…” The problem is that the imperative doesn’t give us the luxury of baptizing first so that people can get their ticket to heaven and then hoping that they’ll stick around, eventually becoming a disciple.

  4. Evangelism is indeed about more than simply teaching the facts or doctrines. Evangelism must make true disciples and instill a desire to be like Christ. A disciple is a true follower, one who wants to be like his master. The kind of evangelism that makes a disciple requires not only that we “give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1Timothy 4:13), but that we also “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.” (1 Timothy 4:15).

    We must not only practice these things ourselves as an example, we must persuade others to do so. Though faith and obedience are necessary to salvation it is “goodness and forbearance and longsuffering” that leads us to that point (Romans 2:4). In the business world, that is called “people skills”.

    I have often complained that in my preparation to preach the gospel, I was never really taught to deal with people. Since that time some colleges and schools of preaching have added internships and other means of learning those skills. In time past, younger men who wanted to preach lived and worked with an older, experienced evangelist. Without exception all those methods require actual experience with people. I am no longer sure that there is any other way to learn this.

    As Paul put it, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” (Romans 5:1-5).

    We must genuinely love the Lord and those around us to be a good evangelist of the gospel. Our own discipleship must be living and growing if we expect to make disciples.

    Wes

    • You are so right in pointing out that such ministry of evangelism (making disciples) cannot be done apart from relationships (I’ll be discussing that in a future post) and that becoming a disciple requires us to learn from another person living as a disciple. We can call it mentoring, discipling, being-an-apprentice, etc… Whatever we call it, it is so needed.

  5. We have discussing evangelism and discipleship on Sunday mornings and it has come to light that many have a misunderstanding of what needs to be done. Far to often the two ideas have been melted together, assigned to the “preacher” and then summed up in “baptism”. We are beginning to see that they are two distinctly different concepts. It is a very different thing to share with people that there is a God, that Jesus is His son, that He died for our sins and that we need to be “in Christ”. It is another thing to teach all that Christ has commanded, discipleship takes time and personal investement into each other. I heard a great quote this last weekend “discipleship is walking with Jesus and bringing others with you.”

    • I am wanting to take Evangelism from a generalized (and subjective) ministry and define it with the specific objective of making-disciples. However, as I develop some post on this subject, I hope to portray evangelism as the ministry of the entire church (not just a preacher) but not as just another program to be managed by the church but more of a natural by-product of a church that is healthy and engaged in God’s mission as a community of disciples.

      Also, I like the definition of discipleship you shared about walking with Jesus and bringing others along too.

  6. Rex, I look forward to reading more. I would just throw in that the world is full of many soils and many do not produce fruit for different reasons.

  7. Pingback: Evangelism: What Is a Disciple? « Kingdom Seeking

  8. Pingback: Evangelism: Relationships and Community « Kingdom Seeking

  9. Pingback: Evangelism: Teaching the Gospel and Scriptures « Kingdom Seeking

  10. Thanks for sharing this and for your honesty.

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