Evangelism vs Discipleship

By DiscipleshipJournal • Discipleship • 19 Feb 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about a dichotomy that is often seen in the Church that adds to our weak understanding of discipleship:

“evangelism” vs “discipleship”.

That is, there are those who do “evangelism”—the work of helping someone begin a faith relationship with Jesus—and those who do “discipleship”—used (wrongly) to refer only to the ministry of teaching and maturing existing believers.


So many times I’ve heard people say:

“I’m an evangelist.  I stay outside the church and minister to the world.  I let the people in the church do the teaching”.


“I’m more of a discipler.  God’s called me to work in the church to work with those who already know Jesus.  I train them to do the evangelism”.

[I have a confession to make: That last line has come out of my own mouth in the past!]


 Let’s remind ourselves what the Great Commission says:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:19-20, emphases mine)

Jesus commands us to Make Disciples.  Then he explains what is involved in making disciples:  Baptising them and teaching them.

Making Disciples involves evangelism.
The first part of the discipleship is evangelism!  When Jesus says “baptising them”, He is talking about conversions.  We won’t dive into a discussion of the theology of baptism (yet!), but for now it is enough to say that baptism immediately followed belief.  It was the first step of obedience when someone placed their faith in Christ, in which they identified with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection.

When we look to the discipleship process, evangelism is the foundation.  It is the beginning of the discipleship process.  When Jesus said to baptize, he’s talking about being God’s instruments in bringing people from the place of unbelief to surrendering their lives.  Making disciples begins with evangelism, but that is not the entirety of the discipleship process.  To stop here is to miss a huge part of the process.  If this was what Christ wanted, He would have said “Go, make converts, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”

Making Disciples involves teaching.
The second part of the discipleship process is teaching (or follow-up)!  When Jesus says “teaching them to obey”, he’s talking about the process of taking someone who has placed their trust in Jesus, and leading them to spiritual maturity by teaching (not just cognitively, but also whole life modelling) them how to walk in obedience to all that Jesus commanded.  Making disciples involves a life-long process of leading people to growth and maturity.

Making Disciples is the partnership of “evangelism” AND “discipleship”.
The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians to tackle some issues that are causing disunity in the Church.  Wrong theology is giving way to ungodly behaviours and so he writes to correct their theology and correct their behaviour.   In tackling disunity he uses the imagery of the human anatomy (see 1 Cor 12):  a body, with various parts, with different functions, all working together.  The absence of body parts can have debilitating effects on the body.  The presence of all the parts but not functioning properly in relation to one another, is equally debilitating.  Right functioning requires all of the parts doing their job properly in relation to the other parts.

When it comes to making disciples, evangelism nor teaching is better than the other.  If there is no conversion, there is no believer for us to teach.  If we have no ongoing teaching, then people are led to the point of faith but are swallowed back into the world because they don’t know how to live as Christ commanded.  In fact, the two terms, functioning properly, should be cyclical.  Evangelism leads us to teaching people to obey, and teaching people to obey leads to them evangelising.

Leading people to faith moves us into showing them to obey; teaching people to obey moves us to show them how to lead others to faith.


Good at one does not mean exempt from the other.
The tendency we all have is to stick with what we’re good at.  Those who are gifted in “evangelism”—bringing people from non-faith to faith—want to be out in the world reaching those who are apart from Jesus.  They look at people in the church doing the teaching/maturing ministry and get frustrated that they are not out “making (new) disciples.”  Those who are gifted for the work of “discipleship” (again, wrong use of the term)—teaching and maturing those who believe—want to stay in the church teaching and training, and get frustrated at those who like to function outwith the church programs which are “making (mature) disciples”.

Sticking with what we’re good at is not in itself a bad thing, but more often than not we use it as an excuse to avoid what we’re not so good at.

Being better/effective at evangelism is not a get-out-of-jail-free-card for taking the time to mature the new believer.  In fact, being effective at evangelism puts a requirement on your life to be involved in teaching… helping people in your church to be more effective at evangelism!   Conversely, being effective at the ministry of maturing does not mean you can opt-out of evangelism.  Maturing-ministries tend to keep you cooped up in the church and out of touch with the world around you, which in turn can make us even less effective at evangelism.  We need to be living what we teach.  And unless you plan to avoid teaching people about the need to share about Jesus, this requires us doing our best to share the gospel too!

God is the One who works through us.
I am not trying to say that we have to become masters of every aspect of the Christian Journey.  God has established the Church so that we are dependent on one another and so that no person can get all the glory.  Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.” (1 Cor 3:6-7)

We are the tools that God uses, but God is the One who does the work!  Praise God!! That means you don’t have to worry about what you’re good at or bad at in the faith journey… God can produce fruit as you operate in your weak areas as easily as he can bear fruit when you operate in your strengths.  The God who moved through Billy Graham leading thousands to Christ is the same God who will lead your neighbour to Him as you boldly share your faith.  God, who moved in Paul as He penned a considerable chunk of the New Testament is the same God who moves as you attempt to teach people to walk in obedience to Him.

Dawson Trotman, in his booklet Born to Reproduce, posed a question that demonstrates his understanding of the interplay of the parts of the discipleship process, and in it offers a mighty challenge to us as we endeavour to obey the Great Commission:

“How many persons do you know by name today who were won to Christ by you [baptised] and who are living for him [taught to obey]?”

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