Evangelism or Discipleship?

There is a big debate going on in the church today. It’s the same debate that’s been going on for a couple decades now. Here it is:

Should the church be more concerned about Evangelism or Discipleship?

For those of you who may not be familiar with these terms, let me simplify them:

Evangelism is simply telling other people about Jesus and inviting them into a relationship with Him
Discipleship is training up believers to become more fully devoted followers of Jesus

Here’s how this debate usually fleshes out:

There are some churches that put a major focus on Evangelism. They set their sights on seeing people far from God come to know Christ. They’re focused on keeping their front door wide open and being welcoming to anyone and everyone that comes through their doors. They focus on the next visitor who comes through their doors. They’re often labeled as friendly and sensitive to seekers.

There are other churches that swing the pendulum to the other extreme. They place a major focus on sound theological teaching and building community with people who are already attending the church. They focus on keeping their back door narrow. Very few people leave these congregations. The members find comfort in relationships they find at the church. They spend time and money helping people grow in their walk with Jesus.

The problem I have with the debate is that I don’t see a problem with EITHER ONE OF THESE THINGS! If you want to get right down to it, the problem with the debate is that both sides tend to take opposite extremes. One side lives reactionary to the flaws and pitfalls of the other side and so the pendulum swings back and forth further and further away from each other.

When I look at the life and ministry of Jesus I see something totally different! Jesus seemed to demonstrate 100% of BOTH sides! From what I see of Jesus’ life, Evangelism and Discipleship are NOT mutually exclusive concepts. Jesus began his ministry by saying, “Follow me and I’ll make you FISHERS OF MEN.” In other words, I’m going to DISCIPLE you on how to EVANGELIZE!! It seems to me that evangelism and discipleship were two sides of the same coin for Jesus!

If you asked me if I would rather our church be about evangelism or discipleship, I’d ask you if you’d rather have peanut butter or jelly on your PB&J sandwich! While you may PREFER one over the other, it is NO LONGER A PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SANDWICH WITHOUT EITHER ONE!

Likewise the Church is no longer the Church without either Evangelism or Discipleship. Jesus made his life about spreading the Gospel while he was discipling people. He discipled people to SPREAD THE GOSPEL! All of Jesus’ disciples were evangelists! You can’t separate the two! Jesus was insanely passionate about seeing people far from God come to a saving faith! That’s why he died!! But he was also insanely passionate about equipping his followers to endure through thick and thin all the way to the end!

Philemon 1:6 says this, “I pray you would be active in sharing your faith so you may come to the full knowledge of everything we have in Christ Jesus.” In other words, it’s impossible know Jesus FULLY (i.e. be a disciple) if you’re not sharing your faith with other people.

Here’s what this means for us practically: each one of us are going to have a tendency to drift to one extreme or the other. I personally have a tendency to tell other people about Jesus and downplay the importance of raising up “better” followers of Jesus. If you have that tendency like me, you can grow significantly in your walk with Jesus by helping other people to become an evangelist like you. This is called “discipleship.” We call this making “disciple cycles.”

If you have the tendency to shy away from sharing your faith and would rather sit around talking to other Christians about struggles, triumphs, and life issues, there isn’t anything wrong with this. But you will significantly grow in your walk with Jesus if you step out in boldness and tell a non-Christian what Jesus has done in your life.

I want to be a church that’s passionate about BOTH (1) REACHING PEOPLE FAR FROM GOD and (2) TEACHING THEM HOW TO FOLLOW JESUS! Let’s be that church, Resonate! Let’s step up in boldness and invite people to our Easter service! Let’s talk to people we haven’t seen in church recently and invite them to come back! Let’s evangelize AND disciple! We’re preparing, Jesus is working, and people are going to have their eternities altered!

- Davey Blackburn

Davey Blackburn is the lead pastor of Resonate Church. You can find him on Twitter at @daveyblackburn.