“Evangelship” is a made-up word desperately needed to correct a misunderstanding at the core of the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. The term combines “evangelism” and “discipleship” to reunite what we’ve separated as two different activities with great ramifications.
“Evangelism” refers to a process or event that leads people to faith in Jesus Christ. Usually, “discipleship” refers to the process of growing in Christ through the mentorship of someone else. In a theological sense, “evangelism” results in “justification” and “discipleship” refers to “sanctification.” The former is fire insurance from the flames of hell; the latter is a home improvement loan on a life built on the new foundation of Christ.
WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
From a practical point of view, separating evangelism from discipleship can promote “transactional” faith where the decision becomes all-important, while obedience to Christ can become an optional add-on. The net result, at best, creates an immature and self-focused body of baby believers. At worst, transactional faith can give false hope to people that they have truly become believers (by praying a prayer, walking an aisle, or assenting to a message). It’s a view that our eternal salvation from eternal damnation is secure, o we are now able to live freely without divine interference or necessity to obey all He has commanded us.
In the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus commands His disciples to make disciples of all nations and to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and to teach these disciples to obey all He has commanded. The misinterpretation of these verses has fueled this problematic separation of evangelism from discipleship.
The often-heard slogan is, “win them, wet them, and they have eternity to go deep.” But a proper understanding is that teaching disciples to obey what He has commanded is a further expression of what it means to become a “disciple.” No proclamation of the “good news” of salvation should exclude the requirement of life change in obedience to Christ.
Further, the firm distinction between evangelism and discipleship runs the danger of turning both into processes while missing the relational core of what it means to follow Jesus. We hold evangelistic outreaches, gather names of converts, and then turn those names over to others who volunteer to be disciplers. The discipleship process then becomes a program centered around core teaching of Bible and doctrine either in a one-on-one or group setting. What is missing in the process is all the time beyond the meeting or class when disciples must learn to choose right from wrong in all the areas of their relationships, work, service, and worship of the Lord.
The pervasive cultural trait of American individualism compounds the problem in that we tend to view our relationship with God as a private experience, and our participation within the church as a voluntary association. No wonder a faithful church member is now considered to be one who attends church once a month and tithes regularly.
What is missing is the core biblical truth that we grow as disciples within the body of Christ as each person engages in a network of interconnected lives.
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16 /ESV)
Disciples grow together, not apart from one another. Disciples grow in relationships with other disciples, not in the process of content acquisition. And most of all, healthy disciples make other disciples through their natural network of relationships. Evangelism results from being a growing disciple. It’s the natural outcome of being a believer and being the church.
CORRECTING THE PROBLEM
We must recapture the biblical teaching that the church is an interconnected community of believers, not the aggregate of many voluntary individual believers. That means we need to look at church differently. It must not be a place that services the spiritual needs of its members. Rather, it is the people who collectively gather to worship and serve the Lord.
We must also recapture the biblical truth that even though some are particularly gifted as evangelists, nonetheless, all healthy disciples make other disciples. That means they share their faith, lead others to the Lord, and walk alongside them as they make the right choices in life. Someone once said that making disciples is “collecting people for Jesus and then walking alongside them for a very long time while they make the right choices in all their decisions.”
We must understand that “evangelship” is not about the process of how we convince someone to make a decision and how we follow up with basic theological and biblical training. At its core, “evangelship” is relational. It’s proclaiming the good news of the gospel. It’s introducing people to Jesus through His Word, by His Spirit, and through the telling of our own experience of knowing Him. And we must recapture the concept of making disciples as the endeavor of the entire community of believers engaging all its members in gathering people for Jesus and walking a long way with them through their choices in life.