Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Thoughts on Evangelism & Discipleship

In the biblical evangelism community (BEC) there is a narrow view of the Great Commission (GC). We tend to view our responsibility as fulfilled if we obey Mark 16:15's injunction to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. If we go into a venue and "sow and go", we think that we have done all that we have been asked to do by our Lord.

This is a narrow view of the GC because of the fact that we must look at all of the GC passages as parallel and not exclusive of one another. For example, what do we do with Matthew 28:18-20? Here, the GC includes the idea of baptizing disciples and then teaching them to do all things that the Lord has commanded them to do. This is much broader than just giving people the Gospel. It assumes responsibility on the part of the commissioned to train the one who comes to Christ, the disciple.

Generally speaking, in the BEC those who would even mention that they are affiliated with a church when they are on the streets are viewed with some suspicion. After all, we are not there to get people to come to our church, we are there to get them to come to Christ. True enough. However, what if they do come to Christ? Or what if they want more information than you can give them in one sitting? Many people want to count the cost, weigh the evidence, and think this thing through before giving everything up to follow Christ. In fact, that is the right thing to do. Where are they going to get that information? Doesn't it stand to reason that a good place for them to get that information would be at a solid local church?

When was the last time that you read 1 Corinthians 12? So many people miss the point of this text, focusing on what gifts are or are not for today, what gifts we have, etc. The point of the text is the fact that the Lord has gifted people in the church with various gifts for the purpose of the edification of all within the local church. No one person, including the pastor, has all of the gifts necessary to do the work of edification. We need each other. I do not have everything I need to edify a new believer. But my church does. Discipleship is a team effort.

It is also our habit to suggest that our responsibility ends with our witness. We cite Philippians 1:6 and say that the Lord is the One who does the work and that He who began a good work in the life of a true believer will be faithful to complete it. Again, true enough. But does Philippians 1:6 somehow trump the responsibility we are given in Matthew 28:18-20?

I don't agree with everything that he teaches, but Zac Poonen has made an excellent point when he said that most missionaries emphasize either evangelism at the neglect of discipleship or vice versa. It is rare to find a missionary who has proper emphasis on both. Rarer still are those in the BEC who are even trying to understand the balance.

What would you say if I told you that I carry copies of my church business card with me in my wallet? I give these to people who I witness to who live near my church. What would you say about the fact that I am convicted that I need to invite more people to church? Would you consider me watered down? Compromised? Misguided?

This is not to say that most churches have a right understanding of their role in discipleship. Most do not. The point of Matthew 28:18-20 is NOT that we simply teach the new disciples all things that Jesus has commanded. No, it is that we teach them to OBSERVE all things which He has commanded. In other words, that we actually teach them how to DO those things. This insinuates that the teacher (us) is actually doing those things He has commanded and knows how to teach others to do the same thing. There are some churches which are excellent at the teaching them WHAT He commanded, but are not so hot on teaching them the how-to.

All of this does not mean that I am going to stop doing and planning outreaches outside of driving distance to my church. It does not mean that I am going to stop evangelizing strangers in public and private settings. It does mean that I am going to try to figure out how we can do evangelism publicly all around the world and still be smart about working with solid local churches in those areas to refer new believers or interested unbelievers to them.

I'm not saying that I have "arrived". I will admit that I am working on learning true discipleship. My hope is that all of us in the BEC will work on it as well. If we don't, I think that the biblical relevance of our community is in jeopardy. I'm not sure that we can survive beyond this present generation of evangelists if we don't.




Jennifer said...

Hey, Jon.

I think you and I are on the same page here, only I don't use the word "discipleship." I simply call it, "evangelizing the saved." I agree that most people have a VERY narrow view of what evangelism is. They assume it is simply sharing the gospel for salvation purposes. But as John MacArthur so aptly put it in one of his sermons, "Salvation is only the first step of the sanctification process." God's will is that we are sanctified (1 Thess 4:3). He did not save us just to save us. What is it then, that we use in order to sanctify a person? The same thing we used to get them saved: The Gospel. The Gospel is powerful enough to combat the sin in both the regenerate and unregenerate soul. If evangelism is simply spreading the good news of the gospel, then it is fair to say (IMO) that there is such a thing as "evangelizing" Christians. We are simply reminding those who have been saved of the power of the gospel in their daily lives to defeat sin. That is good news -- that is evangelism too!

Jon Speed said...


I agree with you.

I would only add that new believers, although they need to be instructed in the Gospel and its sanctifying power, also need instruction in practical sanctification. For example, they need training in the "put off" and "put on" commands in Colossians. And much more.

I suspect you'd agree with this as well, if this is the same Jennifer I think it is. :-)



chris said...

I really enjoyed your blog. I live in a 24/7 Christian Community where over 600 people live a share all thing in common (Acts 2&4) in the UK, and we practise discipleship every day and teach "one another" to Love, Serve, Forgive, Bear with, Encourage, Build and about another 50 odd "One anothers" and we are all One Body and fully members of one another.
Pls check out our website www.jesus.org.uk and my blog which has a lot on discipleship which is http://360.yahoo.com/jafatherheart

Susan said...

Great post, Jon.

My church had revival last week with Dr. Nelson Perdue. With the exception of one night where a portion of his sermon was about the problem with the church getting to much like the world (seeker friendlism, emergent), he preached mainly on sancification and holiness.

The Nazarene church (my denomination) believes and teaches that we are to live a holy life and the it is possible through sanctification and we believe in Sanctification as a second work of grace that follows salvation.

One night he preached from Psalm 53 and I think that it was the best sermon I have ever heard about the subject.

A friend of mine recorded the sermons and she is going to give them to me so I can upload them.

One thing he said that I really like was about the fact that we are to consider ourselves to be dead to world and to ourselves, but "most Christians today are too alive for God to do anything with and that the church needs to stop fighting holiness and defending sin."

There is definitely a problem with churches today not dicipling new converts and not feeding the sheep.

Jon Speed said...


It's good to hear from you sister.

I'm grateful for anyone who teaches about sanctification these days; most churches are more interested in packing the pews and entertaining them.

However, I'd probably disagree with Dr. Perdue. Sanctification doesn't take place in a moment; it's a lifelong process. That's why Paul had to write epistles like Colossians; the "one anothers" and the "put off" and "put on" passages have to do with a lifelong process of obedience and transformation. But this is just one example.

I'd recommend the following series for a solid understanding of sanctification:







Jennifer said...

Hi, Jon -- yes, it's me! This is one of the reasons I've ditched the term "discipleship" -- because I'm not really talking about discipling, but rather, "evangelizing Christians." Most of the time we do need to remind even ourselves of the power of the gospel in our everyday lives. When we remind ourselves of our own sinfulness (law), and then the message of the gospel (grace), we are in essence evangelizing ourselves. It is the gospel that makes it possible to do the "putting ons" and "putting offs" and "one anothers". It goes deeper than merely explaining to a new convert that they should read their Bible or get plugged into a solid church. Again, I think we are on the same exact page, probably just reading a different font (lol). But a great book you and your readers might enjoy is The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges. It is in this book he discusses the concept of "preaching the gospel to yourself."

Daniel Warnock said...

Thanks for your thoughts.
I'll be visiting your site for encouragement.
CHECK OUT http://danielwarnock.blogspot.com/

rabi said...

This article refers to Zac Poonen. His online resources are hosted at cfcindia.com