Article by Bill Muehlenberg,
As I get a bit older in my Christian walk, I often wonder if we are not missing out on another important aspect of evangelism: discipleship. Evangelism and discipleship of course go hand-in-hand and hopefully most who are involved in evangelism will also be concerned about discipleship.
We may think we have done our duty when we have preached the gospel and someone has responded. We then might be tempted to move on and work at getting our next spiritual scalp.
But we must always recall the final commission of Jesus as found in Matt. 28:18-20: “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.”
Here all the emphasis is on discipleship, not evangelism. Of course discipleship cannot take place unless one has first become a Christian, and that is why evangelism must always be a high priority. But the question is, have we always made discipleship as high a priority as well?
That after all is the real aim of evangelism. Getting people saved is often seen as an end in itself, but the New Testament picture is that conversion is simply the first step – the entry into what God in fact intends for us: a life of growth and maturation in Christ. Discipleship, in other words.
When I hear about evangelistic campaigns where hundreds of souls were saved, I of course rejoice. But I also have to rightly ask: OK, but what about the discipleship? Is that being followed up on? What happens to all these new converts? Are concrete steps in place to disciple, church, and nurture these new believers? Hopefully this will not be an afterthought, but an integral part of any evangelistic strategy.
I realise that some people have the gift of evangelism only, while others may have the gift of pastoring or teaching. But no church or Christian group should be involved in evangelism if it does not also have something in place to help disciple these new believers.
Part of the reason why some may have been a bit negligent in the area of discipleship is because they have a reductionist view of what the Christian life is all about. Many think simply in terms of getting souls saved and getting people to heaven. But there is more to salvation than just this.
So, am I downplaying evangelism? Nope. I am playing up discipleship. Both are essential components of our Christian work and both must be diligently pursued. We must always ensure that we are not just making converts, but that we are making disciples.
And that will impact on what sort of message we actually preach as part of our gospel proclamation. Sadly we often offer a weak, anaemic and shallow gospel, which ignores or plays down human sinfulness and the need for radical discipleship, including denying self and crucifying the flesh.
These weak gospel messages will always result in weak Christians. When such a shallow and hollow message is proclaimed, we can expect little substantial fruit, at least for the long term. What we too often offer in our evangelistic meetings are ten choruses of “Just As I AM”, with people leaving just as they were.
By all means, let us never lose our zeal and passion for evangelism. But let us always couple that with a thorough and ongoing program of biblical discipleship. Without that we will simply see most of the fruit of our labours lost, an ineffective church, and a lot of wasted effort. Visit Bill Muehlenberg’s website >