Evangelism vs. Discipleship?

21 01 2011

Too many of our churches have put the cart of evangelism in front of the horse of discipleship— and have done it for far too long now. The horse has run away and the cart remains unmoved full of rotting fruit! We can be sure that the evil forces of the spiritual realm and our society will continue to gain ground and come to dominance as our churches continue to seek cultural acceptance and “success” at the expense genuine discipleship.


Conservative, Evangelical churches take pride in being guardians of the truth of the Gospel and the Scriptures– the doctrine is right for getting people saved. This is contrasted with liberal, main-line churches who have jettisoned the Gospel for political and social gospels. It must be asked, however, are we “true believers” any better off than the liberals in forming our members into the likeness of Christ? If not, then what use has our doctrinal fastidiousness served us?! Now, granted, good discipleship must spring out of good and true theological, biblical soil. But why should we take pride in believing the “right” things if the people in our churches live and act little differently than Joe and Jane Pagan (or Harry and Hannah Heretic)?

What to do? It starts with me. If the Lord should see fit to make me a pastor again, I will, by His powerful grace, BE a disciple, lead my family into being disciples, and guide the people God gives me into the Kingdom-joy of being and making disciples of Jesus Christ. So be it!


Below I have an extended quote from Dallas Willard that spurred my passion and thoughts on the topic of discipleship. Also, you can click here Discipleship: For Super-Christians Only? to read a great article also by Willard (and even though it is 30 years old, it remains relevant– indeed I believe its relevancy is even more potent now!).


Willard is here making the case at the end of this chapter that if we would see real and godly improvement in our communities and in our nation the church and her ministers must do a much better work in discipleship (from: The Spirit of the Disciplines, chp. 11 “The Disciplines and the Power Structures of this World” Pgs. 246-47).



“The people of Christ have never lacked for available power to accomplish the task set for them by their Master. But they have failed to make disciples in the New Testament sense of the term. And naturally following upon this they have failed even to intend to teach people to do all that Christ would have us do. Certainly this was, more often than not, because they thought it impossible. But in any case they have failed to seek his power to the end he specified, and they have not developed the character needed to bear his power safely throughout the social order, or even within the church itself.”


“At this point in history, every leader among those who identify with Christ as Lord must ask himself or herself: ‘How can I justify not leading my people into the practice of disciplines for the spiritual life that would enable them to reign in their lives by Christ Jesus? How can I fail to give them this opportunity? How can I justify not giving myself to those practices until I am a spiritual powerhouse, the angels of God evidently ascending and descending upon me in my place?'”


“Ministers pay far too much attention to people who do not come to services. Those people should, generally, be given exactly that disregard by the pastor that they give to Christ. The Christian leader has something much more important to do than pursue the godless. The leader’s task is to equip saints until they are like Christ (Eph. 4:12), and history and the God of history waits for him to do this job. [I would add here that if the pastor/church leader really loves the lost and wants to employ the most effective means of evangelizing them, he or she should first make disciples of the folk already attending because they will stand an infinitely better chance of “winning” the lost of the community than the pastor/leader ever will! The best and greatest hope for the “un-churched” around us is a Christian community who effectively disciples its members!]

It is so easy for the leader today to get caught up in illusory goals, pursuing the marks of success [which I have are found are typically reduced to: a church with increasing numbers of attenders accompanied by “dynamic” children’s and youth ministries– if a church has these marks it is generally considered to be “successful”] which come from our training as Christian leaders or which are simply imposed by the world. It is big, Big, always BIG, and BIGGER STILL! That is the contemporary imperative. Thus we fail to take seriously the nurture and training of those, however few, who stand constantly by us.”


“Everyone who has a pastoral role to others, whether as an official minister or not, must strive for a specific understanding of what is happening to those who come regularly under his or her influence and must pay individual attention to their development. This is the absolutely sure way to ‘win the world’ (John 17:21-23).”


“There is a special evangelistic work to be done, of course, and there are special callings to it. But if those in the churches really are enjoying fullness of life, evangelism will be unstoppable and largely automatic. The local assembly, for its part, can then become an academy where people throng from the surrounding community to learn how to live. It will be a school of life (for a disciple is but a pupil, a student) where all aspects of that life seen in the New Testament records are practiced and mastered under those who have themselves mastered them through practice. Only by taking this as our immediate goal can we intend to carry out the Great Commission.”




One response

23 01 2011
Rich Wollan

For further discussion on this that deals with how we define terms like “evangelism” and “discipleship” see David Garvin’s post: “Defining Evangelism” http://davidgarvin.net/2010/07/14/defining-evangelism/

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