In our last post we were looking at making disciples in the church who are growing more and more like Jesus. But here’s the objection that we find pops into our heads or which we may hear from others in church. But what about evangelism, if we invest too much in discipling believers what about the lost who face eternity separated from God?
Initially it sounds like a good objection, except that it creates a false dichotomy, and one that actually does lots of damage to the church, because it divides discipleship and evangelism. Evangelism is for non-believers and discipleship is taking disciples deeper it argues. But actually that’s not true. And thinking like that leaves us with stunted pygmy disciples who have prayed the prayer but never grown as disciples because deeper discipleship is optional – and there is so much more we could say on that but don’t have time for now. So how should we think of discipleship and evangelism? Discipleship is gospel-ing believers, evangelism is gospel-ing unbelievers. They are more of a spectrum that two separate boxes and speaking and teaching about Jesus is key in each, not just in a way that learns but in a way that deeply transforms.
That wrong way of thinking about evangelism makes it something scary. Evangelism becomes something I just don’t know how to do and so we search books and podcasts and attend conferences looking for THE way to do evangelism. But what if evangelism is supposed to be the natural overflow of our growing, thriving discipleship. In Acts 1v8 Jesus tells the disciples they are to be his witnesses, when Peter leads the church to choose a replacement for Judas they must be witnesses of Jesus life. Why? So that they can speak about what they know of Jesus, so they can testify to what they saw. He doesn’t say let’s look for the person who can best explain the gospel in 2 minutes, or who can invent a diagram, or scribble something good on a beer mat, or brilliantly answer apologetic questions. No. They need someone who can testify to what they know of Jesus, who has been formed by time spent with Jesus. If we use that definition of evangelism doesn’t that take the pressure off.
Discipleship that is helping people love Jesus more and to become like what they love and behold will naturally lead to more sharing of Jesus. In Luke 6v45 Jesus says “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” We often view that negatively, in that what comes out reveals the sin there, and yes that’s true. But think about it positively for a minute because Jesus has just said a good man bring good things out of the good stored in his heart. What does that mean for discipleship and evangelism? If Jesus is in our hearts, if our hearts are full of and overflowing with him what will come out when we speak will be the good news about Jesus.
The way we grow as evangelists, the way we help our church family to share the good news of Jesus with those they love, is not to learn more techniques or read more books or put on courses it is to be disciple into a deeper, richer, fuller love for Jesus and understanding of his love for us. And then out of the overflow of our hearts we will naturally talk about Jesus.
What if we have fallen back on techniques and books and strategies and courses simply because our hearts aren’t full and overflowing with Jesus? What if the reason we’re tongue-tied when we’re asked about Jesus by a friend is because we just don’t know him very well.
We are brilliant evangelists for all sorts of others things aren’t we, our football team, our families, our kids or grandkids achievements. Why are we so able to talk passionately and with love about those things? Because our hearts are full to overflowing with them.
Discipleship is the key to unlocking evangelism in our churches, to reaching not just the hard places but every place with the good news of Jesus. As we help people see Jesus, love Jesus and become like what they behold they will not be able to stop themselves speaking about him, because they will be speaking about what they’ve witnessed first hand Discipleship matters..
Let me just throw one more grenade while I’m here. I wonder if our anaemic discipleship explains why we end up doing event evangelism. Why do we do mission weeks? Why do we hold special services or have evangelistic courses that take people from A-Z? Because as a church we’ve bought into that same fallacy but know we should be doing evangelism. So we do evangelism corporately because we’re not convinced the church are doing it privately and we know we should do it. What if instead of doing that we disciple deeply, and commissioned the congregation to go into all the world and make disciples as they speak of him whom their heart is full and overflowing with?