Too often people view the connection between discipleship and evangelism in one of two ways: Either they lump them into one category, or one gets relegated to the wastelands of our faith life. If we are honest, usually evangelism gets the short end of the stick. The truth is, discipleship must include evangelism. Being a disciple of Christ means doing the work of evangelism.
First, though, it is helpful to clarify what both terms mean. Evangelism is telling somebody about Jesus, so that person might respond by grace and through faith. There is a verbal description and explanation of gospel work. It is narrower in scope than discipleship. It always includes words. But let me be clear—evangelism is not necessarily leading someone to faith; instead, you may have many opportunities to share the gospel that may not result in the person making a declaration of faith at that moment. Evangelism is the combination of the words we plant that God may use at any point to draw a person to himself.
Discipleship, on the other hand, is much broader. It is a mission in which we engage in activities and practices that help others grow to be more Christlike. It encompasses words and actions. It is our faith life put into practice for the benefit of others and ourselves. Discipleship is teaching others what it means to be more like Christ in word, thought and deed.
When Jesus said to make disciples (Matt. 28), he was including evangelism but wasn’t setting that parameter. He was conveying the idea that both broad discipleship and narrow evangelism are critical: “Go, therefore, and make disciples.”
So, how do we as leaders guide those in our care to become disciples who make evangelism a high priority? Let me offer a few thoughts.
1. Model it.
It’s an unfortunate reality that most of our churches are growing through transfer rather than conversion. Part of the reason for this is because we as leaders are lukewarm when it comes to our personal evangelism life. If we aren’t prioritizing being with nonbelievers and sharing the good news on a regular basis, others are less likely to view it as important.
Evangelism is contagious. The more we do it and talk about it, the more the church will get excited about how God will use them. At the Billy Graham Center, where I serve, my team and I regularly talk about the recent opportunities we’ve had to share the gospel. There have been times when the excitement in that room is so palpable we leave ready to engage in gospel conversations immediately.
Pastor, be contagious in how you live.
2. Teach it.
Once we have demonstrated a passion for evangelism in our own lives, we must equip our people to effectively share their faith. Our churches are filled with ministries—some inward facing, others outward facing. Every place where people are plugged in should have a component of clear evangelism training included. For example, what does it mean to lead our children to share the gospel with others? How are our greeters prepared to hold out the gospel to visitors in our churches?
Let me share two resources available through the Billy Graham Center if you are unsure where to start. First, the Church Evangelism Initiative (CEICohorts.com) is for senior pastors looking to move their congregations toward being more oriented around evangelism. Consider joining a cohort. Second, we have developed a six-chapter curriculum for churches and small groups on how to develop a passion for evangelism that translates into action. Check it out at OurGospelStory.com.
Pastor, use every available opening to train your people in evangelism.
3. Move it.
Now that you are a disciple who models evangelism and you have created training opportunities throughout your church, you need to follow the call of Nike: Just do it. Get your people into the world to share Jesus.
If you currently don’t have any outward-facing ministries that allow your people to engage non-Christians with the gospel, start one or two. Consider taking a team out on the town once a month to share the gospel with others. One leader I know regularly takes college students to the streets of Chicago. He opens with, “I am trying to teach these guys how to share Jesus with others. Can we practice on you?” It’s a funny but effective way to start a conversation.
Finally, consider creating space in your Sunday services for one or two people to share with the congregation an evangelism experience they had. The more our people understand that being a disciple of Christ means pointing nonbelievers to Christ, the more our mission—and impact—will grow.
Ed Stetzer, an Outreach magazine contributing editor, holds the Billy Graham distinguished chair of church, mission and evangelism at Wheaton College and the Wheaton Grad School, where he also oversees the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. This article originally appeared on The Exchange.