A Beautiful Reunion

Evangelism and discipleship are meant to be marriage partners, but, sadly, the union seems to have fallen on hard times. In many churches, these two partners appear to be rivals. In the lives of many followers of Jesus, there seems to be a divorce between growing in Jesus (discipleship) and going with Jesus (evangelism). 

It is time to bring these two back together. For the glory of God and for the sake of the world, we need to help discipleship and evangelism become ministry and marriage partners once again.

Three Ways Discipleship Fuels Evangelism

A disciple is a person who is becoming more like Jesus. As Christians follow the Savior, we become more like him. We do what he did, love as he loved, think in line with his ideas, and look more like our Lord with each passing day. The more we grow as disciples, the more we enter the journey of looking for lost sheep because that was the mission of our Good Shepherd.

  1. Believers who read the Bible consistently and seriously grow a heart for the lost and embrace the mission of God’s church. Jesus loved the Scriptures. He followed the teachings of the God-breathed words recorded in the Pentateuch, the prophets and all that had been inspired by the Holy Spirit. When we read the Bible, the heart of God for the world becomes clear and gives us a map to follow.

When we read that Abraham was blessed to be a blessing to the nations of the world (Gen. 12:3), we can move past a small-minded vision that lets us focus our time and lives only on those who are already part of God’s family. The prophet Jonah was commanded to call the most pagan nation of the ancient world to repent and receive the grace of God. When we read these words, we feel the echo of God’s heart move us to take a chance and invite resistant people to repent and believe in the One who offers cleansing to the most rebellious of people. When we read that Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), we discover that his mission is our mission, and that we need to join him on his journey. When we watch the apostle Paul get knocked down, turned around and sent on mission to the Gentiles (Acts 9), we discover that if God could use the worst of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) to bring the message of salvation to the world, he can use me and you. 

On top of the example of so many people in the Bible embracing the mission of God (sometimes reluctantly), there is an undeniable call for all Christians to be part of God’s evangelistic mission. Some of Jesus’ final words after his resurrection and before his ascension were laser-focused on moving his followers into the world with the gospel. Jesus said that his people would be witnesses right where they lived (Jerusalem), in their broader community (Judea), in the places they tended to avoid and among the people they did not like (Samaria), and to the very ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). He also gave the instruction to go and reach people in every nation, baptize them and teach them everything he had taught (Matt. 28:19–20). This call to mission was not an option but a command.

A Christian who is immersed in the Scriptures and learns consistently from God’s Word will grow a mind that understands the missionary call of God. Their heart will expand until they love the lost and count the cost of reaching out in the name of the Savior. The more a disciple grows in learning, loving and living the Bible, the more they will engage in evangelism.

  1. Christians who serve with humility will see doors open for sharing the good news. In his incarnation, Jesus gave up the glory of heaven to come and live among us. Jesus washed the dirty, grimy feet of his rebellious, doubting and betraying followers. When Jesus went to the cross, he showed us the ultimate act of servanthood. He gave his life to bear our sins and wash away our shame. 

Every disciple who seeks to follow Jesus closely will emulate his example of service and heed his call to “wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). Christians are humble servants who “take up the cross and follow Jesus” (Matt. 16:24). A lifestyle of service is mandatory for every disciple of Jesus.

You might wonder what service has to do with evangelism. The truth is, we live in a radically and pathologically selfish world. We are consumers who want things our way. When a Jesus follower serves with a kind heart and deep humility, we stand out. People notice. 

As a young believer in my late teens, I worked at an Italian restaurant. As a waiter, when my evening shift was completed, I could leave. The bus staff was responsible for cleanup and food prep, so they stayed for another hour. Because I was looking for ways to serve and be like Jesus, I made a habit of hanging out for an extra 30 minutes after I was off the clock, and I helped with mopping the floors and cutting salami, pepperoni and other items for the next day’s customers. Over a matter of just a few months, I had almost every member of the bus team ask me why I was still there after I was no longer being paid. I explained what Jesus had done for me and how he called me to serve others. This opened the door for many natural and powerful spiritual conversations. Humble service opens the door for natural outreach if we do it in the name of Jesus.

  1. Disciples of Jesus who pray passionately for the lost and with the lost open the doors of heaven for a powerful evangelistic movement of the Holy Spirit. Jesus taught his followers to pray by didactic instruction as well as his example. In the longest recorded prayer of Jesus in the Bible (John 17), we hear our Savior praying for those who will come to believe in him through the witness and lives of the disciples. Jesus modeled crying out for those who did not yet have faith in him. 

The day I became a disciple of Jesus (after growing up in a home with no faith), I began praying for my father’s salvation. Over the next four decades, there were very few days that I did not pray for my dad’s salvation. Every time I would spend time with him, I would pray, Spirit of the Living God, give me some fresh and new way to show and articulate your truth, grace, presence and love to my earthly father. As my wife and I traveled the world training leaders in evangelism, I would ask the people we trained, “Pray for my dad.” 

By the time my father was in his 80s, I know there were thousands of people praying for him all over the planet. Then, in the middle of COVID-19, while he was battling cancer, my resistant and self-sufficient dad cried out for the grace and presence of Jesus to fill him. I have no question that every prayer was heard and had a part in my dad’s salvation. 

The spiritual practice of prayer should be growing in the life of every disciple. Prayers for the wandering sheep we know should be on the top of our prayer list. In addition, followers of Jesus should learn to pray with nonbelievers. I have prayed with hundreds, maybe over one thousand non-Christians through the years. I always ask permission and I have had only four people say no. Many of them end up with tears running down their face because the presence and power of Jesus comes on them. I prayed with my dad when he was an atheist, later when he was an agnostic, when he was a friendly theist, and finally, I had the honor of praying with him when he received Jesus.

The journey of discipleship leads us to deep Bible engagement, frequent and humble service, and passionate prayer. Each of these, along with all the other spiritual disciplines, moves followers of Jesus into the world with his love and truth. If discipleship does not lead to evangelism, we should ask ourselves, “Who am I really following?”

Kevin Harney (KevinGHarney.com) is an Outreach magazine contributing editor, lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Monterey, California, and the founder and visionary leader of Organic Outreach International (OrganicOutreach.org). He is the author of the Organic Outreach trilogy and, most recently, Organic Disciples: Seven Ways to Grow Spiritually and Naturally Share Jesus, in addition to multiple studies and articles.