Evangelism vs. Discipleship: Which Is More Important?

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Are you on Team Discipleship or Team Evangelism?

It seems to me there is a constant discussion, or you could call it a debate (or you could even call it a family fight) among us evangelicals over whether we should be focusing all our attention and efforts on evangelism or discipleship.

Trust me … this is a big deal in the church right now. If you could hear just a small fraction of the conversations I have as I travel and preach …

Because I am an evangelist (see Ephesians 4) by call and trade, I get bombarded by the discipleship camp with questions like, “What happens after all those people respond to the Gospel when you preach?” 

Because I am a pastor, I also get comments from soul-winners like, “If all you ever do is teach the Bible to Christians, how will the lost ever hear the Gospel and be saved?”

These are both very good and eternally important questions.

And to answer those questions, let me first draw your attention to the false dichotomy we have created in our little evangelical church culture here in the West. This is a simplification … but it is a fairly accurate synopsis of the two teams, tribes, camps, etc.

Team Discipleship 

1. We follow the Great Commission! Jesus never said make converts. He said make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). And that is what the church must do.

2. A true disciple will become a witness, will share their faith and will lead the lost to Jesus. Therefore, we don’t have to focus on evangelism.

3. Focusing on evangelism hurts the process of discipleship because evangelism is all about numbers and results and ignores spiritual growth.

4. Discipleship takes more time and investment than evangelism, and therefore is spiritually superior and more important.

5. We would never declare a person is “saved” or a “Christian” until they have proven their faith by following Christ over a period of time.

6. God alone converts people to faith, but it is our responsibility to make disciples out of those whom God saves.

7. Jesus made disciples! (Peter, James, John, Thomas, Mary, Martha, etc …)

Team Evangelism

1. We follow the Great Commission! Jesus told us to preach the Gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15-18). We preach the Gospel and God saves the people.

2. A true Christian should automatically want to share their faith, so we teach them how to be a witness and bring others to Christ.

3. Focusing on discipleship hurts the work of evangelism because it focuses too much on the individual who is already saved, ignoring those who are lost.

4. Evangelism is more grueling and difficult than discipleship because it takes us to the front lines of the lost world, making it spiritually superior and more important.

5. The Bible says when a person confesses sin, repents and believes in Christ, they are saved (Romans 10:13, 1John 1:9). It’s not “false assurance” to say they’re saved.

6. The same God who saves a sinner will complete the work of discipleship in that new believer (Philippians 1:6).

7. Jesus was an evangelist! (The woman at the well, Zacheus, the woman caught in adultery, Nicodemus, etc …)  

Go back and re-read these lists. Do you see how the wedge can easily be driven down into the church if all we ever do is repeat our platitudes? 

Are these two tribes really in disagreement? Are they mutually exclusive? 

What do you think about this? What “team” do you more naturally fall into?

Clayton King Clayton is the Founder & President of Crossroads Ministries, Teaching Pastor @ Newspring Church, Campus Pastor @ Liberty University, Author for Harvest House

More from Clayton King or visit Clayton at http://claytonking.com

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  • eph61820

    I have been saying for years it is not either… it is both… discipleship-evangelism as it is a true biblical look at the ‘justification’ and ‘sanctification’ tension that the Bible clearly reflects for all believers to walk in on a daily basis. Shown better visually? discipleship-evangelism.

  • habitang

    I never knew of the dichotomy until this article. I always thought they were interlinked in importance and it was the role of every Christian to both disciple and evangelise.
    Is it okay for me to just focus on discipleship then? My passions lean that way but I certainly would not play down the role of evanglising.

  • http://twitter.com/vincebautista Vince Bautista

    Praise God my church does both very well!

  • PrescottJayErwin

    It IS a false dichotomy. “Go, therefore, and make disciples…” Evangelism IS discipleship; evangelism that ISN’T discipleship ISN’T evangelism.

  • Stuart

    There seems to be tension that carries all the way back to freewill of man and sovereignty of God. The more calvinistic you are the more you will lean to discipleship and the more freewill you are it seems that you will lean more toward evangelism. I could be wrong, but that is what I got from the article and I say let us be calminians, preach and disciple people like a calvinist and evangelize like an arminian. Prescott hit the nail on the head I believe, they are all one in the same.

  • roger

    how can we dichotomize two integrated facts? hard to believe that question is possible.

  • Rusty

    Why is there are arguement in the first place?? The CHURCH (God’s people) need to both evangelise and disciple….. and it just so happen’s that some people are better at one than the other….. as long as they are both being done and complement eachother in the church then there shouldn’t be any arguement….. well, that’s what I believe anyway!! :-)

  • Kirk

    Seems pretty simple. We are called to preach the gospel. That’s evangelism. We are also called to make disciples. It is possible to do two things, right? You can be an excellent father and great husband. You don’t have to choose.Our greater problem is that we do so many other things that have nothing to do with these 2 “Most Important things” The trick answer is “Yes, we should evangelize and disciple people”.

  • Bayo

    Yes my brother both are very important. Trying to distinguish btw the two or finding which one is of greater importance to me is dodging our responsibilities with excuses. Your work as an extrovert is equally important just like the introvert. A church should create room for both evangelism Amb discipleship.

  • http://www.tonyjalicea.com Tony J. Alicea

    This is where I believe we miss it as the church. I don’t want to get on a soapbox about how Western Christianity views the pastoral position unbiblically but this is exactly the problem in this discussion.

    I believe in the 5-fold ministry, which is multi-dimensional and not just singularly focused. When we have a “pastor” leading a church, he typically focuses on whatever his strength is. If he’s a teacher, the focus is discipleship. If he’s more pastoral, the focus is relationships. If he’s more evangelistic, the focus is on outreach.

    I believe a healthy church has all of these roles functioning as elders and equippers in the local church. They train and empower the church to walk these roles out. Then you don’t have evangelists disconnected from the local church doing crusades with no one to disciple them when they move on to the next town.

    The local church is the perfect model for all of this to happen. I’m cool with parachurch ministries but I believe they should always be covered by a local church and the goal of the local church should be to have all of the gifts functioning…not just picking and choosing.

  • KJ

    Evangelism is a subset of discipleship. The command is to make disciples. In Acts when they “made disciples” it assumes an evangelistic aspect to it. Evangelism is a subset of discipleship, just as is every aspect of Gospel-related activity. I think Mike Wilkins and David Platt capture it pretty well, and we would do best to stop fostering a debate between these two and build cohesion between the concepts.

    Michael Wilkins: “Discipleship is not just one aspect of the church’s mission, but it encompasses all the church does.”

    David Platt: “Disciple making is…about a relationship. As we share the gospel [EVANGELISM], we impart life, and this is the essence of making disciples. Sharing the life of Christ.”

  • Mighty Mike

    We are called to make disciples of all people and this is the church’s responsibility and everyone in the church should have a role. We are not all called to be Evangelists but we are all called to be witnesses to the world that Jesus is our Savior. Evangelist is one of the 5 fold ministry positions and I believe that the office of the Evangelist is responsible for teaching and demonstrating how to be an effective witness to non-believers and to be able to lead them to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and eternal life.

  • Pete

    It seems the author has too much time on his hands and is trying to pick the flyspecks out of the pepper……with boxing gloves on..

  • Ben Ard

    They are both equally important. ” go, therefore and make disciples ” they go hand in hand. People must HEAR gospel of Jesus – I.e. evangelism. After hearing and believing they must be taught how to live the christion life ( they must be ” little Christ”) and that is discipleship . You down play one and you do half baked job and hurt the huge and priceless investment of Jesus Christ )

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