Q: Should the church be primarily focused on evangelizing the lost or discipling the saved?
Q: How do you balance the two? Or should there even be a balance? Perhaps the pendulum should swing a little more one way than the other?
Q: Practically, what does this look like in a weekend church worship context? What does this look like in the way churches teach and train disciples?
Q: Personally, what should this look like in your life as you grow and cultivate “spiritual disciplines”?
To be honest, I think that when we ask questions like these (though they are thoughtful and pertinent and important questions to work through) we are ultimately asking the wrong question. Because what we have done here in setting up this impenetrable tension is create a false dichotomy that Jesus would have never intended to exist.
Disciple-making is evangelism. And evangelism is disciple-making.
When you evangelize, fact is, you are becoming a more complete disciple. And biblically, every single last one of us are called to do it.
But sadly, even though the art of evangelism (through word AND deed) may be the single most critical spiritual discipline, it seems to be the single most neglected. This breaks my heart. Presenting the gospel message to someone else is easily one of the most “spiritual” things you can do. But it just seems that this discipline gets ignored as much, if not more, as any.
Maybe it’s because our inward-focused consumer culture has deceived us into thinking that our relationship with Jesus is all about us. My faith. My preference. My growth. My relationship. My eternal security.
Maybe it’s because we’d rather veg on our couch every evening watching sports or reality TV instead of actually investing in other people. Like real, face-to-face, flesh and blood, people.
Maybe it’s because the name Christian is sooo convoluted now days. Honestly, that word carries with it some connotations that I would never want to be associated with. Even though I am a Christian.
Maybe it’s because it is just flat out hard. And sometimes it creates uncomfortable conversations. And really, most of us have no idea what to say.
Maybe it’s because we know that if we actually start telling everyone about Jesus, then we’ll actually have to live like his follower. Which would mean rejecting the values of our society (power, wealth, affluence, authority) and leveraging all that we are and all that we own we have been given by God for God. In all seriousness, it’s hard not being a hypocrite.
Here’s why I know that evangelism is so so so important and here’s why I believe that being a better evangelist means being a better disciple… it goes something like this.
To maximize your potential as a cross-shaped person, you have to express self-sacrificial love for others. That’s what the cross looked like. And if you really believe that there is such thing as judgment, and it’s coming (maybe soon), and Jesus is the only way to land on the right side of it all, then there’s no way you can keep this stuff in your pocket and make claims to being cross-shaped. There’s no way. There’s no way you cannot give this message to everyone within your immediate social influence, everyone you love, everyone who you know might listen to you. There’s no way. Because that wouldn’t be loving them. That wouldn’t be cross-shaped. To be honest, that would actually be the quite the opposite.
Quick and easy exegesis on some of the greatest words of Jesus ever to illustrate my point:
Matthew 28:18-20 (The Great Commission) – 18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,* baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The way the Greek is set up in v.19-20a, the main verb “make disciples” (mathēteusate) is the main command of Jesus’ commission. It is the driving verb of the whole statement. The words “go”, “baptizing”, and “teach” are all supporting participles that serve to modify this central verb. Make disciples is the dominant imperative.
So think of it this way – Jesus commanded us to “make disciples” and gave us three essential tactics to do this:
(1) Go: This means you! Go! Get up off the Lazyboy. Go! Cut short the me-time. Go! Maybe you need to go next door! Maybe you need to go to your parents’ house. Maybe you need to go live in another country where there aren’t many churches. I’m not sure what, but Go!
(2) Baptize: Baptism has forever been the climactic initiation point in which: (a) the humble individual cries out to God “I can’t fix myself! So will you do it for me?” AND (b) God promises that, if the heart is right, he most certainly will.
(3) Teach: The tough part about this task is that it remains perpetually incomplete. It is a task that requires a life-time of work and then some. However, I cannot stress how vital it is that we all continue to move forward. We must take up this task as both teachers and students. As teachers, we are called to guide non-church people toward the truth and impart wisdom on our fellow-believers. And as students, we are called to grow, not so much for our own sake, but for the sake of being better equipped to reflect Jesus to others. Cross-shaped faith is rarely about you.
So when someone asks me, “Evangelism or discipleship, Tyler???” I answer, “Yes.”
And let me get one thing straight, I’m not rallying an army of soap box-evangelists. This does not mean get your megaphone and head over to the Yum-Center or Fountain Square. Instead, I’m just challenging you to rethink where you’re at on it and then go do it. It is up to you to creatively consider how you can embody this defining commission.
Maybe you live a life of discipline before your boss to gain his respect.
Maybe you tell the story of how Jesus changed your life to your addicted friend.
Maybe you invest time in underprivileged youth because no one else will.
Maybe you surprise your girlfriend’s dad with the way you treat his daughter because, way back when, he would’ve never done the same.
Maybe you give an uncomfortable fraction of your God’s income to a missionary in Japan. Maybe you pray, everyday, for your hostile neighbor who got burnt by the church.
I don’t know. Get creative. You’re not dumb. Just don’t be one of the many who ignores this. Don’t be one of the many who mistakes discipleship for membership in some sort of egocentric spiritual academy. Get out the huddle and play the game. Start living cross-shaped.