Evangelism and discipleship are not opposite ends of a spectrum, neither are they the beginning and end of a process. Followers of Yeshua are commanded to both take the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the world” and to “make” new believers into “disciples.” Sometimes we divide the Body of Messiah into those who “take” and those who “make,” but the command Yeshua gave seems to indicate that we’re all to do BOTH.
In the best of situations, when people accept the salvation that Yeshua offers, they will move from merely believing to following. Usually, their discipleship is done through a more mature believer who is able to encourage them to read the Bible, pray and worship. A good indication of mature faith is when disciples take their faith to others. That is evangelizing—the circle is complete.
Not every believer is gifted to speak in large gatherings, but God has given each of us a unique story of what led up to the moment we professed faith in Yeshua. If we don’t tell that story, it won’t be heard. Most people enjoy talking about themselves, so it isn’t really that difficult for us to include in our conversations what the Lord is doing in our lives to make us more like Yeshua. And as we are discipled and grow in faith, we are to TELL. When asked, “How are you?” the growing believer can be encouraged to answer, “Not as good as I will be.” This opens an opportunity to tell what God is doing in their life to help them be a better person.
Congregations would do well to understand the relationship between “soul winning” and its impact on congregational growth. A body of believers can prosper through biological growth (new babies are born to members); transfer growth (people moving from one congregation to another); or conversion growth. In his book Understanding Church Growth, the late Dr. Donald McGavran pointed out that, “(Conversion growth)…is the only kind of growth by which the Good News of salvation can spread to all the segments of American society and to earth’s remotest bounds” (page 99).
True growth within a congregation happens when people are born again and come into the Body of Messiah because of their new faith. Effective ministry within a local congregation deepens and has far-reaching impact as new believers grow into mature disciples, develop their spiritual gifts AND also take their story outward into the community.
Disciple-making is more like spiritual apprenticeship than imparting knowledge. The test of new disciples is their behavior. As a person comes to faith, they become more like Yeshua. Discipleship is allowing another individual the opportunity to observe the way God is working in our lives and to encourage and participate with the new disciple in those activities that will nurture their walk with Him. There is a saying, “Good habits are caught, not taught.” It is the same in the spiritual realm. It’s God’s plan to use us as we mature to be part of His process of bringing others to faith.
As God grants us the privilege of making disciples, let’s encourage them to do more than just listen and learn. Let’s encourage them to find a place to work out their faith, to serve others and to facilitate others coming to faith. As one new disciple, Donna,* recently testified, “What are some of the changes I see in my life now that I’ve accepted Jesus? Well, I try to put the Bible and prayer first in my life, also my studies with my ‘teacher’. I want to be around godly people and learn how to serve the Lord. I want to take His Word out to the community, and see my childrens’ hearts be opened up to follow in my faith. I want to follow God and be more like Him. I want others to see Him in my life, and believe like me.”
*Not her real name.