When I first became a missionary-evangelist, street preaching was common. Yet very little of it could actually be called gospel preaching.” One preacher around Times Square specialized in talking about hell. He was good at describing it, and almost gleeful about telling people that was to be their final destination. He didn’t seem as happy to tell them about God’s remedy for sin in Christ, and how to avoid hell.
A few blocks down, a group of laymen preached a message of how their church was the only right one. And a few blocks further down, near Herald Square, another preacher was telling everyone they needed to speak in tongues, and he frequently demonstrated what he meant.
So if a person was seeking God, he could hear how horrible a fate awaits those away from God. He could get ideas about what church to join, or what his worship would be like if he joined a particular church. But he would not hear clearly and decisively what he could do to be reconciled to God. He would not hear how to receive Christ as his Savior or why he needed to trust in Calvary and the Resurrection.
Today’s problem is similar but different. As you listen to evangelists (broadcast or otherwise), you’ll often hear messages urging people who’ve not yet had a clear story of salvation to join the church. Many are prepared to teach people the joys of tithing before they know the joy of salvation. First things must be first, and the first thing is always to proclaim Christ who saves sinners. It is important to teach those things relevant to discipleship, but first people need to hear about conversion.
Once they’ve accepted Him, He has promised His Holy Spirit will guide them in their discipleship and their relationship to the church. Other Christians will enter into that process.
Some feel they do not need to emphasize evangelism, since the Great Commission talks about making disciples. However, no one ever became a disciple unless they were converted, repented of sin, and accepted Christ into their life as Lord and Savior. Making disciples implies proclamation of some sort, so that people can know their need for the Messiah and their need to follow Him as disciples.
Conversion is a mystery. God works differently according to His perfect understanding of each individual He calls. For example, some will pray on a street corner after a brief conversation with an evangelist because God has brought them to a moment in time when they are ready to receive Him. For them, God will use that evangelist, that prayer, that brief encounter, to change them forever. For others, such an encounter and such a prayer might be a step along their way—something they don’t really understand, but are heading toward. Still others will seem to understand, but the word of God will be as the seed in the parable of the sower—it may be snatched by birds or choked by weeds.
The same is true for any evangelistic encounter, be it a brief conversation on the street, or a series of one-on-one Bible studies. God knows at what point that life-changing faith transaction takes place.
Meanwhile, we need to remember that God has not charged any one person to complete all the steps of ministry. Some are called to be evangelists or proclaimers, and some are nurturers, pastors. Not every minister is skilled in helping people find salvation in Christ, and not every evangelist can help the new believer to grow to maturity.
Satan’s strategy is to create false dilemmas. An example of a false dilemma would be thinking that we must choose, in our devotional time, between reading Scriptures or praying, which most of us would recognize as a false dilemma. However, when it comes to witnessing and confessing Christ openly, it is much easier to fall for the kind of false dilemmas Satan likes to pose.
Serving God doesn’t leave us with “either’s” or “or’s” when it comes to spiritual imperatives. Likewise, when it comes to priorities, it’s not either evangelism or discipleship. We must recognize the overlap, and that neither is complete without the other.