Understanding the Relationship Between Evangelism and Discipleship

Draft for Pentecostal Ecclesiology thesis
(Footnotes not included)


Across denominational lines, the dynamic relationship between discipleship and evangelism has generated much debate. Most Pentecostal groups have recognized the connection, only to partially bridge the gap between the two emphases. Spiritual leadership in the Western Church has understood the Scriptural significance of discipleship and evangelism, but through misinterpretations and skewed application, she has failed to penetrate cultural gates by balancing these mandates. One of the critical problems of the missional church has been the muddling of discipleship and evangelism priorities. On the other hand, we see the tendency for certain Pentecostal circles to place greater incentive on evangelism over discipleship. All churches should deliberately examine the question of how the relationship between discipleship and evangelism is supposed to work, concerning its eschatological purpose and its orderly applications.

As the polarization between discipleship and evangelism has increased, contemporary means to fulfill the Great Commission have become more ineffective. This is partly due to neglecting the place making disciples has within Christ’s command to give witness to the Gospel. In addition, many scholars and Christian leaders have felt that the church has deemphasized the Great Commandment: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 1This thesis centers on finding a balance between discipleship and evangelism functions, using Scripture as the chief reference to determine proper definition, teaching, and application within the body of Christ.


In a recent address on May 11, 2009, Henry Blackaby echoed his sentiments on the discipleship-evangelism dichotomy. In his speech, Blackaby stated he is concerned over the disproportionate balance between discipleship and evangelism, with discipleship losing critical ground. With greater efforts centered on saving souls, the training of disciples has been unintentionally relegated to the backburner by the ecclesia. Blackaby condensed a significant portion of his concerns into one key reason for discipleship’s .decline, with the belief that “substituting activities for relationship…is why many churches are in decline or on a plateau.” 2 The relational component is vital to the extent God’s power and presence is manifested. According to Blackaby, without relationships and equipping believers with discipling tools, evangelism becomes superficial at best, topically meeting needs of the lost without allowing God to permanently change them. 3 The essence of Blackaby’s words boil down to being on mission with God: “Anybody coming under the lordship of Christ automatically has a God-given DNA to be on mission with their Lord…not a matter of trying to get our churches back on the program of the Great Commission, but rather into the relationship with the living Lord…” 4

Deferring from relationship with God as chief priority has neutralized missional effectiveness in the body of Christ. Part of the evidence is in the increasing number of churches bent towards evangelism without an understanding of how discipleship fits. With the scale tipped, a number of believers are forgetting the true meaning of both the Greatest Commandment and the Great Commission. As John Piper states in an article from "Desiring God", the church needs to focus on maintaining its "spiritual wisdom, not so much tradition...how to be culturally sensitive and cautious. How to be prayerful, thoughtful, culturally alert, self-critical, Bible-saturated, God-centered, Christ-exalting, reflection driven by passion to be filled with all the fullness of God." 5

Discipleship combines an understanding of true obedience to a faith in God’s unconditional grace; it accepts the responsibility to remain disciplined to Christ’s call to provide leadership, wisdom, teaching, and guidance to those within the faith and younger generations. As John said in 3 John 1:4, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” 6John’s words illuminate the innate grasp he had concerning the right discipleship attitude. If proclaiming the Gospel fulfills the Great Commission, and if a believer is truly born-again, Christian priorities this purpose. Dr. James Kennedy breaks down this responsibility into two facets. Initially, “it is the responsibility of the individual evangelist and the team who leads the new believer to Christ; second, it is the responsibility of the local church family.” 7If the church seeks to obtain credibility, one piece to the puzzle is developing discipleship programs that hold leaders to an unwavering structure of high standards and systematic methodology.

Though a chief characteristic of the prospering church is evangelism flowing from discipleship, Kennedy notes, “it is impossible to disciple or follow up properly on someone who has not been effectively evangelized. A spiritual stillborn person has no new life to develop.” 7 In addition to nurturing, the ability to cultivate relationships propels the mission of the disciple. For without love, the mission dies, and discipleship becomes pointless. Materials may serve as adequate supplements, but if the heart of God is separated from discipleship, the Christian life dwindles. With love, follow up communication can be enhanced, correspondence can help facilitate spiritual growth, and witness-centered partnerships can be established.

From a team perspective, the approach changes, though the mission and vision remain the same. To reproduce Christians and build them in the likeness of God requires environments where spiritual growth is consistently evident. According to Kennedy, Godly leadership needs to meet a balance of Word and Spirit, laced together by love and rightly placed priorities. This marriage of Word and Spirit must shape healthy decision-making among leaders and the life of the body of Christ in general. When Jesus addressed the Sadducees in Matthew 22:23-33, He answered their question concerning marriage, which represented worldview, and the Resurrection, which symbolized salvation in heaven. 8 Not only did Jesus claim they were ignorant of the Scriptures, but of the power of God as well. Thus, the wisest men of the times were instantly humbled, exposed through a lukewarm mindset that failed to minister the good news to the lost. It could be argued that one of the unsung motifs from this account is to illustrate everything that discipleship should not be. Furthermore, discipleship must engage both Word and Spirit if it is to have any impact on secular culture. Kennedy adds that without a knowledge of the Scriptures, we turn into “emotional, unstable, ignorant fanatics”, while absent of the Spirit of love, we become “argumentative, Pharisee, harsh and abrasive.” 9

In a similar analysis of evangelism and discipleship, Dorothy Kennedy relates the two to effective Christian church membership, not just ministry. As twins, Kennedy reminds us they are not to be seen as separate identities, but as descendents birthed together. Of the two, discipleship needs to be understood as the firstborn. Kennedy describes discipleship as “the act of becoming a capable soul winner who is able to train others to be and to do the same…[drawing] people into the fellowship of the local church.” 10If evangelism centers on winning souls, then the significance of chronological order, in which discipleship proceeds evangelism, can be understood.

For the evangelical church, her leadership should involve every member into discipleship action, while clarifying the Great Commission as a mandate. With the Great Commission serving as the ultimate assignment, discipleship must be recognized as a required feature of the church. To sufficiently disciple the believer, the person must “be evangelized and brought into the knowledge of salvation and accept Christ as their Savior, receive follow-up instruction and sustaining information…become knowledgeable concerning witnessing and its power, and [share] with someone what [they]…have experienced.” 11However, before one is accepted into a discipleship program, not only must the believer have an active relationship with Christ, but should recognize the discipleship process as an essential qualification for evangelism preparation. At the heart of any ministry, “evangelism and discipleship should be created and continually pursued. Then and only then can [people] reach unbelievers with the Gospel and promote the Kingdom of God in the hearts and lives of His children as spoken in Hebrews 8:10.” 12


Though structure and methodology are crucial to discipleship and evangelism efficacy, an imperative ingredient that ties training to opportunity is the presence of God. The efficiency of the Word is capped at best without the manifestation of the Spirit of God. Steve Fry captured divine presence well in his book, Rekindled Flame, providing a threefold definition to the glory of God’s presence as “the magnificence of all that He is, sweeping over our souls in…unbounded joy…to walk with God [as] to encounter Him… [and] a place where the Scriptures burn in the heart, where the soul is drawn out of its voracious self-absorption into a fascination with His holiness…” 13 To find such vivid portrayal of presence in discipleship manuals and textbooks is rare. Nevertheless, presence must be viewed as something higher than the spiritual glue that bonds discipleship to evangelism. Behind every word preached and lesson taught must live the truth that every disciple, principle, and strategy yields before the presence of God. However, how do the church and the individual integrate intimacy with Christ into the foundations of inspired mission?

As Fry submits, a step in the right direction starts with focusing on the foundation itself. Discipleship training, evangelism, even apostolic ministries, should all open the door for a believer to discover his or her identity. 14 As this process unfolds, the relational dynamics from post-evangelism conversion to post-discipleship outreach becomes principal. Often times, laying groundwork for activities and programs is comparable to fortifying walls with stones, as was the case with the temple in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. If construction with stones represents the progress of discipleship and evangelism curriculums, certain criteria ought to be satisfied. First, as the faculty of Christ, believers should shepherd upbringings where Jesus can transform individually. Whether calendar planning for one-on-one sessions, transferring counseling responsibilities to a spiritually-qualified leader, or making time for the mission field, allotting breathing room for God to work supernaturally should be interwoven into any missional infrastructure.

Secondly, discernment development should find influence in the handbook of Spirit-controlled discipline. If wisdom is allowed impartation by God and Spirit, then God will grant acumen to Christian leadership so each willing vessel can be rightly employed. What discipleship needs to stress in cultivating spiritual gifts is how service and benevolence surpass the sensible. Even if “someone in leadership asks [one] to do something we don’t feel enthused about, it is easy to couch our apathy in terms of ‘God’s leading’ and resist arenas of service that don’t emotionally fuel us. Being rightly fitted together often means dying to your own preferences.” 15

While faith trusts in God’s ability to place us missionally, humility understands God’s authority to position us however He chooses. In some churches, the flow of the Spirit is tragically replaced with the popular ways of doing church. As a body, every believer ought to accept the artistic design of the Creator. Pastors should do more than educate crowded congregations, but tend the appointed role in a way that goes after the individual heart. Inside the confines of discipleship, giftings must be recognized, so they can be sharpened before stepping onto a spiritual battlefield. When teaching servanthood, the pathway to service should be accompanied by the fact it is at the heart of God. When discipleship, and the evangelism that flows forth, reaches maturity, the affected people and the persons doing the affecting both recognize missional utility as an extension of worship. 16


Walter Brueggemann also found intimacy to be a key player in the affiliation between discipleship and evangelism. Through closeness with God, Bruggemann believes the believer can realize how discipleship and evangelism are designed not to be diminished to just an action, but rather a way of being – not just a church program, but also a standard of life that shakes us loose from social comfort zones and lifts a love relationship with Christ. 17 If a church is to create a guidebook for their members to grow from, part of the aim should seek to “engage in disciplines that disentangle [those] from ways in which are schooled and stupefied and that introduce new habits that break old vicious cycles…drawing us into intimacy with this calling God.” 18

Factoring in a supportive biblical backbone, Brueggemann mentions what he calls theological presuppositions concerning discipleship and evangelism. The essence of Christ’s mission starts with the truth that God bestows authority, calling in a transformational way that recognizes His worthiness of obedience. Having redeemed those He has called to share the Gospel, along with the command to engage in His work, is the equal charge to disengage from the world so the outflow of God’s power will be apparent to all. 19 In terms of identifying current problems, Brueggemann suggests a mixed hybrid of qualities - God’s character, reality, will and purpose - all contribute to a certain conflict between discipleship and evangelism. In a culture laden with ungodliness, “…society wants to silence the voice of this God of miracle and imperative. Where the dominant script succeeds in eliminating God, moreover, the possibility of discipleship and the capacity for evangelism evaporates…” 20 Ultimately, the church owns the responsibility to commission disciples to effectively spread the Word, instruct them to teach the crucifixion and resurrection accounts, and how to establish prayer and koinonia within the body.

William Easum and Thomas Bandy provide complimentary wisdom and relational comparisons in sync to Brueggemann’s statements, associating the bodies that derive answers to key apologetic questions as spiritual redwoods. When enhancing community within both discipleship and evangelism, action must meet initiative. The koinonia aspect needs to recognize the person over the office and gifts of the Holy Spirit over the institution. 21The buildup of emerging personalities must be done carefully in a way that spiritual giftings are made known, individually and corporately. Out of awareness, release in the Spirit and mission of Jesus should flow, locked in the realization of being an agent in God’s calling. When discussing purpose, destiny should be included so the fulfillment of both mission and purpose can come to fruition in the minds and hearts of the believer. 22 Every teaching and outreach opportunity must be firmly secured in the vision, mission, values, and beliefs of the church, so every person, upon reaching a place of discipleship maturity, can be sent out as a spiritual redwood, inspiring the heart of God to saints and equipping them with authority and integrity.

LeRoy Eims further drives this premise home in The Lost Art of Disciple Making, noting two critical problems within the church concerning its managing approach to discipleship and evangelism. The first issue lies in the church’s wrongly emphasized motivation. According to Eims, the primary incentive should not come through a network of programs as compared to training spiritually qualified workers for Christ, multiplying disciples and facilitating spiritual growth through fellowship, training objectives, and leadership training that seeks to hone and refine ministry skills. 23 The second problem area concerns the process in which church leadership pushes discipleship training further behind on the backburner, and places the greater emphasis on winning souls. The result creates a disproportional balance between discipling believers to effectively carry the mission of spreading the Gospel and the quality of missional evangelism.

In light of Eim’s perspective, Carl Wilson adds additional insight in how to achieve evangelism aptitudes. Not only should both discipleship and evangelism apply a Scriptural structure and divine ministerial methods, but also Christian leadership should seek to strengthen the connection between Christ-centered propensities found in the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit in ways that enhance the Kingdom of God on earth. 24According to Wilson, this can happen through ministry training, delegation, communication, motivation, strategic prayer, and education. Healthy discipleship, within every curriculum and vision statement, should encourage and equip people to endure the challenges of adapting and relating to a lost world. 25


Though churches and leaders have understood the necessity of discipleship and evangelism, most have not been able to fuse the two together in a maximal way. A notable problem within Pentecostalism has been the struggle to rightly prioritize and recognize how the relationship works. For evangelism to lead the lost to Christ, the church must allow it to move out of discipleship ministries designed to equip all believers. If greater emphasis is placed on evangelism or discipleship, the ability to effectively reach culture will be handicapped. Instead, church leadership should focus on growing believers in spiritual maturity and Scriptural understanding. In this way, discipleship and evangelism within the church will be reinforced.

In addition, connecting discipleship to evangelism requires awareness in experiencing the glory and presence of God. While curriculums and program structures are important, without the passionate pursuit to encounter God, all efforts to strength ministries become futile. Whether training, designating authority, or creative expression, all dimensions of discipleship and evangelism should be seen as an expansion of worship. When this happens, the Spirit and Word will combine to bring abundant life to the church and its ministries. Subsequently, the temptation to overstress discipleship and evangelism as programs over Spirit-driven opportunities will diminish. As authentic communities are established within the church, not only will the Great Commission come to greater life, but also the corporate understanding of how discipleship and evangelism are to blend will be realized.


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