What is the relationship between Evangelism and Discipleship?

If there’s one word we understand well these days, it’s the word ‘fatigue’ and the concept of burnout has become more commonplace in our cultural moment than so many of us would like to admit. The pandemic era is one that has both exasperated and expedited the ministry of the church globally. One of the great joys of my ministry, the Global Network of Evangelists, is being able to interact with global leaders, pastors, evangelists and missionaries around the world. The GNE seeks to identify, affirm, equip and mobilize an army of evangelists to fight the good fight in winning countless souls to God’s Kingdom. In my conversations with so many of these global leaders, one of the common themes we sometimes lament is what I’d term evangelism fatigue. So many not only question the validity of our call to evangelism (as opposed to discipleship), but they also question its efficacy and fruitfulness in our cultural climate today. If we were to evangelise, would it be ethical? Would it be fruitful? Is it the right focus we should have biblically speaking? 

The Evangelism Fallacy

There’s a common fallacy that pastors and evangelists are the only means of reaching people with the good news and fulfilling the Great Commission. Yes, God does gift the evangelist specifically, but we are all called to share our faith with those around us (Acts 1:8; Col. 4:6)and even pastors are called to do the work of an evangelist(2 Timothy 4:5)! My friend, Raphael Anzenberger, has written a great book on the ministry of the evangelist (Rediscovering the Ministry of the Evangelist) that reminds us of the fact that if theologians are particularly concerned with helping the Church better understand the Scriptures and if pastors are passionate about equipping the Church for works of service and care, then evangelists are particularly concerned that the whole church takes the whole Gospel to the whole world (cf. The Lausanne Covenant). Perhaps one of the reasons why we’re experiencing evangelism fatigue is related to the fact that we have not fully embraced the reality that evangelism cannot be extricated from the life of the believer or from the life of a Church, yet it also must be seen in the light of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment rather than our clever strategies, events and ministries. The work of the Spirit in evangelism cannot be done in the power of the flesh and our methodologies always need to be in submission to the mission of King Jesus!   

I served as a professor of Missiology in a Seminary in Johannesburg for a decade and can vouch for the struggle at that level to train and equip pastors, evangelists, missionaries and the like in a system that is predominantly geared to equip preachers and teachers of God’s Word for local church ministry. There is, generally speaking, less of a focus on evangelism in many Bible-believing seminaries across the world.  Although preachers have an important role to play, disciples – ordinary followers of Jesus – are the key to the exponential growth of the Christian Faith (reread the book of Acts for affirmation on this point). The professionalisation of evangelism and its relegation to the fringes of the church world is often what leads to evangelism fatigue and mission drift—the whole church is to take the whole Gospel to the whole world (to quote the Lausanne Covenant mantra again). To those involved in this world I ask if we are adequately preparing the students to serve the ministry of the church and fulfil the mission of Christ? 

Additionally, in my conversations with some Christian leaders, it appears that their biblical stance on side-lining evangelism is that Jesus never called us to ‘make converts’, he called us to make disciples (obviously referring to Matthew 28:19). Additionally, as an evangelist, I often get asked the question ‘how do you disciple new converts after your festivals?’ Most of the time, people ask this question desiring a sincere answer, yet there are times when evangelists are (subtly) accused of not caring much about discipleship or follow-up. Are evangelism and discipleship mutually exclusive? Should the evangelists care more about disciple making? Should pastors care more about evangelism? It would appear that evangelism has fallen on hard times in our cultural moment, yet this presents us with a wonderful opportunity before us to revive the missional heart of God’s people to finish the mission Jesus set before us. 

It’s ‘both and’, not ‘either or’

It’s my firm conviction that evangelism and what we know as discipleship are quintessential to the Christian faith—they are inextricably linked, yet inexorably different. Evangelism is simply announcing the good news, whereas discipleship/ disciple-making involves a maturing process. Raphael Anzenberger reminds us that an evangelist is someone who proclaims, preaches and spreads the Gospel, especially the good news of Jesus Christ. God has equipped the church with gifts to handle both elements (see Ephesians 4:11).I love what John Stott says regarding evangelism: “To evangelize does not mean to win converts but simply to announce the Good News, irrespective of the results”. This announcement that evangelists are known for has sometimes earned evangelists a bad reputation where they work in isolation from the local church and, at times, seem aloof to the reality and experience of pastors on the ground. This attitude is reciprocal between the evangelist and pastors as if they’re in competition with one another, rather than on the same team. The best way is for pastors and evangelists to work together for the salvation and discipleship of believers. Evangelism will always be linked to the essence of our faith as believers in Jesus Christ and as we read the New Testament we should be encouraged to see that the word ‘euangelistes’ appears only three times, the verb, euangelizomai appears over 50 times. Anzenberger reminds us that Jesus was an evangelist, because he preached the good news (Luke 20:1). Paul practised the ministry of the evangelist (Rom. 1:15), as well as Philip, who was also a deacon (Acts 21:8), and Timothy, a pastor (2 Timothy 4:5). The apostles and their early converts were all evangelists, since “those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). 

Discipleship + Evangelism = Success

It is an honour to work for the Luis Palau Association, LPA has a long history of working in, for, and with local churches in proclaiming the good news in dozens of cities around the world and alongside thousands of local churches and faith-based organisations. Our mission is to proclaim the good news, unite the church and impact cities worldwide. We see evangelism and discipleship as symbiotic in relationship and ultimately part of the process of what Ed Stetzer describes as disciple-making. Ed’s spot on where he states: “Our evangelism has to be focused on making disciples who become disciple-makers, and our discipleship has to be mission-driven, leading those discipled to share Christ.” Anzenberger states: “An evangelist proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ and invites his hearers to place their trust in him. He is engaged in a two-way activity which flows outward (from the Church to those outside of the Church), as well as inward (those who repent and move in towards the Church). This is one of the reasons we’re excited to partner with Advance — we want to support the work of the evangelist by stoking a roaring fire for evangelism in churches around the world! 

1. How can I become more discipleship-oriented in my evangelism?
2. How does my disciple-making reflect God’s heart for evangelism?
3. What types of evangelists do we see reflected in the New Testament and how does this shape my own approach to evangelism?
4. Have I ever experienced evangelism fatigue? What are my symptoms and how does the Gospel speak into my situation?