Discipleship Doesn’t End with Evangelism

I serve on the decision team at my church. On Sunday mornings, during the last song, I put on a lanyard and stand at the front of the sanctuary while the pastor gives the benediction. He always says if there is anyone who would like to learn more about becoming a Christian, they can talk to one of the people like me standing at the front of the church.

At the end of last Sunday’s service, a man from the congregation walked to where I was standing, but instead of praying with me, he walked immediately in front of me, continued past me, and began praying with another person on the decision team at the far side of the room. Though I made eye contact with this individual and said hello, he went to someone else. I didn’t have an opportunity to answer his questions, to pray with him, or to share the gospel.

Wretched Man

You would think that I would be disappointed about not getting a chance to share the gospel with this man, while (at the same time) excitedly praying as my friend led them to the Lord. That’s true. I did feel that, though it’s not the entire truth. 

I couldn’t help but notice that the man was wearing different clothes than me. I noticed he was in a different age bracket than I am. I thought about how it would take a great deal of patience and work to connect genuinely with him. I doubted that he would “fit” in my comfortable circle of friends. Part of me felt relief that he did not come to me.

It was the apostle Paul who wrote, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24 ESV) When I see this kind of fleshly thinking in myself, I can relate. I have been a Christian for many years. Though I have grown in Christ-likeness in that time, I still continue to see (and fight against) sins both new and old. As time goes by, I am more and more aware of my total dependence on God’s sanctifying presence for proper motivation and for the mortification of my sin. Christ looks better and better to me as I see my own weakness.

Willing Discipler

I know that evangelism leads to discipleship and discipleship results in mature Christians who can disciple others. However, this process requires a willing discipler. So often, I can find reasons not to jump in and make a commitment to disciple.

Many of us want to be obedient in this way, but may lack insight into what it looks like to disciple another Christian. Consider three key elements of an effective discipleship relationship:
 

1. Give Ongoing Instruction

When it comes to ongoing instruction, discipleship is more than just “doing life” with friends. A definite goal must be set, and that goal must be advancing in Christ-likeness. E.M. Bounds explains being a disciple in this way: “Many Christians are disjointed and aimless because they have no pattern before them after which conduct and character are to be shaped. They just move on aimlessly, their minds in a cloudy state, no pattern in view, no point in sight, no standard after which they are striving. There is no standard by which to value and gauge their efforts.”[1]

This instruction echoes Paul’s admonition to seek the things “above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1). We can provide ongoing instruction in the context of intentional relationship.

 

2. Provide a Personal Example

A Christian becomes a discipler when he (or she) maintains a commitment to those who accept the invitation to follow Christ. Our mission is not only initial evangelism, but also ongoing discipleship. E. M. Bounds urges that “those who enjoy the benefits of the Gospel give these same religious advantages and Gospel privileges to all of mankind.”[2] As we remember the riches of Christ in the gospel, we invite others to share in these riches (Psalm 103:2). Practically, this involves teaching someone else what I know about God and explaining how to live in light of this truth. I ought to be vulnerable as I make much of Christ as my Savior and Lord.
 

3. Be a Faithful Friend

Discipleship demands that we become real friends who prayerfully and faithfully come alongside others. This kind of friendship requires noticing others’ need for Christ and making time for them. It also includes drawing near to them in order to help meet their needs. Jesus lives this out as our example:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;  therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:36–38)

Evangelism requires compassion, yes, but so does discipleship. True disciples of Jesus are disciplers.

 


Dylan Blaine is a PhD candidate in world religions at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville, KY.

[1] Edward M. Bounds, The Essentials of Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2004), 41.

[2] Edward M. Bounds, The Essentials of Prayer, 55.

 

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