What’s the difference between discipleship and evangelism?

For many years I thought that evangelism and discipleship were two different things.

Evangelism meant sharing the gospel with an unbeliever so that he or she could become a Christian.  The very word “evangelism” brought to my mind things like handing out gospel tracts, going door-to-door in a college dorm, or creatively communicating the gospel on the streets of a foreign country.

Discipleship, on the other hand, meant helping someone who was already a believer walk out the life of faith.  The word “discipleship” brought to my mind a small group Bible study, a conversation across the table with another woman, or an accountability group.

And I knew which one I preferred.  I would much rather put the kettle on for tea and sit down with another believer, talking with her and encouraging her, than knocking on a stranger’s door with sweaty hands and good intentions.  At one point in my life I even thought, “I’m called to disciple people.  I’ll let other, braver, more outgoing people evangelize, and I’ll stick to helping believers grow in their faith.”

That’s when my view of the gospel was shallow and weak.  I knew the gospel saved unbelievers, but I wasn’t at all clear on what the gospel had to do with believers.  As a result, the discipleship I offered others contained a lot of good information but lacked the transforming power that can only come from the gospel.  (I was also, simply, a coward.)

I am beginning to see that evangelism and discipleship are not all that different.  When Jesus said, “Go, and make disciples,” he meant both telling unbelievers the good news as well as helping those who already believe grow in their faith.  These two activities go hand-in-hand because they are both powered by the gospel.

When someone becomes a believer in Jesus, she confesses her sin, turns from it, and receives forgiveness.  An unbeliever becomes a believer, a disciple.  When that same believer wants to “grow spiritually,” she does not suddenly employ other means.  She does the same thing over and over… confesses her sin, turns from it, and receives forgiveness.  This is the beautiful rhythm of the gospel.  It’s the way we’re saved and the way we grow.  It’s the way disciples are made.

So there is not much of a difference between discipleship and evangelism after all.  If I’m walking to the rhythm of the gospel in my life and talking about that with other people, I am making disciples.  An unbeliever might come to understand the gospel for the first time or a believer might be reminded of the gospel and believe afresh.  Either way, I’m encouraging people with the life-changing power of the gospel and making disciples.

It’s not really about “evangelism” or “discipleship” at all, it’s about making disciples.  And it’s all, always, about the gospel.

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One thought on “What’s the difference between discipleship and evangelism?

  1. I’m catching up on your posts…this one is so great.
    “If I’m walking to the rhythm of the gospel in my life and talking about that with other people, I am making disciples.” Wow.
    Something we are learning in new ways too, as it seems God continues to bring the ‘mission field’ right to our front door.
    Thanks for your wise words!!

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