Evangelism or Discipleship?
In our times there can be a confusion of terms and often it springs out of erroneous doctrine and leads to erroneous practice. It's unfortunate. One example we have heard recently from some church leaders in Italy (of a worldwide organization focused on being ‘gospel-centered’ and ‘innovative' nonetheless) goes like this:
"We are praying for the salvation of a group of people that we have been discipling for almost a year now."
What is the problem? Any person who has not been born again, regenerated and actually and soundly converted cannot be a disciple and therefore cannot be 'discipled'.
Why? Because he/she is spiritually dead (Eph. 2:4-5) and has no life (1 John 5:12) and therefore no desire for the God of the Bible; he/she is indeed a slave to sin (John 8:34) and to Satan (2 Tim. 2:26) and even an enemy of God (Romans 8:7).
What should they be saying (doing)? We are 'evangelizing' a group of people that needs to understand their condition before God, that His wrath abides on them (John 3:36) and we are praying for them to repent and trust (Acts 20:21) in Jesus alone that they may be saved and so become fellow disciples of Jesus Christ by grace through faith.
What is at stake? If one is a 'church planter' or training 'church planters' and does not understand these fundamental concepts there is great danger. All the disciples of the church will not go beyond their teachers. The concept of what a true church is will be at risk.
The result of missing the mark in this regard as to what is evangelism and what is discipleship tends to create a ministry that facilitates false conversions. It lowers the bar. Man's greatest need is no longer salvation, but being apart of a group. Discipleship no longer requires carrying a cross and godly discipline empowered by the Holy Spirit, but simply gathering around people holding a book. Evangelism is simply inviting people to be part of your group rather than lovingly telling them their true situation before God. Much of this softening of the Gospel message seems loving and kind, but in reality... it's actually a bit deceptive, unkind.
Much more can be said about the difference of evangelism and discipleship and the importance of both, but for today it is sufficient to note that disciples become disciples only after they are saved, not prior. This short reflection may sound critical to some, but if one is to involve him/herself in the serious work of missions and church planting it is of utmost importance that one understand these basic concepts and doctrines; lest we be found unfaithful to our Master and leading souls astray.