Monday, June 2, 2008

Bad Cage Fight

Recently I attended a gathering of several men and women following Jesus. It is amazing at how many things we can agree and conversely disagree on, all the while having Christ in common. So the question was raised, “If you have to make a choice, evangelism or discipleship, which would you choose?” Wow, did that put me in a tough spot. I’m not sure if I’m the only person to think this way, but I find it hard to make a clean cut decision between the two because I think they are one and cannot be separated, especially in a decision about which one is more important. The fact that this question was even asked makes me wonder what we have become here in America, why our thought process of this Christian lifestyle is so categorized.

As I look back at Christ’s ministry I really never see Him being in situation where there was no common ground between Him and the listeners or His audience. The same goes with Paul and Peter. This is the part where if you are a conservative, you push your chair away from your computer and grimace… It gets better though, trust me, within the next couple sentences I am sure you will want to flog me. Paul’s evangelism is out of context in our culture. Now you will challenge this statement with the times when Paul, Jesus, and Peter went into the synagogues to preach the gospel. Again, that evangelism is out of context today. To take that model of run up in a random crowd of people and preach a message they aren’t willing to listen to, that they didn’t sign up to hear is absurd and not the best way to go about it. Now, don’t get me wrong, bullhorn guy on the corner or even crazy “evangelist” guy are preaching the gospel and no matter how it is preached it is a good thing, so Paul says. Paul nor Jesus randomly preached, there was always a common ground. The synagogue was a place where Jews would gather to listen to the reading of the Law anyways. Jesus, being a Jewish Rabbi, showed up and read the Law and just offered up a discourse on it, like any other Rabbi would. See the common ground, those people where there to hear a sermon, Jesus just gave them the new stuff they weren’t expecting. The same goes with Paul. For a man or woman in 2008 to believe they are following Paul’s example of evangelism by going to a random street corner or a neighborhood with a jazzy box full of tracks is just plain silly.

Looking at Jesus and the first followers, the first disciple makers, the first evangelist is the best bet we have on all this. You must understand too that these were Jewish men and in the Jewish culture family was an important establishment. Like the Italian Gangsters, family was of the most importance. So it was common to be in a large crowds where everyone knew each other or had a common love for each other, or at least respect. Jesus was a master of positioning Himself. The first disciples followed this example well too. Positing is of the most importance when it comes to evangelism. Putting ourselves in positions where we gain the right or common ground to stand upon to tell them about Jesus. The problem with that is that it takes time and effort. We live in a numbers driven world. Although many pastors have a great heart for wanting to see so many come to Christ and preach the gospel to so many in a week or month, the importance cannot be placed on numbers. It is a quick alternative to give out a track, you can give a stranger a piece of paper saying what they should do and not have to get involved. What we say is evangelism is simply preaching the gospel. This infers that the preaching is to uninvolved parties. Again, no common ground, no true evangelism. So then it takes time to evangelize? Does evangelism stop though? When does it stop and discipleship start? Please help me in finding that crease in the thought. I think the problem is we think in linear aspects only. We want to get from A to B in a straight, fast, easy way, thus we have evangelist. They are well meaning men and women who love Jesus, don’t get my wrong, but they are people who stop the process of discipleship short and call it evangelism because it allows them to just prescribe a message rather than engaging in others’ lives. That is the responsibility of what they call disciplers or mentors.

Well, discipleship ends where evangelism ends apparently, which I still think is incorrect. If this statement is true then the mentor or discipler picks up someone who has already accepted faith in Jesus Christ and then just work on the work of another man. The discipler feels like it is not his or her duty to initiate conversations or common grounds, but to pick up where others leave off. The problem with that is, why don’t they evangelize? So in churches, you have this discussion of what they would rather do, disciple people or be evangelical… Dilemma huh? It’s like this cage fight and both sides are good, but you have to make this choice, Kobe or Lebron, Eli or Payton, TO or Ocho Conco? Well, making this decision is why there are young, happening churches, seeing tons of converts that never grow and why older churches have tons of maturity and understanding of the Word but the last thing they’ve seen converted was Marge’s heart to a pacemaker. Should this be? I venture out on what many will call heresy or liberalism and say no! The dichotomy should not be made because it creates an unhealthy balance. Evangelism or discipleship is both and, it takes time and must always be used from a common ground. Think of how many people we could reach of (1) the evangelist stop quitting after the person accepts Christ and (2) the discpler or mentor actually initiates first contact in order to share the gospel or in our case and language, evangelize. If every follower of Christ were participating in both processes and stopped creating this unhealthy balance then we would see churches full of converts that are maturing in order to create more disciples, this is the great commission’s point right, make more disciples?

So I ask again, is it necessary to make the distinction? May you unify these processes and learn to follow the example of our Lord, Paul, Peter, and other early believers and create disciples, not just new converts or old wise men.


  1. This is like so many other "either/or" conversation in the Church that need to be unified. Great thoughts.

    I love this quote from Bob Franquiz, a pastor in Miami Lakes, Florida, "I used to think of assimilation as a church growth tool. (We call it integration. Assimilation says, "You will become like us." Integration says, "Adding you will change us." Huge difference."

  2. Josh, good thoughts man, thanks.