Advancing the Conversation of Jesus
One of the early and frequent topics in graduate school was to compare and contrast evangelism and discipleship. We viewed evangelism as the open door of converting a person and discipleship was the follow-up work after a person was converted.
I spent much of my spiritual life grappling with the issue of evangelism. For quite some time, I was filled with guilt over not sharing the Gospel enough or not having many results to my evangelistic efforts. It was not until many years later that I discovered that Jesus never commanded his disciples to evangelize anyone. The two primary commands of Jesus that are relevant here are “make disciples of all nations” and “bear witness of me” or “you shall be witnesses of me” in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria and to the remotest part of the world.
Because we have misunderstood this, we have come to embrace evangelism as a prominent teaching and practice that is expected of all followers of Jesus.
And, the misunderstanding of evangelism goes further into wrong thinking. Evangelism has come to mean to proselytize, which means to convert a person to another faith or religion. Jesus taught none of this! We are not to proselytize or attempt to convert anyone away from their culture or religious persuasion and into our culture or religious persuasion. Not only did Jesus NOT teach this; there is no way any one of us has the ability and power to truly convert a person’s heart to follow after God.
When Jesus commanded his disciples to make disciples (Jesus followers) of all nations, he meant exactly what he said-nothing less, nothing more. When Jesus commanded his disciples to “bear witness of him” to the world (John 15) and to “be witnesses of him”, starting with Jerusalem and proceed to do this throughout the entire world (Acts 1), he was not urging any kind of conversion tactics. Instead, Jesus was urging them to introduce and encourage people from all nations to become followers of him. You see, when a person is introduced to Jesus, then that person has the opportunity to be transformed or converted in his heart by Jesus-the only one who in the conversion business!
You introduce people to Jesus more by being like Jesus than by talking about him. So, don’t spend your time strategizing how to evangelize the world; spend your time thinking in terms of making disciples of the whole world, beginning with yourself. This is precisely why we frequently articulate our vision to be advancing the conversation of Jesus.