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I’ve written more on this than most anything. The reason is that in all of our travels, the misunderstanding of evangelism vs discipleship is epidemic!
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.
Instead of following the ways of Jesus, we are most comfortable doing things our way. Throughout the years, organization after organization and Church after Church have given us a myriad of evangelistic tools and methodology to reach out to the non-believer and to close the spiritual deal on them. There are books, booklets, classes, workshops, and small group studies that have been produced for you to “win” the world over to the Christian persuasion. There are sermons, tv and radio shows, gatherings, and mass rallies happening all around, all of them focused on a closing prayer, a closing song, with some sort of action step to bring in the non-believers into the fold.
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 in the conversion business!