I believe that evangelism is part of the process of ongoing discipleship.
I am convinced that discipleship is the act of leading by example and begins at the point of first contact. We are all discipling others by the life we lead. At some point a person will be open to the good news and want to follow Jesus. Paul said "follow me as I follow Christ." (1 Cor 11:1)
When I study Paul's missional strategy in the New Testament there is a synergy between the local church and the work of evangelism. The book of Colossians is a good example. The people of Colossae were very superstitious and loved to syncretise their religion (mixing different beliefs together to make a new mashed up version). They were obsessed with angels and a cult of angel worship had emerged focused on the Archangel Michael. Paul directly addresses this in Colossians 2:18:
"Don't be cheated by people who make a show of acting humble and who worship angels. They brag about seeing visions. But it is all nonsense, because their minds are filled with selfish desires." CEV
I have found that evangelists sometimes think their job is to preach the gospel and let the Holy Spirit take care of the rest. This is a half truth and can be a damaging approach because we birth babies without giving them proper aftercare. The best form of evangelism is done in a team context with preaching the gospel and pastoral care.
photo: unsplash Ravi Roshan
In Paul's letter to the Colossians in Col 1:6 he says "the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace." There are three phases mentioned.
1) hearing 2) responding and 3) growing in grace.
You can tell that Paul feels responsible for these new christians. Although Epaphras is the one who shares the good news, Paul mentions in verse 9 "since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives."
Prayer is part of the follow up. Instruction is part of the follow up. Paul lays out the gospel in Colossians 1:21-22:
"Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation."
He then adds an IF in verse 23.
"if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant."
Paul expects them to continue in their faith with two descriptor words 1) established, and 2) firm. The King James Version uses the words grounded and settled. The word established or grounded literally means to lay a good foundation. It is the same word used in the parable of building our house on the rock rather than the sand.
This is a consolidation process, part of the work of follow up. The word firm or settled means to be unmovable. Think of someone who is protesting at something like a Greenpeace event. They are sitting in a group resisting arrest, they link arms and stay put because of their convictions. They do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. They are linked and solid around the good news. This is a powerful image of follow up.
Paul uses a different image when he writes to the church in Galatians. In Galatians 4:19 he says:
"My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you."
New babies need to grow and mature in order to thrive. Yet much of our western evangelism is focussed all on the birth. This is why I believe healthy evangelism should be seen in the context of community and discipleship.
What can we do to encourage a healthier evangelistic culture?
First step is to have a better understanding of the process of discipleship.
I would suggest that evangelists should be an intrinsic part of local church leadership to make sure the team have a healthy balance of priorities (both outreach and spiritual nurture). In Lighthouse, the church I planted we have an APEST team (the E is for evangelist).
I strongly believe that community is the best form of discipleship, so get new converts into small groups of some kind. A person who is connected into community is more likely to weather the storms of becoming a new christian.
If you are an evangelist ask yourself "how do I see discipleship?" "where is my team?" and "what does community look like for me?"