Can’t We Just Do Discipleship?

by Kevin Harney

It is the same conversation over and over again. Pastors and church leaders will say, “Can’t we just do great discipleship and trust that Christians will naturally reach out with the message of Jesus?”  The presumption is clear. If a follower of Jesus grows deep in faith and walks closely with the Savior, he or she will naturally and spontaneously share the good news of the gospel.

This same issue comes up as I interact with leaders of discipleship ministries and movements. I read their work, have honest conversations, and listen to those who have adopted their philosophy of ministry. The basic argument is that the role of the church (and pastors) is to help Christians grow mature in faith.

There is a bold confidence that if we help believers go deep in the things of God, grow in their knowledge of Scripture, speak often with God in prayer, serve humbly, give generously, engage in fellowship, and exercise a variety of spiritual disciplines… evangelism will become a lifestyle by virtue of their intimacy with God.

Here is the problem: I have never seen this happen.

In more than three decades of church leadership, I have not observed any consistent evidence that great discipleship leads to regular faith sharing.

As I sat at a restaurant with a friend, Ed Stetzer, I addressed this issue with him  I asked if he was aware of any discipleship movement where evangelism was the natural bi-product (without any intentional training or accountability for personal outreach). His response did not surprise me. Ed echoed my findings and experience.

As best as I can tell, there are some very serious reasons great discipleship does not spontaneously lead to intentional evangelism. Here are my observations:

Spiritual warfare and resistance. The first and biggest reason most Christians never get to the point where they begin to share their faith is that there is massive spiritual resistance to the gospel. All the forces of hell come against a person who seeks to share their faith. Satan and his demonic host don’t tremble when we have church potlucks.  The forces of darkness do not rally for battle when we give away used clothing. But, when Holy Spirit-filled, trained, confident Christians tell the story of the cross and resurrection of Jesus, it is war!

Because there is such powerful spiritual resistance, we need to do more than teach Christians how to walk with Jesus.  We must equip them to battle the forces of hell and push through demonic strongholds as they proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God!

Personal fear. Most followers of Jesus are fearful of personal evangelism. This fear can paralyze. It can drive well-meaning Christians to focus on anything and everything except reaching out to lost people with the message of God’s love, truth, and grace. It is not that they don’t know and believe the message of the gospel. It is not that they don’t care about lost people. It is not even that they don’t know the simple message of salvation. It is that they are afraid.

If we don’t address this and equip people to press past their fear, they will never open their mouth and share the good news that changes lives, homes, communities, and the world.

Lack of training. Because most discipleship programs don’t spend a lot of time training and equipping people to share the good news of Jesus, many loving Christians do not feel prepared and confident to share their faith.  They leave that to the professionals or those who seem to be equipped and know how to share the gospel naturally.

Church leaders need to commit to do training in evangelism over and over and over again. In the church I serve, we seek to infuse new training and ideas for faith-sharing every thirty days. It is that important.

Distractions. Many faithful disciples make time to walk with Jesus and grow in their faith. They attend classes, Bible studies, and small groups. In addition, they come to church services and engage in ministry by using their God-given gifts. On top of this, they make time for fellowship and relationships with other believers. These are all good things, but by the time all of these are done, there can be little time left to hang out with non-believing friends and no time for building new relationships with people who are far from God.

We need to make sure that good things do not become excuses for fulfilling the Great Commission given by our Lord.

The bottom line is this…Discipleship is great!

But, it is not enough.

We need to find ways to equip believers for evangelism. We must keep every follower of Jesus accountable not only for personal spiritual growth, but for personal witness. We need to relentlessly inspire Christians to engage in the world of the gospel. We should be compelled to plan and engage in evangelism personally, as families, and as a church. Only when we take it this seriously will we see a powerful evangelistic movement of God sweep through our churches and communities!

Kevin Harney (@KevinGHarney) is a local church pastor, author, and international speaker. He is the founder and visionary leader of Organic Outreach Ministries International. Kevin is the author of the Organic Outreach series of books (with his wife Sherry), and many other books and studies. He trains movement leaders in how to transform the culture of an organization from being inwardly focused to evangelistic on every level.