It’s the question asked over coffee, behind closed doors and in conversations at conferences. For me, it was an interview question at the church I currently serve: “Are you more of an evangelism guy or a discipleship guy?” The “correct” answer was evangelism (which I answered at the time). Several months later, we were hiring another Campus Pastor for our North Campus and as we interviewed various candidates, we would ask them the same question, always looking for guys that leaned toward evangelism.

At the time, I could genuinely answer “evangelism” because my heart bleeds for the lost (it still does). I’ve been working on a message on Luke 15 and the “lost parables” (lost sheep, lost coin, lost son) for over a year. I plan on preaching it sometime in the future at my campus. I’m passionate about reaching the lost. The problem is with the pre-supposition that there is only one correct answer or with the assumption that you have to choose between the two, as if they opposed each other.

My background is unique. I’ve been a worship guy, a tech guy, a social media guy and a consultant (to all of which I brought a pastor’s heart to the role). About a year and a half ago, I realized my right fit and calling in life was to be a Campus Pastor at a multi-site church. I have a pastor’s heart, strong leadership gifts, along with administration, shepherding and evangelism gifts. I knew I wanted to lead a church (or a campus), but not preach regularly. All of that is for another article.

My point is after nearly two decades of vocational ministry and a change in position to that of a pastor and overseer of a congregation, my heart has changed on this issue. The more I deal with people, issues, sin, marriages, divorce, adultery, addictions and all the mess that I shepherd and counsel people about, the more I see a necessary need for people to be discipled.

As I mentioned earlier, my church is highly evangelistic – always has been. We have a very evangelistic Lead Pastor and I thank God for him and his passion to see the lost come to know Christ. When you take an evangelistic pastor and a team of lay leaders and staff that strive to reach their community for Christ, you end up with a lot of new Christians or baby Believers (Praise God!). My campus is four years old and one-third of our campus has been led to Christ here and baptized over the last four years. I thank God for that.

However, I recently went away on a much needed vacation and I packed in several appointments and counseling sessions before I left to make sure everyone I was concerned about was going to be okay while I was gone for two weeks. While I was away and unplugged from work and the world, God began to speak to me.

God spoke to me while I was driving, through prayer, through His Word and through some books that God had laid on my heart to read while I was on vacation. The two main books that I read on my trip were Jesus+Nothing=Everything and The Explicit Gospel. Both books referred constantly to the book of Colossians and both books mentioned Colossians 1:28, which says, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. We had been doing a great job at reaching lost people, but we were lacking in the area of discipleship and presenting everyone “mature in Christ.” It was Billy Graham that said, “This is why evangelism must be our continual priority, and this is why discipleship must be our goal.”

With all the junk that is going on in our church and all the spiritual growth that needs to happen, I realize that both are needed. The question asked in the beginning is a loaded question. There’s not one right answer. It’s both-and. Matt Chandler, in his new book The Explicit Gospel simply said, “The mission of the Church is evangelism and discipleship.” He also said The Great Commission was not “Go and make converts.” It is “Go and make disciples.”

Am I swinging too far in the other direction? No! I’m fighting to stay balanced right in the middle. I’m still white hot for evangelism, but I now see the need to mentor, counsel, shepherd and disciple our people in the faith. I long for them to grow up and start chewing on the spiritual meat of our faith. I want to present them mature in Christ. Guess what? It’s a win-win. I strongly believe that as they grow in their faith and become true disciples that they, too, will become white hot about sharing their faith and they will start helping us reach more people in our community.

Dallas Willard said, “Each church needs to be able to answer two questions. First, do you have a plan for making disciples? Two, does your plan work?” I’m wrestling with this right now in my ministry. We are a church that primarily does discipleship and community through small groups, but I’m also experimenting with other ways like one-on-one discipleship and mentoring. We have young, single moms being mentored by older, mature women in the faith. I personally meet with people for one-on-one discipleship weekly. I believe discipleship can take many forms and there is no cookie-cutter approach. We’re trying all sorts of things to help people grow in their faith, but as I said, small groups are the primary vehicle.

I’d love to hear how you approach and tackle discipleship in your church. What are you doing to present your people mature in Christ? Os Guiness said, “Evangelism in some ways is easier, but genuine discipleship is harder.” I think there’s some truth to that. You can lead someone to Christ in five minutes, but it takes years to disciple someone. In reality it happens throughout our lifetime. We never really stop growing in our faith.

Robert Munger said, “Evangelism is the spontaneous overflow of a glad and free heart in Jesus Christ.” When we grow in our faith and become more and more spiritually mature, we naturally want to share the gospel and see more and more people come to Christ. Yes, new Christians are often gung-ho about sharing their newfound faith, but to sustain that over a lifetime will take someone growing in their faith and becoming a true disciple.

It’s been a wonderful whirlwind year of seeing the lost come to Christ and baptizing children, youth and adults, but now that our church is becoming more and more full of baby Christians/new Believers, I desperately want to see them get plugged into a small group, read their Bible, grow in their faith and enjoy the wonders of the gospel. The longer I pastor, the more I find myself landing in the middle of the evangelism vs discipleship debate or question.

Catalyst Conference and Andy Stanley once talked on “the tension is good” and said that somethings and sometimes are meant to have a healthy tension that is not resolved. It’s supposed to hang in the air and bring healthy discussion and debate among your team. I believe this is one of those tension issues. So the next time someone asks you if you’re an evangelism or discipleship guy (or gal), answer, “Both!” and be proud of it. You’re in good company.

Greg Atkinson

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