Two Words for One Biblical Term: How dissection obscures understanding.

Thursday is for Discipleship

Earlier this week, Michael Fast visited the blog and asked this question:  “Isn’t evangelism part of discipleship? It seems like your definition of discipleship is dealing with people who are already evangelized hence the move away from interacting with people farther from God and focussing on people who are already fully connected to the church. I’m just wondering if it is possible to divide the two?”

Really a great question (even if part of it misreads the flavor of the post).

The word discipleship doesn’t exist in Scripture. The word evangelism is a more complicated discussion that I don’t want or need to get into now. For years, the church has used both words to explain different aspects of the one task of Making Disciples. Sometimes dissection of processes is revelatory–for example, when a body is dissected we learn much about how the body functions.

But sometimes, dissection can obscure. I want to suggest that in the case of Making Disciples, our long established atomization into the two categories of “Evangelism” and “Discipleship” is one such dissection. Let’s tackle the problem from the more versatile of the two words, discipleship.

There are two ways that we use the word. But that is part of the problem. Some use the word as a synonym for the whole process of Making Disciples. Others use it to describe those things that we do to deepen believers in Christ. When this happens we have failed to understand the indivisible nature of evangelism/discipleship as the total expression of what it means to Make Disciples.

Unfortunately, when we divide evangelism from discipleship the emphasis quickly devolves in one and grows in the other. In our time, when we mention “discipleship” or “spiritual formation” people almost always default to “the things we do to deepen people in Christ,’ and almost completely eliminate the element of evangelism.

But Jesus always joins the two. One follows the other ALWAYS. One without the other is warped. If we fail to understand the process at its beginning, we truncate the process as it goes forward. See, and related posts on the topic.

So a better diagram to describe how Making Disciples actually moves forward would look much different than the one that I used on Monday to describe what happens to pastors as ministry gets more complicated over time.

Anyone want to take a stab at creating a diagram that sees evangelism/discipleship as one continuous process of making disciples?

Here’s a couple more lines to aid (or agitate) discussion:

  • Discipleship is continuous from conversion.
  • “Disciples” who don’t evangelize are not disciples.
  • Discipleship that expects disciples not to evangelize is warped.
  • Jesus expects all disciples to fish for men.

10 thoughts on “Two Words for One Biblical Term: How dissection obscures understanding.

  1. John Stott addresses this issue in his excellent treatise on 1 Timothy and Titus, _Guard the Truth_, IVP. See his discussion of Titus 3:3-8, pgs 200 through 208. He says, “We must never confuse justification and regeneration, our new status and our new birth. Nor should we ever attempt to separate them. For God always does both together. He never justifies people without at the same time regenerating them, and he never regenerates them without justifying them, The work of Christ in Justification and the work of the Spirit in regeneration are simultaneous.” pg 205.

    Or in the words of Big John, “Say the sinner’s prayer and I’ll see you at the Pearly Gates is a false gospel.”


  2. Nice to see this response to my question, Marty. It is an issue that we have been wrestling with here in the Philippines for the past little while. Traditionally we have viewed the events as separate. First someone is evangelised and then they are discipled. Recent reading and study has lead us to question this “fundamental” of our practice. Which is where my question came from. I like how your response brings balance to the equation.

    I might like to consider going one step further: discipleship begins with my first contact with someone, whether or not that person “accepts Christ” immediately or not. Conceivably, someone could be a disciple but not yet a Christian (if it is possible to separate those two terms).

    There are two diagrams that illustrate this: One is the famous Engel’s scale that talks about the journey a person takes from absolutely no knowledge of God to being fully committed to God and serving him. The other one is the perhaps less well-known Grey Matrix that talks about the relationship between knowledge and attitude in the Christian journey.


      1. Me too. I like Engle’s scale and thought about referring to it but I’m hoping somebody gets really creative with a powerful visual element. We’ll see what happens.

        I’ll have to google the Grey Matrix.


  3. Well Marty, earlier today you posted on twitter a link to “How do Pastors forget about Evangelism.” It led me to this article and I thought I would comment.
    A friend recently asked me to email my definition of Disciple vs. Maker of Disciples. That discussion led to defining Discipleship vs. Evangelism. (Unfortunately, I don’t have a pretty graph, but I will certainly think through that as I am a bit of an Excel dork and that is right up my alley.) Below was copied from my email response.

    Disciple:: a learner and follower.
    – Learner:: from the greek mathetes. one who is being taught–in this case–the Truths of God.
    – Follower:: one who is not only hearing the Truth but seeking to hear it more. one who is aiming to apply the teaching in their life. one who has decided (past tense) to abandon all else and follow Christ. one whose character continues to reflect more and more accurately the character of Christ. one who is journeying toward and through being a Maker of Disciples.

    The Twelve were disciples. They heard. They learned. They followed. They continued to learn and follow.
    The rich, young ruler was not a disciple. He heard. One might say his sadness indicated a degree of belief or learning. He did not follow.

    Maker of Disciples:: in simplest form, one who can claim 1 Cor 11:1 with confidence. in more detail, one whose character continues to reflect more and more accurately the character of Christ. one whose relationships/conversations bring glory to Christ. one who utilizes relationships/conversations for the purpose of telling of the Christ whose character they aim to reflect. one who guides others as they aim to reflect the character of Christ. one who helps Disciples become Disciple-Makers.
    – Evangelism:: the sharing of the Truths of God and Christ.
    – Discipleship:: the sharing of the Truths of God and Christ with Disciples.

    A Maker of Disciples engages in evangelism with both believers and non-believers.
    Ideally, Evangelism (Disciple-Maker to other) leads to Discipleship (Disciple-Maker to Disciple) which leads to Evangelism (Disciple-turned-Disciple-Maker to other).

    Thanks Marty for you investment in others and the Kingdom. Feel free to comment.


  4. Rick Warren’s baseball diamond will do, if you accept the concept that once you go all the way around by yourself, your next job is to take others around all the bases. In my version of this cycle, I use the image of a Celtic cross with a four part, never ending cycle.


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