Discipleship and Evangelism: Which is the ends and which is the means?

By Dr. Raymond Monroe

Go to every group,


baptizing them in my name,

teaching them my commands.[1]

The Disciple Dilemma is a call for leaders to fulfill the Great Commission of making disciples by being disciples.  It seems that this command is misunderstood as a command for all believers, all Christians, to take as their primary task as disciples, the conversion of the lost.  But…

Jn 13:34 I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another.”

Jesus’ command to us is that our identity, and our discipleship is that we have love for one another.  It seems He is instructing us that making disciples, becoming disciples, in and to every group we go to, is to be recognized not by our efforts to convert others but by our love for one another.  What is this love we are to have for one another?

Jn 15:12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that a person will lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, because all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. 17 This I command you, that you love one another.

Jesus’ tells us, instructs us, commands us that the core reality of the love we have is to use our lives, lay down our lives, spend our lives for others.  The fruit He expects is not primarily converts but the devotion of our life in His love to others.

Jn 15:4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

We are to keep His commandments, and as He commands, we are to love one another.  He has given us our time, talent, resources and influence to use, as in the parable of the talents, to realize His Kingdom through our acts of love. The command to lay down our lives in love is clear.

1 Jn 3:16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers and sisters17 But whoever has worldly goods and sees his brother or sister in need, and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God remain in him? 18 Little children, let’s not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

The modern problematic is not, “how can I, a sinner, be right with God?”  The current challenge is “does my life mean anything, do I have a purpose?”  The good news is that as a Christian, my life is given to me by God, to seek first His Kingdom.  The ultimate reality is that God made a world of meaning and my purpose is to follow Christ as my King and Redeemer, loving God and my neighbor.

For most of us, our calling is not to be an evangelist, but as a disciple to serve our neighbor, brother, enemy in love.  God gives us roles as family member, worker, volunteer, church member, hobbyist—callings to engage, help and serve others.  Some believe that only churchy things like prayer, bible reading and small groups are characteristics of a disciple.  If I am an ordinary person in the pew that does an ordinary job (like Jesus did for 20 years as a carpenter), what I do every day in service and love for others is discipleship.  Jesus is pleased with my extraordinary care to excel in my ordinary tasks.

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.[2]

Becoming a disciple is not defined as attending church but as having a new identity in Christ.  In the Great Commission, the command “to baptize” formalizes us as new creatures in Christ. [3]

So, we come to the question of means and ends.  Implicit in many discipleship approaches is the idea that the ends, or purpose of discipleship, is to reach the lost, to convert the unbelievers.  In this view one critical step to be effective disciples is to intentionally develop a relationship with non-believers to gain their trust, respect and interest so that we can share the Gospel to convert them.  While it is not explicit, the implication is that loving my neighbor is a means to convert them, the end.

This, we believe, is the heart of our current challenge: of moving converts into discipleship.  Loving people is not the means to win them to Christ but the end.  Conversion is one of the means to love them.   Jesus teaches that the gospel, the good news we share as an evangelical is because we love. That is the Kingdom of God.

Mt 4:23 Jesus was going about in all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Christ teaches that the proper end goal for us is not heaven or conversion, but to seek the Kingdom.  This is why we pray, “Thy Kingdom come.”  The good news, a full understanding of evangelism, or good newsism, begins with conversion that results in all of us becoming disciples.  Becoming a disciple means having a complete new identity (“baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”) and purpose (characterized by the command “love one another”).  If we are evangelical, then we are active in all of our lives, in every role and community, loving others and advancing the Kingdom of God.  All disciples are in full time ministry, serving others in love.

The idea that evangelism is conversion and discipleship is teaching how to witness is a distortion of the good news.  Jesus is the Christ, our King who calls us to love others as our purpose, our goal, that we might be His means of advancing His end, His Kingdom.

[1] All Scriptural texts are from NASB except this one that is a paraphrase

[2] Martin Luther King, Barratt Junior High School, Philadelphia, October 26, 1967

[3] Baptism is the terminology Jesus uses in the Great Commission to describe our change in identity.  The Great Commission commands that we baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The more common formulation after Pentecost is to be baptized in the name of Jesus the Christ, our Lord (Acts 2:38, 8:12,16, 10:48, 19:5, 22:16, Rom 6:3, Gal 3:27).  This reference to baptism in the post is not asserting any doctrine of baptism; not how, who or when.  It is trying to remain true to the text and, Jesus that baptism is a change in our identity so that we are baptized in to His death and have died to sin. Risen with Christ we walk in newness of life (Rom 6:3-7, Col 2:9-14), Disciples that are baptized, are baptized into one body, we are one in Christ (1 Cor 12:12-13, Gal 3:26-29, Eph 4:1-6).  For this reason, we are to love one another as Jesus loved us.  The reason to include baptism in this post is to use the text language to show that in Christ we have a new identity, we are new creatures (2 Cor 5:16-19).

© 2024 Dennis Allen | Morgan James Publishing

Start Reading

Slices of the book featured monthly

January 2022 segement: Catch and Release Christianity