One insight Dennis shared was about the way we use the two words evangelism and discipleship. He noted how we use the word evangelism to describe what we do when we talk to a non-believer about following Jesus; and how in contrast we use the word discipleship to describe what we do when we talk to a believer about following Jesus. In both cases we are talking about following Jesus but depending whether a person is a believer or not we use a different word.
But that is not how Jesus used the word. When he appointed his 12 disciples, none of them were believers. Jesus spent three years teaching and equipping them before his death and resurrection, and it was only then, after they had been disciples for years that they began to understand him and truly believe.
This has profound implications for us and the way we understand discipleship. Given that most people in our community have little or no knowledge about God and Jesus, their discipleship journey begins well before they might confess Jesus as Lord. Their understanding of who God is and what Jesus has done needs to grow over a period of time through many conversations, just as it did with the disciples of Jesus.
But not only does this change our understanding of discipleship; it also changes our understanding of evangelism. Evangelism is no longer a rally with its focus on a decision, but an ongoing conversation helping a non-believer in their understanding of Jesus. Dennis helpfully defines evangelism as “leaving the person I have met with a better understanding of God than they would have if they had never met me.”
“Evangelism is no longer a rally with its focus on a decision”
In a community where the majority of people no longer have a basic biblical understanding the task of evangelism changes. Evangelism is no longer an event but a process and every one of us has a part to play. Evangelism becomes a delight rather than a duty where every conversation becomes an opportunity to be kind, to smile, to connect and to love. Our prayer can be, “God help me see this person as you see them” and then allow God to equip us to respond appropriately to them in the moment.
Brothers and sisters, we have all been called to be witnesses for Jesus. May God enable us to be a group of ordinary Christians who grow in confidence and desire to share with those who don’t know that they don’t know Jesus.
Stephen L Baxter