No Discipleship without Evangelism

When I was in college, a leader in our ministry used to remark, “There is no discipleship without evangelism.”

That stuck with me. Today it seems more important than ever.

The first words we hear Jesus speak to his potential disciples are, “Follow Me, and I will show you how to fish for people.”

I think Jesus is saying, “As my disciple, the first thing we’re gonna work on is being able to catch others.”

Where are the “fishers of men” in the body of Christ in the Western world today?

A few months ago, my wife and I returned from a 6,000 mile road trip with our four children. We travelled to several universities with friends from 24-7 Prayer and Campus America to launch a traveling movement called the Wilder Project. In our travels, two themes became evident:

1) Approximately half the students we’d talk to on college campuses HAD NEVER HEARD THE GOSPEL IN A WAY THEY COULD UNDERSTAND.

2) Many students WERE REALLY CURIOUS AND OPEN WHEN WE ASKED IF WE COULD TELL THEM BRIEFLY WHY JESUS CAME TO EARTH.

On most campuses, there were multiple college ministries present. There were sometimes a hundred churches within five miles of the campus.

How could so many students have never heard the gospel?

Geographical Distance and Cultural Distance

In our cities and campuses in the Western world, there is geographical distance and there is cultural/relational distance.

A church building might be next door to a non-Christian’s house. A college student might walk near several campus ministry meetings every week. They are close geographically. But culturally and relationally, they might be a million miles apart. On a college campus, there are hundreds of “sub-cultures” that will probably never be exposed to the gospel unless someone leaves their own group of Christian friends and intentionally engages them with the story of Jesus.

The message of the gospel often has been buried within our Christian meetings and our Christian sub-cultures. Some statistics show that 95% of college students currently are not active in a Christian ministry. However, I see lots of signs of life here. Today, I see college students everywhere changing this, learning how to engage their campus with the gospel and become fishers of men. There has never been a greater hour or a more opportune time to preach the gospel and make disciples than there is right now.

One reason I love training students to start simple churches on their campus is because it offers a way to bring the gospel and a relevant Christian community into the areas that students do life – dormitories, scholarship halls, fraternities, apartments, etc. We try to start simple expressions of church for those who don’t want to go to churches.

We were destined by Jesus to be the most creative, contagious, attractive, influential people on the planet. Your unique life is intended to emanate the attractive aroma of God that goes out and draws people toward the love of God.

You don’t put on your “Sunday best” to fish. You put on fishing clothes. Paul the apostle said, “I’ve become all things to all men that I might win some to the gospel.” Fishing is the daily life of being a disciple of Jesus. You find as much in common with non-Christians as you can to win them to Jesus. They’ll see the difference in you; just get around them and pray for opportunities to share Jesus with them.

The other day I was playing basketball with a couple students. Without even planning it, afterward, I asked them, “Hey, do you want to do five-minute church?”

“What’s five-minute church?” they asked.

“It’s really cool. We read a Jesus story, connect with God, and pray, all in five minutes. You don’t have to know anything about God to do it. You want to try it?”

We sat down and read a story of Jesus together. It was encouraging to see one of the guys pray who doesn’t have a Bible but was open to God. It was really fun and easy. Both of them talked about starting to read the book of Mark together afterward.

We’ve made discipleship a character issue. Character is essential. You can’t continue in life and ministry without developing character. However, evangelism – being able to catch others – is the first principle Jesus mentions when He calls people to follow Him. The call to follow Jesus is a call to learn how to catch other people.

Do you see how huge this principle is?

Sometimes Christian students will ask me to start discipling them. The first thing I tell them is, “Go find three non Christians. Learn their story, pray for them, and tell them about your relationship with Jesus.”

If they are faithful to do that, then I know they’re someone I want to invest my time with. There is no discipleship without evangelism.

A student I met a few months ago at ASU has been going out on campus every week to “fish” for people. This semester, he led three Chinese students to Christ and started a simple church with them. I received the following emails from him giving the updates:

Hey Erik!

Good to hear from you!  Things here are going well!  God is doing some cool stuff!  The Chinese brothers are growing well too.  Since they received Christ, I have gone through some follow-up and discipleship with them every week for the past 2 weeks.  They seem to grasp the reality of what it means to receive Christ.  Just last week, we read the Easter story together, and one of the Chinese students later told me how amazed he was by the story.  He had heard about Jesus from others and even learned about it from other Christians, but he told me that he never truly understood the love that Jesus had for him until I told him about it.  He said that I really should go and tell other about Jesus love back in their hometowns.  They also have this passion to go and tell their friends and family about what Jesus did for them too.  So it’s pretty exciting!  I was struggling with follow-up material and just how to explain things to them.  But God shows up every time.  I just looked on the CampusChurch website, and I saw the follow-up material you guys have there, so I think I will begin to use that.  I really want to explain baptism more to them and pray that they would be baptized soon!  But ya, that’s an update on that situation.  Let me know if you have any suggestions or any insight you have on the follow up process.  This is something new for me, so I’m definitely learning as I go.  Thanks for the encouragement!

Then a few weeks later:

Hey Erik,

Just wanted to give you an update on what’s happening here. Sorry, I haven’t been able to respond earlier. We are now coming to the end of the school year here at ASU, so we have finals and stuff the next few weeks.

As for the Chinese students, I got to baptize the three of them this past Monday! The administration actually had to stop us from using the fountains because of the baptisms that were occurring. So instead, we went ahead and used a bucket and poured it on them. It was a really beautiful moment. Many of the students involved in our Epic simple church came and supported and celebrated the Chinese students. After we baptized them, we all laid hands on them and prayed for them. One of the guys from the prayerhouse was there and got a word that the three students were like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who would stand firm in the face of idolatry. It was a pretty powerful time! So they are doing well, and I am excited to see how they are growing.

Have you heard the call to become a fisher of men? Maybe you feel timid, afraid, or unrelatable to nonChristians. You can turn Jesus’ words into a promise: “Follow Me, and I WILL make you become a fisher of men.” Jesus WILL teach you if you’re willing to try.

Early in my walk with the Lord, I started praying a dangerous prayer daily.

“Jesus, will you lead me to someone who needs to hear the gospel today?”

I was amazed at how many conversations about God started springing up in my daily life.

You were created by God to become a fisher of men. You can do it! You have something inside you the world can never offer: hope; a future; eternal life; peace with God; the Holy Spirit. Tell people about it!

You can become a fisher of men because we follow the greatest fisher of men who ever lived – Jesus, the one who caught each one of us!

The Fish Family

The Fish Family

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