Dialogue on Disciple Making and Evangelism

Recently I was asked to respond to a quote: “The making of disciples is not an end in itself. The end result is evangelism, and disciples are the means.” Jim Downing – Agree or Disagree? Why? I replied, “I would disagree, because I believe discipleship is a lifelong process of transformation into the image of Jesus while evangelism deals with the beginning of that process.”

At that point I was directed to the interview from which this quote was taken. You can find it at:


Reading the whole article certainly puts Jim Downing’s words in their original setting and that gives me greater understanding of how he uses these terms. There is much that Jim says with which I wholeheartedly agree.

But just as I originally responded to his words without their context, I fear we all do the same with Scriptures from time to time. For example, I do not believe Mathew 28:16-20 and Acts 1:8 are synonymous (an issue that was raised by another respondent). These two passages are spoken at different times, in different places, commanding different responsibilities. Combine this with the fact that one is the close of a gospel and the other is the opening of the sequel to another gospel, and we ought to intuitively realize they are probably accomplishing different things in those contextualized presentations of the story of Jesus. (Before we juxtapose or combine two texts from different authors we must be sure we understand each in its original context.)

My studied conviction is that the Great Commission is the crowning completion of Jesus’ disciple-making paradigm—in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus models a three-fold ministry of preaching, teaching and healing in the first gospel (Matthew 4:17-23). As he calls the twelve he uses the three strategies to which Jim Downing refers. Jesus teaches (even with thousands overhearing in chs. 5-7), coaches (ch. 10) and mentors them in groups of three or less. But Matthew never speaks of these hand-picked, sent-out representatives being sent out to “teach” until the Great Commission is given. They imitate Jesus by proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and by healing the sick, but in the first gospel they never teach until their final sending, and even then it is qualified as “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Only Matthew records Jesus’ difficult saying about not being called “Rabbi” or “Teacher” (Matthew 23:5-11). Jesus alone is the teacher in the first gospel. He radically contrasts the many teachers of first century Judaism (cf., Matthew 7:28-29, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”). The Great Commission launches the reproductive process of making disciples by baptizing them and teaching them to obey all of Jesus’ commands. This is how the first gospel insures that Jesus is kept front and center.

By contrast, it is my studied conviction that Acts 1:8 is particularized—exclusively addressed to the apostles and compelling them to remain in Jerusalem as witnesses (at risk of martyrdom) because they are to insure that the gospel flows to Gentiles unfettered by Jewish culture. I agree with Steven Hawthorne when he writes, “God drew the apostles together in body, heart and mind for one of the most important moments of history—the Jerusalem council recorded in Acts 15.” Unlike some who believe the apostles were disobedient by remaining in Jerusalem, I am convinced they were stubbornly obedient. Jerusalem was not their home—Galilee was and that is where Jesus speaks the Great Commission.  Remaining in Jerusalem places them at grave risk as is evidenced by what happened to James, John’s brother. But Jesus’ special directives to them required they stay in Jerusalem as his witnesses (Acts 1:8). The Greek word “martus” was a primitive word from which we get our word “martyr”; a witness. Witnesses establish the value of following Christ.  Their persuasive power is not only because their words match their life—their words and their life match those of Christ Himself. It is as if Christ Himself stands to testify before the world.

Paul’s life was brought under this same directive when Jesus sends Ananias: “But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’” (Acts 9:15-16). “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him. “Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard.’” (Acts 22:12-15).

Let me summarize what all of this means to me. 1) Each of the four gospels is a contextualized proclamation of the life, ministry and teaching of Jesus. Each presents those portions that will especially resonate with and transform the believers who are being called out of four different worldviews. We will be better served to grapple with, understand and then appropriate those diverse presentations than to conflate them into just one chronological gospel—like we Westerners are inclined to do. 2) In our calling to develop the mind of Christ, we will learn to make disciples by watching, imitating and obeying Jesus. 3) From time to time he will call representatives to step forward as witnesses who will withstand attempts to shackle the gospel with cultural baggage that would slow or cripple its spread. 4) Teaching obedience to Jesus is at the heart of disciple making—here I am heavily influenced by Matthew’s proclamation. 5) Care to use some of these terms with a more nuanced meaning will give us greater clarity, but only to the extent we can agree on such meanings.

In the context of the original interview with Jim Downing, I want to conclude by noting a further point from his context. While the interview opens with a question about the Great Commission, Jim begins with a reference to Matthew 24:14. Do not overlook this because it sets the perspective for everything that follows. If you are familiar with the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement materials you know that this earlier text is a lens for interpreting the Great Commission. Everything Jim says in this interview is colored by what he believes about this verse.

Personally,I am still wrestling with the Perspectives understanding of Matthew 24:14. It has grown on me over the last five years, but I am not totally settled, yet. We all have texts that shape how we interpret other blocks of Scripture. Recognizing this is very important for us to grow in our ability to hear God’s Word afresh in our lives.


  1. I read your blog first, John, then started on the attached article. After about 1/3 of it I decided I needed to re-read your thoughts, read the other article a couple of times, then let it all “gel” a while. Interesting stuff. Let’s meet for coffee and chew on this.


    1. Sounds like a plan to me. I am always happy to talk these matters through with people who love the Lord like you do. Just give me a call on my cell and we can schedule a time.


  2. “The making of disciples is not an end in itself. The end result is evangelism, and disciples are the means.” I’ve read and re-read this trying to keep it centered with everything discussed in the interview. Two quick thoughts: 1) I wholeheartedlly agree with what you said about discipleship, i.e. that it’s a life long process,” – process being the key. Giving ourselves over to the conforming work of the Spirit is a daily necessity. We’re clay on the ptter’s wheel and shaping takes time.

    2) I worry, that on the other hand, that we’ve made “disciple making” a dead-end venture. We focus on teaching people knowledge but tend to move on (leaving them high and dry) after they’ve made a decision for Christ. We don’t equip them to make other disciples. That seemed to be the emphasis of my upbringing, at least. This all changed for me about 27 years ago when a brother taught me the importance of thinking “reproductively.”

    Here’s what I mean: Seeing evangelism as a task can make us hurriedly move from one person to another. We teach one, baptize him, then move on to another. This leads to rushed-up bean counting and possibly short-changes any subsequent reproduction. On the other hand, patiently focusing on a few at a time (as Jesus did) tends to sink deep roots. Grounding men and women is Christ promotes a disciple making DNA in their lives and hearts. In this sense it seems to me that disciple making leads to evangelism, i.e. disciple making begets more disciple making. How can we have true disciple making without evangelism or true evangelism without disciple making. The two are inextricably linked.


  3. Mike, I am sure that Jim Downing would agree with what you have written about making disciple makers. He orders discipling and evangelism the way he does because of what he believes about Matthew 24:14. If the return of Jesus is tied to there being a church planting movement in every people group, then experiencing this level of evangelism is the goal. If you grant that, then discipling disciple makers is the the strategy. But this all hinges on your understanding of this verse. These issues are raised and “chewed on” in the Perspectives course. The interview appears in a journal that is published by the same group that sponsors the Perspectives course. I am familiar with this because of teaching several lessons in this course.

    A critical thing for us to consider is what motivates us to be involved in this making disciple makers. Also, we need to evaluate what drives our strategies? The folks at Mission Frontiers have contributed much to the cross-cultural missions that are going on around the world today because they see this task of reaching every people group as a calling from Jesus and something that can be accomplished by the proper strategy that the Holy Spirit teaches and guides us to implement. While I would not use the phrase he does in the quote that started this whole post, I agree with Jim on just about everything else he said and I don’t fault him for how he stated what he said. It is a strategy that is informing and motivating his work for the Lord.


    1. Miguel, thanks for pulling me into this discussion through your question about the quote on Facebook. The number of visitors to this blog has certainly been increased today!


    1. Miguel, it will be critical in evaluating your chart to understand what is a disciple-maker, what is a witness and what is an equipper? The apostle Paul would certainly be placed in that overlapping center since he was called by Jesus to be a witness, made disciples like Luke, Timothy and Titus and he functioned in the apostolic manner spoken of in Ephesians 4.

      Since my post touches on each of these, except the equipper, let me share a few of my thoughts on that one. I believe Paul’s work in Ephesus launched a Church Planting Movement throughout the Roman Province of Asia (Acts 19 & 20). The spread of the gospel was so rapid and extensive that it caused Demetrius grave concern. This happened though Paul did not personally leave the capitol–Ephesus. During the two years he rented the school of Tyrannus (Acts 19:8), Paul conducted a CPM training center and raised up church planters like Epaphras (Colossians 1:7-8; 4:12-13). They carried the message throughout this region and their work is the likely genesis of the seven churches of Asia mentioned in Revelation 1-3. Further, I believe Ephesians was written as a circular letter intended to be read in all the churches of that region(the word “Ephesus” in 1:1 is absent from some of the oldest manuscripts).

      Ephesians 4 identifies the functions needed to spread the gospel of the kingdom throughout a province. Those with the apostolic function (sent-out) will always be looking for the least-reached areas and people groups. The prophetic will be hearing God’s heart for the people of that region. Evangelists will be functioning to keep the gospel ringing out where beachheads have been established. Pastor/teachers will be helping to ground and mature the new believers so the process can be repeated over and over again.

      Clearly, there is room for overlap between these equippers, disciple makers and witnesses, but I doubt Paul, Luke and Matthew would have ever envisioned these three being placed in this kind of chart. Such a chart is clearly a modern/Western construct. It can be helpful for those of us who view the world from a modern/Western worldview, but it may cause us to ask questions of these passages that they were never intended to answer. At the very least, we need to carefully understand these three passages as they were intended to function in their original setting before we place them into this modern setting.


  4. It is always interesting to me when one throws out the modern, post-modern, Western, Greek, or any other mind-set. As for thought systems, neither modern nor post-modern are any good. As for the wester/eastern dichotomy, I think, in most cases it is a construct in which to set up straw men arguments.

    The dichotomy itself, when raised, is a product of “western” thinking. The either or distinction is usually associated with western thinkers vs. the “BOTH and AND” thinking of easterners. That said, I have personally been involved in Making Disciple Makers for that last 5 years in Ecuador, and in the last year we have seen more than 5 generations of disciples made. In an attempt to understand why we have seen such growth, I asked the Lord and in much travail I believe that the diagram, even in its baby stage is the answer that I received from Christ. I don’t accept that it is a construct of western thinking, but a construct of spiritual things being spiritually discerned. I am, however, willing to put it out there for discussion because “through many counselors, there is wisdom.


    1. Miguel, I praise God for what his Spirit is accomplishing through the ministry he called you into in Ecuador. I have no doubt that the diagram is of value and the answer to agonizing prayer! Please accept my apologies for the rudeness of my words.

      You are correct to turn my comments back on me. I was born in the U.S., and have three degrees from universities here. I was schooled in modern rationality before I could pronounce the words. But our Father has battled those cultural constructs through Scriptures and through life experiences of bumping into people who did not see the world as I did because they grew up hearing his Word in different cultures.

      It is not my intent to set up “straw men” who can be easily destroyed. I am trying to hear spiritual words and recognize when I am prone to misunderstand their meaning because of my tendencies to filter them through my culture. Obviously, to translate their meaning to others from my culture, I will have to speak the heart language of people here just has you have to there in Ecuador.

      Maybe this chart was given to highlight the areas of non-overlap as much as the ones of overlap. I suspect you are constantly challenged to operate in that overlap zone, but need to raise up Timothys, Tituses and Lukes–indigenous leaders who will complete the functions of all three circles.

      Blessings, brother. Please forgive me.


  5. Please accept what may have sounded as abruptness on my part. I don’t call your conclusions into question, just the over-arching attack against western thought. If I strive to take every thought captive to the mind of Christ, and if I have moderate success at that through the guidance of the Spirit who will lead me into all truth, then whether I think under a construct of western or eastern thought should be irrelevant. Whether I am modern or post modern is again irrelevant.

    What is relevant, is that in time, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, that my thoughts become Christlike regardless of what construct I come from.

    There is no apologies needed here. I was not offended in the least. I only seek to always and forever get to the heart of the matter. I too enjoy the nuances of different thought systems and their possible implications in understanding truth, but I have found that I often miss out on the greater message by having my focus misdirected in that manner.

    Peace to you friend…

    In and For Him



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s