Commentary: Discipleship requires evangelism


By The Rev. Heather Heinzman Lear*

Jesus summed up our job as disciples in two tasks: Love God and love neighbor.

As Christians who live out our faith in the Wesleyan tradition, we are challenged to engage in this task throughout our lives, seeking to grow a little deeper in our love for God and neighbor each day. This growth occurs as we worship, spend time in the Scriptures and prayer, fellowship with other Christians, serve our neighbors — and join in God’s redemption of this world.

Incomplete understanding

Many of our congregations have an incomplete understanding of what evangelism means in our Wesleyan tradition. Are we talking about accepting a set of prescribed beliefs? Is evangelism welcoming the stranger? Is it engaging in intentional discipleship practices? Is it reaching out and helping our neighbors? Or, is it all of the above?

Questions to consider

Here are some ways to practice sharing the story and seeking opportunities to share the Good News within the life of your congregation.
• Practice paying attention to God’s work in the world. Set aside time in your worship service, Bible study or Sunday school for people to share their God sightings. If you regularly share joys and concerns, it might be helpful to reframe that time by asking, “Where did you see God this week?” or “Where did God allow you to be in partnership in Kingdom work this week?”
• Develop the art of storytelling. Use announcements (written or spoken) to share the impact of ministry. Don’t just give the what, when and where, but tell the story of how the spent resources made a difference. Help individuals articulate personal faith journeys and invite the congregation to share their stories with one another. Pastors, have your congregations heard your faith story?
• Have the leadership teams spend time discerning God’s mission and will for your congregation. Set aside time in each committee meeting for evaluation. How are your facilities being used to share God’s love? Is your budget built to benefit church members, or are your spending resources on those outside the church? Practice Dwelling in the Word or Lectio Divina at your church council or administrative board meeting, listening for God’s leading.

The Rev. Heather Lear

The Rev. Heather Heinzman Lear

During a three-day Wesleyan Leadership Conference in October, we unpacked some of our evangelism baggage and examined what evangelism should mean to us as United Methodists.

Most churches understand evangelism as sharing a set of beliefs, growing in one’s personal relationship with Jesus or loving their neighbors in tangible ways.

Rarely does the understanding encompass all three. When this disconnect occurs, we find our congregations filled with people who do not have a foundational belief structure from which to build, are stuck in a confirmation-class level of discipleship and don’t understand why they are called to love their neighbors for any other reason than “it’s what a good person should do.”

Most of us are quite proficient at compartmentalizing our lives, and our religious life is one of the compartments. We talk about God at church. We serve God at church. We might read our Bibles or pray at home, but we often do not think about living out our faith in all of the other arenas where we invest time and energy.

Church cannot be where we stop

Church is where we learn and are reminded of who we are and how we fit into God’s larger story. It’s where we practice articulating our individual faith stories and have others help us to discern our gifts and calling in God’s Kingdom. But that cannot be where we stop.

Here are a few questions to consider in evaluating your understanding and practice of evangelism.

  • Is our congregation grounded in the doctrine of the church? Do we actively teach what we believe as Wesleyan Christians, or do we make assumptions that our people are already grounded in it?
  • What are our current discipleship practices and processes, and do we challenge people to grow in their love of God and neighbor at all ages and stages of life?
  • Does our faith inform how we engage the world beyond the walls of the church? How do we seek to partner with God in God’s Kingdom?

Our denominational mission statement is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Let’s examine our evangelistic task.

We invite (Invitation) people into a lifetime of growing in love of God and neighbor (Discipleship), so that they may join in God’s world-transforming work (Mission). This cannot happen if people don’t know who they are, who God is, and how they are to live in relationship to their neighbors (and even who their neighbors are for that matter).


*Lear is the director of evangelism ministries for the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.



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  1. Barry Sloan

    Well said, Heather.

  2. Sean

    Good entry article on an important topic. Let’s bring evangelism back to the forefront of Methodism and discipleship!

  3. larry

    also, doesn’t evangelism require discipleship?

  4. Lee Greenawalt

    The Rev. Lear asks three valid questions: 1: Is our congregation grounded in the doctrine of the church? Answer: Of course not. Neither our Bishops nor large segments of lay leaders can agree on what is our doctrine, Some who acknowledge specific doctrines then openly defy them. The United Methodist Church is not doctrinaire.
    2. Do we challenge our members to love our neighbors at all stages of life ? Most congregations are struggling to keep the membership they have. To challenge pew sitters to give time and money to controversial causes will cause them to take their membership and money elsewhere.
    3. Does faith inform how we engage the world ? Only when some Methodist leader does something controversial that the media uses to whip the average American into a tizzy. Announcements by United Methodist communications about the good we do, are generally ignored by the rest of the world.

  5. WAD

    This seemed to be headed in the right direction – then, boom, it goes up in smoke when, at the bottom, there appears, Related posts: Commentary. Appreciating the leadership of Bishop Talbert. Pray tell, how can that be a related post to this crucial topic?????

  6. leegshack

    I note that all commentary on the article about Bishop Talbert has been closed. No wonder we cannot bring Good News to the world. Methodist Communications will not tolerate open discussion. We will never know whether the comments tally was pro or anti Talbert.

    1. Constance Tucker

      Is this article really about the leadership of one person. I thought it was about the concept of living out your faith in the Wesleyan method, thus the title Methodist. I am not a member of the UMC, but am looking for a church I can be comfortable participating in. My Christian Faith is strictly about my relationship with Jesus and the Trinity. It isn’t about what church I attend of even if I attend church. I know I need church because we need to be in service of other believers and I am better equipped to teach my child about his relationship with God in church.

      I was a cradle catholic. It is steeped deeply in the doctrine and tradition, and feels more like being controlled rather than being taught to nurture my Christianity. When I left the Catholic Church behind and fervently pursued that relationship I jumped head first into full participation at a church where I felt very much the Love of God being demonstrated. Since then I have been disillusioned due to the fact that churches must be administered by humans and we live in a broken world where humans are not perfect. It is in our imperfect human nature to be self-centered in our pursuits and agendas. Can not this all be about the love and service of others without all this other political BS (Apologies for lack of a better word). We must remember what our purpose is and that is to love and service others.

  7. Mark Teasdale

    Rev. Lear provides some good, practical starting points for considering evangelism. She recognizes that evangelism starts with the prior task of articulating our identity as Christians. This is something we do not practice much in the church, and less so outside of it.

    As a friendly addendum to Rev. Lear’s article, I would also suggest that evangelism requires us to recognize that God is alive and active in sharing the gospel. Our activity in discerning our identity and then reaching out to others is activity that participates in the work that God is already doing. Being certain that we understand ourselves to be participants in what God is doing, rather than in driving our own program that happens to be about God, is essential to maintaining the right power and focus when we undertake evangelism.

  8. Andrew Burd-Harris

    Jesus defined discipleship as denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following Jesus (Matthew 16:24). A disciple is one who strive to be like the disciple’s teacher/master in every way and follow the teacher/master. Evangelism is sharing the Good News of God’s Reign and Jesus the Christ. In sharing we invite others to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Jesus too.

    1. Mason

      Amen! I have some doubts that you are a United Methodist Mr. Burd-Harris. You sound more like the real John Wesley!

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