Proclamation and discipleship:

God’s strategic plan to evangelize the world

Kim Papaioannou, PhD, pastors in Cyprus.

Christians consider it their God-given task to preach to a lost world. But how will this be accomplished? Matthew 24:14 and 28:19, 20 provide an answer. Often considered parallel, they actually envisage two different kinds of ministry. The former focuses on the global proclamation of the gospel; the latter, on an intense ministry of discipleship through baptism and teaching. Understanding these two complementary aspects of evangelism can lead to more focused and effective ministry.

Preaching to a lost world

“ ‘And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come’ ” (Matt. 24:14).1

Matthew 24:14 envisages the global proclamation of the gospel before the end of the world. Four aspects of the text stand out.

First, the gospel will be preached in all the “world.” The Greek word oikoumenē denotes an inhabited place. Every inhabited village, town, megacity, or country needs to hear the gospel. To underline this universality, Jesus adds the phrase “to all the nations.” Nobody is to be left out.

Second, the focus of this global proclamation is “the gospel.” The Greek word euaggelion means “good news.”2 It describes the good news that God has not left humanity to perish in sin but has provided salvation in His Son, Jesus Christ (e.g., Matt. 4:23; Mark 1:1; Acts 20:24; Rom. 1:1, 9). At the heart of the gospel is the Cross. But the gospel impacts the totality of human existence, in which case, every teaching of the Bible is part of the gospel because it aims to restore fallen humanity to the image and likeness of the Creator.

Third, the gospel will be “preached.” While the verb “to preach” has come to be identified with the act of delivering a sermon,3 the Greek word kērussō carries broader connotations. It can better be translated as “proclaim” (as it is in ESV, NRSV, and YLT).4 Moreover, the verb appears in passive form. The subject of the verb is not specified. In other words, Jesus does not say who will make the proclamation.

Clearly, His church should be at the forefront of sharing the good news. However, God can, has, and will use other entities to complete the task. When science probes the intricacies of creation, an insight into the Creator’s character is manifested. Indeed, even “the stones” could cry out (Luke 19:40).

Fourth, the gospel will be proclaimed as “a witness.” Matthew 24:14 says nothing about repentance and conversion. These, too, are important. But the emphasis is on the proclamation rather than its result. For those who believe, the witness will lead to salvation;5 for those who disbelieve, the witness will be negative.6 The gospel must be proclaimed irrespective of response.

Noah preached deliverance from the Flood for 120 years, but nobody responded. Yet his proclamation had the approval of heaven. Peter calls Noah “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:5). Jonah, by contrast, was much less committed. Yet his proclamation led Nineveh to repentance (Jon. 3:5). Responses will vary, but the gospel must be proclaimed.

Summarizing, Matthew 24:14 envisages a global proclamation of the gospel in its fullness that will reach every inhabited area of the world and must be done irrespective of response.

Practical implications

For the first fourteen centuries of Christian history, the gospel was proclaimed by personal witness and public preaching. Both remain as important as ever.

Then printing entered the fray, greatly facilitating gospel proclamation. The first full-scale book to come off Gutenberg’s press was a Bible in 1455.7

Then came radio and television with the potential to reach millions of people. They have been extensively utilized and remain relevant. But they require technical expertise and abundant resources.

Recently the internet has surpassed all other media forms in terms of reach. The number of internet users grew from 16 million or 0.4 percent of the world’s population in 1995 to 361 million (5.8 percent) in 2000, 1,971 million (28.8 percent) in 2010, and 5,053 million (64.2 percent) in 2020.8 Compared to other forms of communication, the internet requires less technical expertise and resources, making it an extremely cost-effective way of communication.

For example, in my country, Greece, with a population of 11 million, just three gospel-focused websites, run by a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and layperson, received 266,500 visits, 477,000 page views, and hundreds of requests for prayer, books, comments, or other info, in one year. A YouTube channel that has been active for a little over a year received 44,736 views in the last 365 days,9 with the number growing steadily. At no time in history have so many Greek speakers had contact with the gospel in such numbers on a daily basis. This is proclamation, pure and simple. The internet is God’s gift to His church to facilitate the global proclamation of the gospel in these last days.

Talent, personnel, and resources should be used to maximize the use of all media, especially the internet, to ensure that every person within an entity’s jurisdiction has the opportunity to hear the gospel. Not doing so is failure to live up to God’s primary mission for us, as explained in Matthew 24:14.

Discipleship through teaching

“ ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’ ” (Matt. 28:19, 20).

Matthew 28:19, 20 is often understood as parallel to Matthew 24:14.10 In reality, it paints a different goal and, therefore, ministry. While Matthew 24:14 focuses on proclamation, Matthew 28:19, 20 focuses on what should be done with those who respond to the proclamation. It outlines a process of disciple-making. The two texts are not parallel but complementary.

In Matthew 28:19, 20, Jesus commands the disciples to make other disciples. But what is a disciple? Is a church member the same as a disciple?

A church member is a person who has accepted Christ’s salvation for his or her life and been baptized. A disciple is a person who has believed, been baptized, identified his or her spiritual gifts, and uses them harmoniously for God’s work without the need for constant prompting.11

But how are disciples made? The answer is outlined in the three key verbs in Matthew 28:19, 20: the imperative mathēteusate, “make disciples”; and the two participles baptizontes, “baptizing,” and didaskontes, “teaching.” The imperative defines the mission; the two participles, the means. “What shall we do, Lord?” “Make disciples.” “How shall we make disciples?” “By baptizing and teaching.” A disciple is made through baptism and careful instruction.

Baptism is a specific act that takes place once. As such, the single long-term factor that determines whether a person becomes a disciple is teaching. Without focused teaching, there can be no discipleship. This is a profound truth that we should take seriously.

In a biblical sense, teaching is not limited to imparting information. Teaching, rather, involves life transformation through personal instruction, mentoring, and the modeling of a Christlike life. This is the teaching that produces disciples.

It is noteworthy that Jesus places “baptizing” before “teaching.” This has led some to incorrectly assume that the practice of thoroughly preparing baptismal candidates is wrong; that individuals should be baptized as soon as they accept Jesus, leaving the work of instruction for a later time. Such an approach misses the point. If teaching is the single, ongoing factor determining discipleship, we need more of it, not less.

Prebaptismal instruction can be compared to courtship. Courtship is the time when a man and a woman get to know each other and their mutual expectations from marriage to gauge compatibility. Prebaptismal instruction prepares a person for a lifelong commitment to Christ and His church and, therefore, should be thorough.

In a husband-wife relationship, courtship represents a preparatory stage. The deeper process of knowing takes place after marriage and is a lifelong process. Similarly, prebaptismal instruction invites people to know who Jesus is so that they can make an intelligent decision to follow Him. The relationship, however, matures with time and involves lifelong learning.

If teaching should precede baptism, why does Jesus arrange the two verbs in the order they appear, baptizing-teaching, rather than the other way around? The answer lies in the encompassing words: “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (v. 20). The word “all” goes far beyond prebaptismal instruction.

Prebaptismal instruction focuses on Bible doctrines, but biblical instruction must go beyond that. Jesus provides an example. He did not spend three and a half years teaching the disciples Bible doctrines. As faithful Jews, this they knew already. The teaching of Jesus touched all aspects of faith—having a deeper relationship with God, overcoming temptation, praying, witnessing, Bible study. Indeed, the phrase “teaching them . . . all things that I have commanded you” includes everything in the Bible because everything was given for our edification. The teaching, therefore, that turns unbelievers to believers, and then to disciples, may begin with doctrine but expands to every aspect of Christian existence.

Thus understood, the chronological sequence baptizing-teaching is not a call for less teaching before baptism but for ongoing, lifelong teaching after baptism.

One more thought: Jesus did not state who would do the work of proclamation. By contrast, the command to make disciples was addressed to the disciples. Even the stones may help proclaim the gospel, but only a disciple can make another disciple.

Practical implications

Proclamation ministry, as described in Matthew 24:14, is best done by organizational entities that have resources and expertise. By contrast, discipleship is best done on a local level in the local church. As the gospel is proclaimed using different media and methods, people will respond. The local church is the best entity to which such people should be directed.

Therefore, every local church should be a discipleship center, a place where unbelievers can become believers and believers become disciples. In practice, this means the following:

Every nonbeliever who takes an interest in spiritual matters should be personally contacted by a local pastor or a lay leader.

Every nonbeliever with whom personal contact has been established should be offered Bible studies either in person or in a small group. Discipleship without Bible study is untenable and membership without mentorship is ineffectual. Mentorship should be offered as faith develops and grows to maturity.

Every local church should have an ongoing teaching ministry both for newcomers and members with a view to building discipleship. The Sabbath School is an excellent tool, but other activities outside of the worship hours should be explored.

A strong teaching ministry, based on the Bible and modeling Christian life, will build strength in the local church and help turn unbelievers into believers and believers into disciples.

Synthesis

Matthew 24:14 and 28:19, 20 outline the work of evangelizing the world. The former describes a global proclamation that is carried out irrespective of response and where every legitimate means should be utilized; the latter focuses more on the individual to build disciples. The two go hand in hand.

Proclamation alerts society to the claims of the gospel and will bring to the forefront those who have spiritual yearnings. Discipleship will discern such spiritually yearning individuals, develop them to be proficient disciples, and deploy them as effective witnesses for Jesus.

A harmonious blending of ministries covering both aspects of the evangelization spectrum is the optimum recipe for successfully working with God to share His love with a lost world.

  1. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture is from the New King James Version.
  2. Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon: Founded Upon the Seventh Edition of Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1945), s.v. “εύαγγέλιον.”
  3. Merriam-Webster, s.v. “preach,” accessed March 5, 2021, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/preach.
  4. Liddell and Scott, Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, s.v. “κηρύσσω.”
  5. Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary; The Churchbook, Matthew 13–28 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 493.
  6. Adolf von Schlatter, Der Evangelist Mattäus: seine Sprache, sein Ziel, seine Selbstständigkeit: ein Kommentar zum esrten Evangelium (Stuttgart, Germany: Calwer, 1963), 702.
  7. “Gutenberg Bible,” British Library, accessed March 18, 2021, https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/gutenberg-bible#.
  8. “Internet Growth Statistics,” Internet World Stats, accessed June 29, 2021, https://www.internetworldstats.com/emarketing.htm.
  9. March 9, 2020 to March 8, 2021.
  10. R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 976.
  11. Monte Sahlin, Velino Salazar, and James W. Zackrison, How to Set Up and Run an Evangelization and Discipleship Cycle in Your Church (Lincoln, NE: International Institute of Christian Ministries, 1990), 1–15.

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