Disciple-making starts here. This is the first and broadest circle on the target, meaning it encompasses the most people and is the initial step to present every man complete in Christ (Colossians 1:28). Helping others follow Christ begins with Evangelizing.
The Bible reveals that the God who created everything is holy and requires holiness from His creatures. But the first man, Adam, disobeyed God and every man since is by nature a sinner who also disregards and defies God’s law. The consequence of man’s rebellion is death–physical and spiritual–and there is nothing he can do to escape on his own. That’s the bad news.
But God offers forgiveness and righteousness for all who repent and believe. He sent His Son to bear the punishment for our iniquity on the cross. Those who confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead will be saved. Then God begins to deliver them from the power of sin and promises to conform them into the image of His Son. That’s the good news!
Proclaiming this gospel–evangelizing–is where disciple-making starts and takes different forms. For example, there is lifestyle evangelism; an implicit communication of the gospel. A Christian’s conduct should stand out in such a way that others see our good works and glorify God. Our transformed lives are to shine for Him and make others ask why we’re so hopeful (1 Peter 3:15).
However, all the lifestyle evangelism in the world cannot communicate Jesus as Lord, the sin/death problem, and the cross/faith/salvation solution. Those things require words. So evangelism must include verbal, explicit communication of the gospel. Why is it that the feet of those who bring good news are so praiseworthy? Because faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. Therefore the gospel must be clearly stated or a person cannot become a disciple.
Jesus obviously expected us to start with evangelism since He commissioned us to make disciples from all the unbelieving people groups. So this broad target is determined by the King Himself. To this outer circle on our bullseye we model and proclaim the gospel. We desire men everywhere to believe the gospel. That involves more than getting someone to pray a prayer. We want them to meet and know Christ, to learn to observe everything He’s commanded.
In other words, we want regeneration. The people in this outer circle are spiritually dead. We proclaim the gospel and pray that God will create new life. This is where we start in our disciple-making and shepherding.
One of the reasons I’ve spent so much time on this is because evangelism is just as important in our churches and small groups as it is to the nations. John MacArthur painted this stark picture:
Our main mission field in America today is within the church. (Hard to Believe, p.101)
Our congregations include crowds of spiritually dead people, after all, the wheat and tares mix until Christ’s coming. So churches need to evangelize. Small groups can’t take the gospel for granted. Personal discipleship shouldn’t assume anything. Like every part of the yard needs to be covered equally and evenly with seed so we must broadcast the gospel thoroughly and individually. That is the first step toward Christlikeness and therefore the first target level of discipleship.
On a personal note, perhaps nothing is more frustrating in disciple-making then trying to help a person follow Christ when they don’t truly know Christ. No one bypasses this level of the bullseye. Never suppose anyone’s salvation, always and carefully evaluate their spiritual condition. Then we help those who are ready move to the second level.