Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Mission and Evangelism

I’ve just published our latest Swaziland Newsletter. You will find it under the blogroll if you wish to read it.

In many Christian circles, speaking of evangelism is not a very popular topic. Mission is acceptable (up to a certain extent) but evangelism is a no-no! The debate between the so-called Ecumenicals and Evangelicals highlighted many of the problems. In a nutshell one could probably say that the Evangelicals erred on the side of concentrating so much on the life hereafter, that they did not care enough about what was happening in this life. This complaint may be true to a certain extent, but one day I was in a discussion with a friend of mine who is a professor in missiology and, if I had to classify him, I would say that he was probably slightly biassed towards a more Ecumenical viewpoint. At one point, however, I asked him who had done the most for social reform in the world, the Ecumenicals or the Evangelicals. Without the slightest hesitation he answered: The Evangelicals of course.
While this debate was going on in the world, the church where I come from had another debate going: the relationship between evangelism and mission. Somewhere in my theological training (more than 25 years ago) we discussed the church’s mission policy and there it came out that mission was seen as work done amongst those who had not yet repented and evangelism was work done amongst those had repented but who had stopped serving the Lord. On paper this sounds a fair way of making a distinction, but in practice these words obtained a whole new meaning: Evangelism was work done amongst White non-Christians and Mission was Christian work done amongst people of colour, regardless whether they were Christians or not! Shortly before I was ordained as minister I preached in a church and during my sermon I challenged this traditional view of mission. Oh boy, did I have trouble! Fortunately, I can say that in the meantime our church had revoked their old viewpoint and, at least on paper, this distinction does not exist anymore.
However, the question remains: Is mission and evangelism one and the same? David Bosch opened my eyes many years ago to a more Biblical distinction. Later he articulated it as follows in his Transforming Mission (p 10): “Mission includes evangelism as one of its essential dimensions. Evangelism is the proclamation of salvation in Christ to those who do not believe in him, calling them to repentance and conversion…” Mission, if seen in this way, becomes a much greater entity than mere evangelism. Social upliftment programs, medical assistance, home-based caring and many other things being done in the name of Jesus Christ (done, merely because I am a Christian and because God has done and will do the same for me) to assist those suffering from some kind of problem, could fall under the description of mission.
I still find people who consider social support as unimportant and not part of the church’s duty. Fortunately more and more people realise the truth of what James wrote in 2:15-17: Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.


Wednesday, August 1, 2007 - Posted by | Evangelism, Mission, Theology


  1. A hearty amen. I think in some ways I still see that distinction where I live. If you are going to a foreign country you are a missionary. If you are staying here among your own people, you are evangelizing. I understand the need to put labels on things. It helps us in our attempt to communicate about the same things (that’s if we can define our terms carefully) and I am also aware that within theological circles (of which I am in because I am going through seminary) they are used widely, but in the end, it’s all the same stuff. We tell people about G-d, the Father and His Son, Jesus. For those who are unbelievers we pray they will turn to G-d and for those who are of nominal faith, we hope to light a fire within them. This applies wherever our feet lead us.

    Comment by Maya | Thursday, August 2, 2007 | Reply

  2. Perhaps we should worry less about terminology and just do what God wants us to do!

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, August 2, 2007 | Reply

  3. […] is somewhat different from his definition. On 1 August I wrote about the distinction between Mission and Evangelism and also quoted a paragraph from David Bosch’s magnum opus, Transforming Mission, in which he […]

    Pingback by Mission and the Kingdom of God « Mission Issues | Monday, November 5, 2007 | Reply

  4. i think the terminologies are still stubling block to the church of kenya. the good thing is less has been put to the meaning and more energy has been directed to the work. but, i have to note that while we (african), embrace social activities there more than due to ethics than the gospel. this is as a resullt of the interpretation of evangelism. thank for the chance to comment.


    Comment by Njoroge | Saturday, May 16, 2009 | Reply

    • I think there is a great difference between mission and evangelism and the more we tend to ignore the meaning the more trouble we find ourselves into. Evangelism is within missions, it is a part of christian mission but not everything. while evangelism is to mission, mission is not to evangelism. evangelism concerns with the proclamation of the gospel, aiming to convert that results to repentance hence church growth, on the other hand mission includes evangelism and more; it is all that is done by Christians to demonstrate their love for God; it may be acts of justice, advocacy, environmental care, provisions of health services, campaigning for access to basics needs for all which include food, clean water, shelter, education and the likes; to me this is christian mission which is beyond evangelism.

      Benjamin Kibara

      Comment by Kibara | Saturday, May 23, 2009 | Reply

      • hallo Benjamin. I can see you are a good disciple of Bosch. You are are very right. My point is that from African perspective the intergration of social gospel as mission and also as evngelism is primarly fueled by ‘afrcaness’more than understanding of mission. indeed we look evangelism more of proclamation but to borrow from Bosch it also an act of deed.thus evangelism also has a doing aspect.


        Comment by Njoroge | Monday, May 25, 2009

  5. Thanks for your comment. I think we have the same situation you describe in Swaziland where people will do things to help others, not because they are Christians, but because it is the right thing to do.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Monday, May 18, 2009 | Reply

  6. Kibara, this is in line with how David Bosch distinguishes between the two terms.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Saturday, May 23, 2009 | Reply

  7. If only I had a penny for each time I came to missionissues.wordpress.com… Amazing read!

    Comment by April King | Thursday, May 27, 2010 | Reply

  8. Thanks so much, April. You make me feel guilty that I don’t spend more time writing on my blog.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, May 27, 2010 | Reply

  9. If only I had a quarter for each time I came to missionissues.wordpress.com.. Incredible writing.

    Comment by Hilary Abrams | Sunday, May 30, 2010 | Reply

  10. Hehe I’m honestly the only reply to your amazing article?

    Comment by Virgie Cho | Tuesday, June 1, 2010 | Reply

  11. Dear Brothers,

    When was searching information on mission and evangelism I came across your article.There was a view of the Evangelicals and Ecumenicals. I was interested to know about Mission and Evangelism.

    I think it is important to do both Mission and Evangelism intensively throughout the world. Let God help us do our Mission and Evangelism work.

    Comment by Taye EPHREM | Wednesday, November 17, 2010 | Reply

  12. I think both mission and evangelism are good as long as they are sharing the true gospel of Jesus Chrsit.

    Comment by Bible Study Online | Saturday, December 4, 2010 | Reply

  13. as we continue on the discussion of mission and evangelism, i would suggest that it is important we note that mission is contextual. It is the the response provided by a listening church. it is contextual in the sense that different people group are been asked asked by Jesus “what can i do for you”.
    evangelism is the proclamation of what the Lord has already done for the different people group all over the world.

    Comment by Anto | Monday, December 6, 2010 | Reply

  14. I like very much…mission and evangelism are good for ministry, it is practicable I think.

    Comment by Christy | Wednesday, March 14, 2012 | Reply

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    • Did you mean more information on the topic of the relationship between mission and evangelism?

      Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Tuesday, July 29, 2014 | Reply

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