Then Jesus said, ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:19-20)
As I said last week, evangelism is a challenge; many people, and so many churches, struggle with this. For some, evangelism is an important objective, “we’ve got to get out there and evangelise”, but the methods of pursuing can appear vague or ineffective. For others, the term itself is uncomfortable. Fear grips them! The very word can bring to mind doctrinal rigidity or the use of manipulative ways of leading people to faith. So what to do?
Focussing on the characteristics of biblical evangelism can help de-mystify evangelism and strengthen our evangelistic efforts. Four key practices; proclamation, community, service, and witness, are rooted in scripture and have proven effective in the history of the church. Employing these four practices as we share the gospel moves us, as well as the listener, closer to God. So let’s have a look at each of these practices in turn.
After the second world war ended, it is said that there were some Japanese soldiers deep in the jungle who carried on fighting because they hadn’t heard the proclamation that the war was over!
How often have you heard, or even said of non-believers, “They need to hear the gospel”? In Romans 10:14, Paul writes, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”
The key is the ending where Paul says, “And how can they hear without someone preaching to them”. Here, preaching (Greek kerygma) can also be translated as proclamation.
I like the use of the phrase “proclaiming to them” as it implies that you are not talking about preaching as a professional occupation. I think Paul is talking about someone willing to share the good news verbally. If we think of proclamation as something only done by professionals, it lets the majority of us off the hook. But I believe Paul is arguing the opposite — that all of us are called to proclaim the good news so that someone might hear it, and have the opportunity to be saved.
Too often individuals believe that because they pay the minister/pastor to proclaim they do not have to do it. The truth is this; as we grow more comfortable in our congregations we tend to share less. And as a result, fewer and fewer of us are proclaiming the good news. We need to reclaim the understanding that all believers are responsible for the practice of proclamation.
The best model of Christian community is found in the Trinity and the way in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit make room for each others’ gifts. The three-in-one God models for us what is possible when we are willing to share our gifts with the community and make room for the gifts of others. It is a community constructed on love, trust, and accountability.
Throughout the history of the church, community has been a key factor in successfully engaging new people. Look at Acts 2:42:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
More recently in the Wesleyan revival people found community with one another in societies, classes, and bands that were essential to their personal transformation. My own experience of belonging to a CYFA group (Christian Youth Fellowship Association) laid a firm foundation for my faith in Jesus Christ. We still mimic this approach through encouraging people to be part of a small group. But the results are often mixed because we copy the form of Wesley’s small groups while ignoring the rationale for connecting people. This is why we’re developing the RedBRick Connections, groupings of people who are committed to working at connecting to other people in an authentic Gospel and Jesus-centred way that engenders God’s love, trust, and accountability. Our evangelism efforts today need to focus on connecting people in an authentic Gospel and Jesus-centred community and not just copying a certain model of community.
In Ephesians 3:7 Paul uses a form of Greek word for service (diakonia) when he talks about being a servant of the gospel. The idea of being in service to something or someone is challenging in our culture because of the history of slavery. But the language of servanthood is prominent in Paul’s letters, particularly being a servant to Jesus. Paul understood his role as carrying on the work that Jesus started, and we are called to do the same. To be in service to Jesus means engaging in holistic ministry that addresses your entire being, body, soul and spirit. Notice how Jesus provided for those in need while sharing the transformative power of the gospel. If, on the one hand, we simply respond to physical needs, we are merely providing a social service. On the other hand, if we are simply sharing the gospel, then we are not addressing the concrete challenges people experience. Holistic ministry in Christ’s service is always both. The idea of serving is never to be disconnected from an expectation of an ever-deepening spiritual transformation.
The struggle we have today is we have disconnected service from an expectation of transformation through Christ. In an effort not to offend we do things for people and hope they figure out our Christian motivation. I am not suggesting clubbing people over the head with the gospel, but a holistic understanding of service must include sharing the transformative power of Christ, that He takes us, sinners, and through forgiveness leads us into new life with Him. Too many of us ignore the importance of letting others see that without the act of repentance of sin we are denying Jesus’ transformative power to take what is broken and make it whole again. That is what I believe happens every time we receive the bread at communion… by taking something broken, the bread (aka Jesus’ body) we are being made whole, made complete, being born again! This is how God’s love intersects with us in a transformative way.
This word has its root in the word martyr. The truth is, when we hear the word martyr, we immediately think of someone dying. Martyrs of Christ literally give their lives for the gospel. But we are not just required to die to witness to Christ. When Jesus was eating with His disciples before He ascended back to heaven after His resurrection we find this command in Acts 1:8, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem … to the ends of the earth.” This form of the word martyr (martureo) is not about death. A martyr or witness is someone who gives their whole being to something. It is more than proclamation because one’s entire life becomes a sign pointing to God. In Acts 1:8, Jesus is asking the disciples to devote their entire being to telling His story. What Jesus does not want is a half-baked effort. The disciples are to dedicate themselves to the work of witnessing.
For many of us, witnessing has become a technique rather than an expression of our divine supernatural spiritual identity. Perhaps we just see it as a means of getting people to our church. Many times when we witness, people are not hearing about God’s transforming love that opens their eyes to see the need for repentance. They hear “come to my church.” The Wesleyan movement was successful because witnessing was a part of their DNA and not a technique. We need to reclaim this dimension of witness. RedBRick Connections is a way we can release our evangelistic DNA which is already in each of us. How do I know it is in each of us – well, we are often very quick to witness to the things we enjoy doing, particularly our hobbies. As this is the case how much more should we be prepared to engage in evangelism for God’s sake and His created world.
These four practices should work together in an integrated, synergistic way. But too often, we make them into separate things, lessening the overall impact of our evangelism. A holistic, biblical approach to evangelism employs all four practices in ways that inform and enhance one another so that we share the gospel and all move closer to God and to neighbour.
Time to think
Read Romans 10:1-15. With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand consider the following questions. Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.
- Paul is sharing the gospel in these verses. Please write down the quote that he uses to clinch his powerful gospel presentation (Romans 10:11).
- Paul also uses Old Testament scripture to defend his missionary zeal (Romans 10:14-15). Complete the logical steps Paul develops in these two verses.
How can they call upon the Lord if they haven’t _______? (Romans 10:14)
How can they believe unless they have _______? (Romans 10:14)
How can they hear unless someone ________ to them? (Romans 10:14)
How can they preach unless someone _______ ? (Romans 10:15)
Digging Deeper into God’s Word
First, please read and reflect on this quotation from Chuck Swindoll, an award-winning author and senior pastor of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, TX.
“Because God gave you your makeup and superintended every moment of your past, including all the hardships, pains, and struggles, He wants to use your words in a unique manner. No one else can speak through your vocal cords, and, equally important, no one else has your story.”
In last week’s Time to Think (The Importance of Evangelism: Part 1) I encouraged you to write down your story of how you established a living relationship with God through Jesus. Perhaps you can share it with someone. To start with, why not share it with another Christian as a way of honing your story?
Lord of the Harvest, we see that Your harvest field is ripe and ready all over this nation and the world! We long to see Your kingdom come on this earth, so may we allow you to strengthen us to obey Your commission to go into all the world. May we as individuals, as families and as Your Church allow you to show us how you want us to serve You, to respond to Your command in whatever way You call us, so we answer Your call to go. Show us how to pray effectively for the protection, boldness, clarity, health, and fruitfulness in your mission and ministry here in our communities. May we actively seek to align ourselves with Your heart so that our hearts would be obedient to the desires of Your heart, and the whole earth come to a saving knowledge of the truth – the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose powerful name we pray. Amen.