Our church is seeking to grow in our understanding and effectiveness in evangelism so I am teaching an eight-week class on practical evangelism and discipleship. Among several other texts, I am using Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus by J. Mack Stiles. I received the book from attending the Together for the Gospel conference this year. Each Monday, I will be posting a short summary of that week’s class. I hope it is helpful.
The Need for Evangelism and Discipleship
While most Christians would agree that there is a need for both evangelism and discipleship in the life of every Christian, our actions seem to tell a different story. As I began this week’s class I said that everyone in the class would agree to this, I think there is a need to review the biblical evidence for the need of both evangelism and discipleship. I called out four ways scripture calls out a need for both of these things to be in the life of every Christian:
1) Commands from scripture – Though there are many passages that one can go to, the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20 seems to be the primary text to show this command. When Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” whatever He is about to say after that is important and carries with it the weight of His authority (Matthew 28:18, ESV).
2) What the Gospel means for us and can mean for others – In 2 Corinthians 5:11-21, Paul gives the wonderful proclamation of the ministry of reconciliation. There are two key phrases from two key verses in that passage that show the impetus behind the sharing of the Gospel. “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others,” is the first phrase (2 Corinthians 5:11a, ESV). Paul is saying here that knowing who God is and who he (Paul) is in light of who God is, he is urged to persuade others. The second is, “For the love of Christ controls us,” and this phrase carries with it a staggering truth that we are controlled by the love of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14a, ESV). Once Christ’s love is poured into us (see Romans 5:5), both his love for us and for others, we cannot help but be changed and redirected by that love.
3) The early church displayed the need – There are multiple examples that can be given to show the multiplication that took place within the early church. The apostles shared the faith, planted the Gospel in various places and the results were others who in turn shared the Gospel after them. There were second and third levels of Christians created throughout the New Testament. Some of the examples I gave were Philip (Acts 6:5; 8; 21:8), Lydia (Acts 16:14, 40), and Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19).
4) The witness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts – Paul in Romans 8:26-28 gives those very well-known verses concerning prayer, the Holy Spirit and God’s will. I think these verses can also give us the explanation of how the Spirit reveals to us the will of God and ultimately how God keeps us in his will by the Holy Spirit. Secondly, Paul in 2 Corinthians and Ephesians (2 Cor 1:22, Eph 1:14) refers to the Holy Spirit as a deposit or guarantee. That deposit gives us the assurance of what God will do not only for us, but to fulfill all his promises. Both of these examples are ways in which the Holy Spirit gives us assurance and thus urges us on towards sharing the Gospel.
Given these four examples of how scripture affirms the need for evangelism and discipleship, we then have to consider how we might be viewing these things incorrectly.
An emphasis in a church is often driven by someone or by a group of people within a church. It is usually a specific ministry or type of ministry that the church will focus on for a time. These emphases do not last forever and may go away when a key person or key people leave or move away. Most ministries aren’t meant to last forever. These types of emphases are fine to have within the church, but when we view things that are across the board commands to all Christians as emphases, we could have problems. When the person or people leave who were always emphasizing these thing leave, the church no longer sees them as important. The majority of the church relies on the people who are stronger and/or more passionate about those areas and they in turn do not seek to grow.
A calling is something that we really could refuse. Although, as someone pointed out in the class, when you refuse a calling you really won’t find any peace (see the book of Jonah). Nevertheless, a calling carries with it a sense of option. It also carries with it the truth that not everyone has the same calling. Not everyone is called to be a pastor, a mother, a teacher, a janitor, a contractor and so on. The problem with viewing something that is a command as a calling is that the majority of the church waits around to see if God is calling them to that thing. Really what we are doing is waiting to see if we like it, feel comfortable at it and are miraculously good at it without putting in any effort, which of course is not how a calling works, but it is how we can think of callings at times. Similar to viewing it as an emphasis, the majority of the church ends up being disobedient, because they look at the “few” who seem to be called to those things and realize they are not like them, so they don’t bother.
A command is clearly stated and not optional. A command is usually required of everyone regardless of who they are with the only baseline being that they are Christians. When something is a command that of course does not mean that everyone will be good at it and/or be able to do it effortlessly. The Bible commands us not to sin in all kinds of ways, yet Christians continue to sin, although some are strong in certain areas while others are weak. Our weaknesses, which we all have, simply are areas in which we need to rely even more deeply on the Holy Spirit. These areas are where we need to exert all the more effort as we seek to grow in those areas. If we struggle with doing evangelism and/or being discipled or discipling that means those are areas in which we need to grow. Someone that does not want to do these things and does not want to grow in these areas may not truly understand salvation, just as someone who cannot teach the Gospel may not in fact understand the Gospel for themselves.
Jonathan Dodson, in his book Gospel Centered Discipleship said, “The Gospel is for not-yet disciples and already disciples. The Gospel people believe to be baptized is the same Gospel people believe to be sanctified (through the work of the Spirit),” (pg. 35). Both Mack Stiles and Dodson (and many others) agree that it is the Spirit through the message of the Gospel that makes disciples. Discipleship is the human means by which God the Holy Spirit works to both make and grow Christian disciples and evangelism is wrapped up in that in the making. You do not finish discipleship while you are in this life. Discipleship is a lifestyle, just as evangelism is. Discipleship and evangelism being commands means that they are woven into the fabric of our lives as Christians.
We will be looking at the culture of evangelism that Mack Stiles talks about in his book. Within that, we will be talking about the “who” of evangelism and discipleship, meaning who does it? Is it the church (organization) or the church (organism/people)?