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’m late this week), I will be posting a short summary of that week’s class. I hope it is helpful.
The Who of Evangelism and Discipleship
Is it the church (the organization) that is meant to evangelize and disciple people or is it the church (the organism/people) that is meant to evangelize and disciple people? That is the question that we sought to answer in last Sunday’s class. The church as an organization is just that, the organization of the church. The church not so much as a body, but as the leadership and the programs of the church. Leadership includes any pastors, elders, deacons, lay leaders and teachers, and other staff members. Programs include Sunday morning services, Wednesday night services, Sunday School, Life Groups, outreach, and any other function that the church may put on. These things are what I mean by the church as an organization. When we assume that the church as an organization is responsible for evangelism and discipleship we assume that people are evangelized and discipled when we do things like:
– Invite people to one of the events of the church
– Suggest that they talk to one of the pastors or leaders
Inviting people to church or to some type of church function is one of the simplest and best ways to start the process of evangelism, but it is not evangelism. Suggesting that someone speak to one of the pastors or leaders of the church is a great way to get someone some counsel or maybe just some time to get to know a leader, but it is not evangelism. We ultimately assume that evangelism and discipleship is the job of the paid professionals, the devoted lay leaders, and the programs of the church. There is little to no ownership of the command to share the Gospel and make disciples given by Jesus. When we simply rely on doing these things and calling it evangelism, we are saying, “let me share the message of my church’s ministries with you,” not, “let me share the Gospel with you.”
The Organization Serves The Organism
So what is the purpose of the church as an organization (the leaders, the events, the programs and ministries)? The first thing we have to say is that how we have been defining the church thus far is not in fact all the church is. The church is not just its leadership and its events and programs. Gregg Allison, in Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church says, “The church is the people of God who have been saved through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and have been incorporated into his body through baptism with the Holy Spirit,” (Allison, pg 29). The church is all of the believers in that church. We need to get rid of the idea that the church is just the leaders, just the building, just the ministries or in other words just the organization.
We could say that the organization exists to serve, empower and equip the organism. The leaders, while still being part of the people, along with the ministries and programs of the church exist to serve, empower and equip the people. Of course this is all by the power of the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 4:11-13, Paul speaks to this and basically says that the leadership and structure of the church exist to equip the saints for works of ministry. Below are examples of those works of ministry (Allison, pg 32):
- worshipping the triune God
- proclaiming his Word through the preaching of Scripture
- engaging non-Christians with the gospel
- discipling their members through education and sharing in community life
- caring for people through prayer and giving
- standing both for and against the world by helping the poor and marginalized through holistic ministries and denouncing the evils wrought by sin
These works of ministry are those things that the organization of the church exists to equip the people of the church to perform. We can see plainly that evangelism and discipleship are woven throughout these various examples and thus we see that it is all of the people of the church who are to be engaging in evangelism and discipleship.
Culture of Evangelism and Discipleship
Mack Stiles refers to the idea of a culture of evangelism in his book, but I have added discipleship to that culture for reasons that can be found in previous posts pertaining to the union of evangelism and discipleship. Mack Stiles says that “the local church is the chosen and best method of evangelism,” (Stiles, pg 60). What he is getting at is a church where everyone images the Gospel in their lives and shares the Gospel. You can hear about the Gospel from them and see the Gospel in them when you are with them at church and when you are outside of church. When we understand that the church is made up of its people and we are a part of that, we can get towards the idea of this culture of evangelism. We would not be relying on the leaders and/or programs to do works of ministry like sharing the Gospel because we know the leaders are sharing the Gospel and they along with the programs and events of the church are preparing and equipping us to do the same.
This is how multiplication happens. Families are built by two people having kids and those kids marrying people outside the family and having kids and so on. The church grows in a similar fashion. The original couple doesn’t have all the children, the second generation has their children and those children have children. Sheep beget sheep and the same can be said for the church. There is an incredibly practical explanation of why the people of the church are to reproduce themselves, but there is also a theological one.
When we become a Christian, we are not only united to Christ, but are a part of his body, the church and are a part of his mission. Jonathan Dodson in Gospel Centered Discipleship, speaks to this theological explanation by referring back to Martin Luther’s three conversions of the Christian (conversion of the heart, conversion of the mind and conversion of the purse). Dodson explains how Luther’s conversions focused on what was converted in us. We think about these things as we begin to see the way God changes our desires, our thinking and our priorities. Dodson says that we are also converted to something, “When we are converted, we are converted to Christ, to church and to mission,” (Dodson, pg 108). This is one way we can realize this culture of evangelism in our church, by understanding that we are converted to Christ, his church and his mission. Dodson also talks about Eph 4:11-13 and he says that Paul also uses the same stature imagery from verse 13 in Colossians 2. “The full stature of Christ is the result of the gospel’s work inwardly among its members and outwardly in the harvest. It is the result of disciples who make disciples. Growing into the full stature of Christ is a missional growth,” (Dodson, pg 110). There is our multiplication.
It is the people of the church or the organism of the church that is to take part in doing evangelism and discipleship. That includes all the people of the church, who are baptized believers. The purpose of the leaders, events and programs of a church is to equip all the people for works of ministry. Evangelism and Discipleship are a part of that ministry that we are all being prepared and equipped to do. Church events can also give opportunity for the Gospel to be presented or opportunity for us to share the Gospel with non-believers. Having a culture of evangelism in a church means that all of the church understands that when they became a Christian, they were converted to Jesus, to His Church and to His mission. This culture of evangelism in the church says that we are in this work together. We use the gifts that God has given to each of us to complete the work and it is therefore the entire body working together.
We will continue to look at the culture of evangelism and discipleship from the standpoint of the Great Commission. We will look at the “go” and/or “as you go” from the Great Commission. Which is it? Where has God already put you? Who has God already put in your path? Is God sending you?