Monday, February 18, 2008

Church Reform - Evangelism and Missions

This is a post I have been pondering for quite a while. There are many different directions we could go with this, but I really just want to keep it simple. First of all, what does the bible say about this? We are clearly given commands in scripture related to this issue. In Matthew 28:19-20, we are commanded to "make disciples." What does this mean? We are told in that very passage that we are to be "baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," and we are to be "teaching them to observe all that I commanded you." Therefore, we make disciples by baptizing new believers and teaching them about how Jesus expects them to live their lives. Notice that in this passage we are neither commanded to save anyone nor to go anywhere. God does the saving. We are to make disciples as we go about our lives.

In Mark 16:15, we are instructed to "proclaim the gospel to all creation." What can we make of this? The key here is that we must proclaim, tell, and share the gospel with others. Again, we do this as we go about our lives. We are not supposed to all share the gospel with literally all creation, but rather with those in whom we come in contact.

Another key verse to keep in mind is Acts 1:8. This verse says, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” It is clear from this verse that it is God's plan for the gospel message to be taken to the very end of the earth.

When we look at evangelism as it is practiced in the local church in America, something is not working. While Christianity is growing rapidly in places like Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America, it is actually decreasing in the United States (in percentage of population). I'm a Calvinist, so I believe God is sovereign over salvation. However, I also believe that God blesses our evangelistic efforts by drawing people to Himself through them. What we are doing now simply is not working.

What are we doing now? In many churches, evangelism has become just another church program. It is what happens on one night per week, but often doesn't happen any other time. As for missions, they are often viewed as the select few who are "holy and brave enough to go where the savages are."

Keeping the biblical model in view, what can we do to make our evangelistic/missions efforts more effective? I have a few suggestions, but would like to hear from you.

1) We must fervently pray as church bodies for God to move radically in our own hearts so that we would care more about the lost.

2) We must fervently pray that God would move in the hearts of the lost around us and save them.

3) As we go about our lives, we should be regularly proclaiming the gospel as a natural part of what it is to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

4) As people are saved by God, we must be active in baptizing them and teaching them about who God is and what He expects of all of us.

5) Quite obviously, we need to be getting to know lost people in order to develop relationships. This will make sharing our faith much easier. As we talk with them, let's simply share what Jesus has done for us.

6) We must remember that in the bible people get saved outside the church as opposed to when it gathers. This has ramifications for end-of-service "invitations."

7) When out in the community, may we be "salt and light."

8) Let's avoid the artificial dichotomy between "local" and "international" missions. Remember that normal people can cross cultures; it doesn't take a super-hero.

9) As a local church, we should try to assist missionaries who are already on the field. They know what the specific needs are of the people in their new culture. When we send short-term mission teams, let's listen to those who are already there and have succeeded in transitioning to a new culture.

10) In the local church, get rid of any weekly evangelism programs. Most of these just look good on a church calendar, but do not accomplish much. They also give church members a reason to not evangelize at other times of the week. These programs even "soothe the guilty consciences" of others who are glad that someone is sharing the gospel one night a week.

11) When we share our faith on a regular basis, we must expect persecution both outside and inside the church.

12) We have to remember that, despite what some well-intentioned Christians say, evangelism and missions are not "the main thing." Glorifying God is the main duty of the church.

Any ideas? Additions? Objections?

2 comments:

Rhea said...

Eric:

I'm not sure if you've just been away from the computer and haven't had a chance to post it, or if somehow it didn't work right, but I tried to post yesterday.

I agree with you wholeheartedly on #6, and I feel much better knowing that I'm not the only one who sees that. I wonder if believers have stopped being as evangelistic b/c of the addition of end-of-the service invitations? Perhaps they think that it's the preacher's job, so they stop witnessing. I'm not against end-of-the service invitations, but when I read the Book of Acts, it's definitely not the norm.

There's a book called God's Greatest Passion that's about evangelism that you might be interested in (godsgreatestpassion.com). Also, Mark Cahill wrote a book called The One Thing You Can't Do in Heaven on evangelism. I've read the former, but not the latter.

Eric said...

Rhea,

It seems that whenever we depart from the biblical model, things go sour. This certainly applies to sharing our faith. We must get back to simply going about our lives and sharing Christ as we do so.

Ironically, Southern Baptists (of which I am one) tend to think that we are very biblical. However, in most SBC churches there absolutely HAS to be an invitation at the end of the service.

Thanks for the info. about the books.

Eric