Over the years people in evangelical churches have seen the Great Commission as a call to evangelism and in particular a call to worldwide evangelism. As we have seen over the past four weeks it is much more than just evangelism but on the other hand it must include evangelism.
In this blog entry I come to the final direction of discipleship. We have seen that there is an upward direction that focuses on a person’s walk with God. There is an inward direction with its focus on people becoming more like Jesus Christ through a heart change that impacts their innermost being. There is an aroundward direction with a focus on the church’s responsibility to hold each other accountable.
There is also an outward direction which highlights the importance of each Christian moving out into the community to bring God’s kingdom into people’s lives. For most Christians and thus most churches this is the tough one.
The usual pattern
Very few churches are successfully reaching people for Jesus Christ. All one has to do is look around on a typical Sunday morning to see that it is basically the same people there who were there the previous Sunday and the Sunday before that. There may be the occasional visitor but there aren’t unchurched people who need to hear the gospel.
On the other hand there are few evangelical churches that aren’t concerned about this failure to reach out. They know that they are called to evangelize and the fact that it isn’t happening is a problem that they want to solve.
A very wise person once said that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. This is what churches are doing when they try to motivate their people to do evangelism.
The usual response is to acknowledge that it isn’t happening. That is always a good start. I wrote about this a few weeks ago. Unless a church admits the reality that it isn’t reaching anyone, nothing will ever happen.
The next step is where the wheels start to fall off. The church goes looking for a program that will turn their members into dynamic evangelists. There have been so many different programs offered:
- seeker sensitive services
- Natural Church Development
- church growth
- small groups
- purpose driven churches
- missional churches
- etc., etc., etc.
I’m not criticizing these programs. Each of them has something to teach us. I have been blessed by people such as Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Peter Wagner and Brian McLaren.
Reality though is that there is not a program available today that will turn a group of people who have had no interest in evangelism into people who are actively witnessing to their friends and neighbours. Believe me when I say that it has been tried over and over again by every size and shape of church and it has failed over and over again.
Evangelism, if it is going to succeed, must be part of the process of turning people into disciples. People have suggested to me that an emphasis on discipleship will draw people away from an emphasis on evangelism. My response to that is it that an emphasis on discipleship should always result in evangelism or we need to rework our understanding of discipleship.
Churches have proven that comfortable Christians don’t evangelize. It is when Christians have a deep, dynamic walk with God that they want to share their faith. It is when God does a transforming work in their lives and they are changed at the very core of their being that they want to share their faith. It is when they are part of a church fellowship in which they are hearing stories about people coming to Christ, that they want to share their faith.
It isn’t programs that will produce evangelists. It is changed lives that will motivate people to witness.
The Impact of the Holy Spirit
In Acts 1:8 we find what many people have suggested is the equivalent of the Great Commission but there is one important difference between what we have here and what we have in Matthew 28. In the Great Commission in Matthew we have a command. We are to make disciples. Jesus is very clear that that is what his followers are to be doing. It is a command to be followed.
In Acts there is no command. There is a promise that the Holy Spirit will come in power and the followers will be changed. Then there is a statement that describes the natural result of the Spirit’s work in their lives. It is not a command in Acts. It is a simple statement of fact. Once their lives have been changed, they will become his witnesses. Witness flows naturally out of changed lives.