Have you ever wondered why Jesus didn’t use our methods of evangelism? Granted he was God in the flesh, but still, why does it seem Jesus didn’t use our methods?
I am not railing against methods. In fact, I support diverse methods. Different things work with different people and clearly our God made this world full of different people. But there is this pernicious little reality that methods have an impact on our goal. If we are not careful, our methods can lead us away from our original goal. Methods can take over the goal rather than being directed by the goal. And this is where my concern lies. It is from this vantage point that I am asking why didn’t Jesus use our methods of evangelism?
Allow me to broadside us. Admittedly, I am generalizing, but I think we can all recognize the broad contours even if there are exceptions. Within the current Pentecostal movement, evangelism is typically about either planting a new church or growing an existing church. The resulting metrics we apply are numerical. How many people were in attendance? How many were baptized in Jesus’ name? How many received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, evidenced by speaking in tongues? How many Bible Studies are being taught? Typically we organize our methods around being able to answer these questions in at least a reasonably positive way.
So, again, why didn’t Jesus use our methods? Why wasn’t he concerned with our questions? Mark tells us Jesus, upon returning from the wilderness, began proclaiming the gospel in Galilee and saying, “The time promised by God has come at last! The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:14-15) Repentance is hard to count! In fact, only God and the person involved knows whether they have repented. Yet Jesus’ message was repent and believe the good news. And remember who (not what) the good news is: Jesus! Without Jesus, we have no repentance, baptism, or Holy Spirit, let alone holy living and heaven. Do our methods take repentance into account? Or is repentance simply a first step before the countable actions? Do we count repentance?
Stay with me! Immediately after Mark tells us about Jesus’ proclamation, he turns to a very important event–one of many to come. Jesus is walking along the Sea of Galilee and sees two brothers, Simon (Peter) and Andrew. These are literally the future of his church. What is he going to say to them? How does he approach them? What is his goal? The simplicity of what he says cracks as loudly and vividly as the thunder-clap after the blinding lightning: “Follow me.” The same for James and John. The same for Matthew and Philip. The same for the rich man and the unnamed persons who excused themselves to bury their dead or say goodbye to their family. “Follow me.”
Why did Jesus begin with a call to follow him? Because Jesus’ primary concern is not how many people come to church! It is not how many people are baptized in his name! It is not how many people receive his Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues! These are all mechanisms he created and uses to extend his grace and mercy to us. He is concerned with making disciples!
Now everyone read very carefully: I am not denying the essentiality of the new birth experience–being born from above–through repentance, baptism in Jesus’ name and receiving the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. In fact, I am affirming that God’s Word makes clear that the new birth experience occurs through this birth of water and spirit. But these are not the goal(s). The goal is disciples! And disciples come through following Jesus. “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
Is it possible that Jesus didn’t use our methods of evangelism because he had different goals than we do? Consequently, is it also possible that our goals need to change back to his? The Great Commission, which is the only reason for the church’s existence, is typically encapsulated in Matthew 28:19-20:
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Within the Greek, the words “go”, “baptize,” and “teach” are all participles, (a word formed from a verb and used as an adjective or noun) and thus modify μαθητευσατε (make disciples). The going, the baptizing, the teaching are all simply actions that serve the goal: make disciples. Is it possible that Jesus did not use our methods of evangelism because he was not interested in our goals? Is it possible that our methods have corrupted our goals?
I have learned several things as a disciple committed to making disciples. Baptism doesn’t make a disciple. Without baptism, you cannot be a disciple. But you can be baptized and still not ultimately become or stay a disciple. Receiving the Holy Spirit does not make you a disciple. Without the Holy Spirit, you cannot be a disciple. But receiving the Holy Spirit does not make you a disciple. In fact, all the things we count do not make people disciples. They are necessary to make disciples, but they are not sufficient. Disciples are made over time, through a process of death and belief. Here Jesus’ original proclamation rings out: “Repent and believe Me.” Repentance is not just about your sins but it is about your will. Belief is not just about the things we do but it is about our trust in Jesus.
It should not surprise us, though it is sad, that not everyone who repents, is baptized, and receives the Holy Spirit chooses to be a disciple. In fact, between his ascension and his return as the Comforter (by my calculations about 7-10 days), Jesus went from over 500 to 120. This had a definite impact on how many were in attendance, how many were baptized and how many received the Holy Spirit. We cannot take our eye off the mandate: make disciples. Making disciples is messy business. In fact, it takes a long time, nobody sees it, and currently, I am afraid we don’t value it.
So, what about our methods? Are they focused on the right things? Are they possibly shortsighted? Is it possible that we need to see evangelism as disciple making? Is it possible that we are so focused on birthing spiritual babies that we are aborting them in our haste? Is it possible that we have our pews filled with people who are baptized, filled with the Holy Spirit, and attending our services, but they are not really disciples?
Is it possible this is why we don’t have enough church planters? Or do we really believe that the Lord of the harvest is just being stingy in sending laborers? Is it possible this is why we think we don’t have enough money to send every missionary to their field of labor without making them deputize for 2 years? Or do we really believe that the Creator of this world doesn’t keep his promise to pour out a blessing that we cannot contain?
The problem is that somewhere we stopped making disciples and starting building churches. You can build a church and still not make disciples. But if you make disciples, you will also produce a church. But it will be a church of followers who will go wherever he sends them, do whatever he asks them, and share whatever he gives them. I suggest that we go make disciples!