Follow Me

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!

Evangelism: What Is Your Fear Factor?

In my previous post Evangelism: The Fear Factor, I talked about my observations concerning our fear of evangelism.  We know we should do it, we must do it, but what if we fail?  When it comes to evangelism, what are your specific fear factors?  I would love to develop a greater understanding of what we fear.  Your assistance is much appreciated.

Evangelism: The Fear Factor

In my experience as a pastor, I have found Christians to be afraid of evangelism.  Every Apostolic Pentecostal Christian is well familiar with Jesus’ closing statement in Matthew:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:18-20)

They understand the imperative to make disciples, but they are afraid of failure.  In fact, the imperative compounds the fear.  They are afraid of not obeying, yet they are afraid of failure.

I would submit that earnest Christians should be afraid of evangelism–at least the way we have defined it.  In my experience, evangelism is the shorthand for getting people to repent, be baptized in Jesus’ name, and receive the infilling of the Holy Spirit.  If we are commanded to accomplish these things, we are right to be afraid because we cannot control any of them.  Repentance is completely in the hands of the person; in fact, we are unable to see the heart to even ascertain whether they are being genuine with God.  While the baptizer participates in the act of baptism, baptism is only effective if the person has genuinely repented (see Acts 2:38–“Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins….”  Repentance and baptism together accomplish the forgiveness of sins).  Again, we are not in control.  And, finally, the scriptures are clear that God is the only one able to pour out his spirit.  We cannot give nor take away the Holy Spirit for it is God giving himself to the person.  So, if we are unable to control any of these elements, and yet are commanded to accomplish them, it seems reasonable to fear failure.

Is it possible that we have incorrectly defined evangelism?  The word evangelism is defined by Merriam Webster as “the winning or revival of personal commitments to Christ” and/or “militant or crusading zeal.”  The first known use of the word in English was in 1626. The word actually comes from the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (transliterated euangelion) via the Latinised version Evangelium, the title for each of the four gospels written to tell the story of Jesus.  The Greek word’s original meaning comes from two words: εὐ: good and ἀγγέλλω: to bring a message, usually good (this word also shares the same root as the word for angel defined as a messenger).  So, from this brief etymological survey, evangelism should be defined as the act of bringing or sharing good news.  In the specific context of Christianity, it is the act of sharing the good news embodied in the story of Jesus.  This, in my opinion, correct definition of evangelism does much to remove the fear factor.  But I think there is one more element that can completely eradicate the fear factor.

The writer of the Acts of the Apostles recounts how confused the disciples were about what exactly Jesus was doing with his life.  They were focused upon him establishing an earthly kingdom for his chosen people, the children of Israel.  When asked about the restoring of the kingdom to Israel, Jesus response was not what they expected:

“You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  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 farthest parts of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)

The promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit was going to result in an ability that the disciples did not currently have–the power to be Jesus’ witness.  This word comes from the Greek word μάρτυς which means witness and in times of persecution martyr (one who dies for their witness).  It should not escape our notice the legal context of the word witness.  A witness is not the judge, the jury, the prosecutor, the advocate, the plaintiff, or the defendant.  A witness is an accessory.  They serve someone else.  They do not control the outcome, they simply tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Jesus informed the disciples that when they received his spirit, they would be empowered to be his witnesses.  He would use them in accomplishing his promise, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).  In fact, only God can draw people to himself (see John 6:44–“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…”).  Our job as Christians, followers of Christ, is not to save people.  We are not the Savior.  It is not even our job to draw them to Christ, for no one can come to Jesus unless God draws him.  Instead we are accessories in God’s advocacy for the salvation of humanity.  Our only responsibility is to join with Jesus’ witnesses that have gone before us.  We join with them in affirming that “it is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

There is no fear factor in evangelism when we realize that God is the savior and we are simply his witnesses.  He does the drawing and we simply tell the truth.  Evangelism is our availability to show up in the court of life and bear witness to the good news of Jesus.  We only testify when he has drawn a soul to him.  We do not need to prosecute them, defend them, or persuade them.  Just tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  We simply join with the writer of 1 John when he states:

“This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched (concerning the word of life-and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us). What we have seen and heard we announce to you too, so that you may have fellowship with us (and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ). Thus we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1:1-4)

Evangelism is a joy.  It is also very simple.  It will most likely come with rejection and persecution.  But there should be no fear factor.  We simply have to tell the truth.  Jesus described evangelism to his first disciples:

“I am sending you out like sheep surrounded by wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of people, because they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues. And you will be brought before governors and kings because of me, as a witness to them and the Gentiles. Whenever they hand you over for trial, do not worry about how to speak or what to say, for what you should say will be given to you at that time. For it is not you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:16-20)

When we are available for evangelism the way that Jesus defines it, we are simply allowing God to speak through us.  Not only does that remove the fear factor from evangelism, it also puts us in our proper place.  We are not the savior.  We are only his witnesses.  The only way that we can fail is if we refuse to tell the truth.  Tell the people what you have heard, what you have seen, what you have touched.  Speak the words he gives you.  You cannot fail.  All authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto Jesus.  It is that power that will draw people to him through you and by telling them his words, you will make disciples.

Fear Factor Be Gone!

For a spoken version of this presented at the January 6, 2012 Evangelism Meeting at Newark United Pentecostal Church, click here.