And the Lord added to their number …
What was behind the amazing growth of the Church in the Book of Acts? How did the Early Church grow—and grow so rapidly and with such diversity?
The 21st-century Body of Christ is exploding with evangelism-related resources. Christ-followers across the globe have immediate, at-your-finger-tips access to websites with seemingly unlimited links to articles and interviews, podcasts and video channels, even strategies for citywide collaboration.
Conferences, consultations, and cohort groups abound. Even as the Church declines in attendance it appears to be losing its upcoming generations and is now considered irrelevant, even dangerous, by our culture.
Like so many words we’ve lifted from the biblical text, “evangelism” has become more theoretical or methodological than personal and relational. When most think of evangelism, what comes to mind is an event or gathering we invite lost persons to attend so they can listen to someone else explain the gospel to them.
With so many in the Church bound to a programmatic or performance or professionals-only mindset of proclaiming the gospel, we are in desperate need to reimagine evangelism more as a living description than a textbook definition. Scripture anchors evangelism in our lived-out, new-creation identity in Christ; it’s a lifestyle.
We are, as my friend Walter McCray has written, “Gospelizers”—people who have been radicalized by the good news in and from Jesus the Christ. We have been changed by the hope-filled, faith-giving news of His divinity and humanity, His life and death, resurrection and ascension, and His return to reign and rule over and through all who authentically believe in Him.
He is the evangel; Jesus is the good news. The Lord builds His Church and adds to our number.
When the disciples heard Jesus say, “You shall be my witnesses,” they understood it as a declaration of fact (as opposed to a task to obey or a goal to achieve). All who have life in Christ and salvation by God’s grace through faith are, individually and corporately, evidence to Christ’s good news.
We bear witness with the evidence of our lives—who we are, how we live, what we say. Evangelism is being who I am, living with Christ in me, and expressing His love and truth through me.
When the disciples met Jesus on the mountain in Galilee after His resurrection, the Lord gave them what we all now refer to as the Great Commission. Unfortunately, many communicate a “go and make disciples” rather than a “as you go, make disciples” emphasis that more clearly enunciates the text.
Yes, our Lord’s command is to “make disciples,” but our commission is to accomplish this “as we go.” As the disciples looked out to the horizon from their mountain vista point, they would understand Jesus’ statement as: “As you go from this place, wherever, everywhere you go, make disciples of everyone, teaching them everything I have taught you.”
Jesus was teaching the first course on evangelism. As you go (each of you, everyday). Wherever you go (everywhere). Make disciples of all peoples (everyone).
Reviving by Revising?
From my observations of the Church and conversations with pastors and leaders, I am convinced that the Lord is reviving His Church by revising His Church. It’s not a revision of our theology; God’s truth and redemption stand firm and true.
Instead, it’s revising our mindset toward the systems and methods of our learned traditions. I hear the Spirit, in essence, saying:
Do not be conformed (or limited) to the systems and traditions of the past (as effective as they may have been in that time or place), but let me transform your understanding of evangelism by the renewing of your mind, so that you may demonstrate to a desperate world that the will of God is good and acceptable and perfectly suited to their life.
For those born at the end of the Industrial Age, shaping our lifestyles and designing our outreaches for a Technological Age culture is a difficult challenge. But it is one that must be faced instead of feared if we hope to have real impact in our communities and a transformative influence on our culture.
Make Love Your Aim
The Church has begun to realize that we have lost our effectiveness because we have lost our first love. Yes, the love of the Lord our God, but also, the love of neighbors: family and friends, strangers and sojourners. The culture sees us as judgmental and hypocritical—the antithesis of loving.
Thankfully, we are recognizing that society responds to love; it must be our apologetic for the 21st century. We must hold firmly to biblical truth, as simultaneously we learn to navigate in and communicate with a culture unable to discern true truth from fake news. Our society is enacting new laws with radical sociological ramifications without question because it seems more loving to remove a restriction that inhibits personal choices no matter how the society or community is impacted.
Evangelism, the proclamation of God’s good news through our daily living and the organized witness of the Church, needs to be birthed out of visible and verbal expressions of love. Show and tell. Show the love of Christ through a simple act of kindness, a community development project, or a call for justice. And tell the reason underneath your actions and behind your faith. Make love your aim as you go, with every person you meet in every place you go.
WHAT IF …
- Leaders became more intentional in their own daily prayer-care-share lifestyle, and they referred to it in their writings or sermons as examples of evangelism occurring through a simple act of becoming evidence of the love of Jesus?
- Pastors stopped preaching on evangelism as an act of obedience and instead began to describe evangelism as a daily expression of the believer’s identify in Christ as we respond to the Spirit in opportunities to love people for Christ and explain why we follow this One who is the good news?
- Church services incorporated a time of praying for the lost, those with less (poor), and those who lead (local and national governments)?
- Church services included stories from members who had responded with care for a co-worker, acted compassionately to someone in distress, or solved a problem for a neighbor?
- Church services celebrated transformed-by-Christ lives with baptism, “My Story” segments, an up-front introduction & welcome to the church, or …?
- The Holy Spirit is mobilizing us into a movement? LOVE2020.com