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November 20, 2018Evangelism & Discipleship

Preoccupied with Love: Lifting High Evangelism Again

An interview with Sam Owusu.
Preoccupied with Love: Lifting High Evangelism Again
Image: via Pixabay/rawpixel

Ed: It’s hard to deny that we are living in challenging times culturally. The church’s influence is fading, and we are struggling to find answers to some hard questions. What’s your take on the health of the church today, especially as it relates to our witness?

Sam: It is true that we are living in challenging times culturally. However, challenges like persecution and assimilation have been the fertile soil in which the church of Jesus Christ has been creative and transformational. From a North American point of view, we are experiencing the death of Christendom, which could be turning out for our good. Phillip Jenkins has written about this in many of his works on Global Christianity.

We are in many ways returning to a time similar to the early church in that we are a disenfranchised minority. Religion and monolithic cultural Christianity are powerless without the support of the powers that be. Yet, we are also seeing widespread growth and the spread of Christ followers in Africa, Asia, and South America.

With globalization, we see the phenomena of immigrants taking the gospel back to European countries and North America. Calvary Worship Centre is such a story, too, with people from more than 106 nations worshipping together and seeing people come to Christ every week by the grace of God.

Jenkins proclaims that:

Charismatic people movements that seek to change their world through the translation of Christian truth and the transfer of power. These grassroots movements are a combination therefore of a spiritual factor (the Spirit of God), a people factor (the transfer of power to the marginalized), a truth factor (the application of the gospel to the pressing questions of a people group and culture) and a justice factor (a mission to change one’s world in response to the gospel).[1]

What we need is a movement of discipleship empowering God’s people to witness in their world of work and with their neighbors to the transformational power of Christ. In North America, we have often focused on being gathered together, but it’s also important for us to function as the scattered church in our neighborhoods and networks.

Ed: Evangelism has especially fallen on hard times. It seems that everything else—even good things like discipleship—has overwhelmed our passion for sharing the love of Jesus with others. What does evangelism look like today, and how can we begin to develop a passion for showing and sharing the love of Jesus on a daily basis?

Sam: From my point of view and my own experience, there are several reasons why evangelism has fallen on hard times. First, we have only recently emerged from an area of public evangelism in tents and arenas where great harvests have occurred through the ministry of Billy Graham, Luis Palau, Reinhardt Bonnke, etc. We are sometimes focused on the great gifted orator who is able to explain the gospel and call people to repentance.

As good as this has been, we are in danger of creating spectator evangelism where the pastor or evangelist should lead people to Christ rather than believers witnessing to the grace of God in their lives.

Prayer is a key part of my life and the life of our church. I believe the reason evangelism has fallen on hard times is that prayer has fallen on hard times. It is hard to find a prayer meeting in churches these days. Many ask us for the reason why CWC has grown in an area where many churches are dying. I believe it’s because we started as a prayer meeting and we have held on to our passion for prayer, which involves praying for lost people.

We have all night prayer meetings, and every day there are people praying for the needs of our congregation, neighborhood and nations. Prayer is where we should start because we begin to align ourselves with the heart of God for the nations. The history of the church shows us that a praying church is a revived church and an evangelistic church. People look at what happens on Sunday as people come to Christ, but it is fueled by the prayer meetings during the week. This is our experience.

Finally, I believe that North American Christianity has retreated from speaking about the lostness and eternal destiny of those who reject Christ. Hell is now a subject of much debate even in evangelical circles. We have tried to soften up the gospel and have married the spirit of this age of tolerance and politically correct speech; yet, Jesus is the one who spoke so clearly and authoritatively on hell and heaven.

This is why those of us from other nations who grew up with the simplicity of the gospel are leading the way of no compromise in our proclamation of a gospel that saves and redeems. As Dean Inge said, “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.” [2]

Liberal Christianity has invaded evangelicalism. We are not united in our proclamation that people are lost. We are saying such things as good Buddhists and Muslims will go to heaven, but this is not what my Bible teaches. Many well-known popular preachers contribute to this confusion.

We need to have a clear presentation of the gospel and stick to the faith once delivered to the saints. Richard Niebuhr characterized the creed of liberal Christianity this way: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”[3]

The root of it is getting back to loving God with all our heart and carrying his heart to the nations. When our love for God is deep, then it is wide enough to reach out to our lost communities. As Steve Green sang to our generation:

“To love the Lord our God
Is the heartbeat of our mission
The spring from which our service overflows
Across the street
Or around the world
The mission's still the same
Proclaim and live the Truth
In Jesus' name”

Ed: You are a plenary speaker at our 2019 Amplify North American Evangelism Conference next summer, and you are talking about “A Gospel for the Forgotten.” Tell me about what a gospel for those who have been marginalized and left behind looks like, and why it matters for all of us.

Sam: I am delighted and humbled at the opportunity to speak about this topic at this strategic conference. Jesus our Lord, who brings us the gospel and embodies the gospel, is our best teacher in this regard through his life and teaching.

Jesus, in his own experience, was a refugee in Egypt, was born in a blue-collar family, came from an insignificant village called Nazareth, and suspected to be an illegitimate child. He ministered to prostitutes, lepers, and the hated tax collectors of the Roman occupiers. He was accused of hanging out with outcasts, and being a glutton and a winebibber.

Our Lord embodied the gospel by his actions. Jesus intentionally aimed his gospel at the Am Haaretz – “sinners.” They were not insiders to the religious establishment.

The church in North America can get comfortable in its monolithic, monoculture, and religious separation from the world; however, Jesus commands us to go to the prisoner, the prostitute, the poor, and the perishing. He touched the untouchables, hung out with the immoral, and fed the poor. The Levite and the Scribe in the story of the Good Samaritan convict us of our comfortable suburban religious evangelicalism, which is often too self-absorbed and busy to care for the hurting, the poor, the needy, and the lost.

[1] Phillip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2007), p.77.

[2] Dick Staub, The Culturally Savvy Christian (San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2007), p..3.

[3] H. Richard Niebuhr , The Kingdom of God in America( Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1937) p. 193.

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Preoccupied with Love: Lifting High Evangelism Again