Church growth, in my experience, seems to have developed much like a game I grew up with, “Pass it On.” In this game, someone reads a message from a piece of paper, whispers the words to the next person and so on until the relayed message gets back to the person with the original. Even if you have not played the game, I suspect you know what happens.
As has been observed in conversations about the Restoration Principle, the source, Scripture, is the only place to go if we are to be sure we are getting Christianity right. My following words on evangelism suggest we need to apply this original source principle to our outreach efforts. See what you think.
Have We Seen What The Bible Reveals?
When we see the various ways that evangelism is promoted and defined among us, we ought to ask ourselves why the New Testament does not address evangelism the way we commonly do. Where, for instance, do we find much of our current language represented in principle in the New Covenant?
Where are all the verses urging us to remember to take the gospel to our friends and neighbors? Where are all the “deathbed” stories? And where do we find that inspiration’s favorite inquiry is, “If you died tonight would you be lost?” Odd, do you not think, that such things, and many more modern areas of emphasis, are conspicuous by their absence in the Bible?
By speaking this way I do not at all want to question anyone’s sincerity or deny that the reality that souls have been won by the gospel through methods I believe to be a few steps removed from strict biblical patterns. What I ask us to do is to see what we discover by taking a fresh look at Scripture.
I purpose we need to take another look at the Bible to measure our efforts by the original message. We would agree God’s Word is the very place we will find God’s plan for evangelism. It is in Scripture where we will learn what we are asked to do in church growth.
When we embark upon a search for the original message about evangelism, we will see a picture that is both personal and practical. We will discover that the most basic needs in evangelism are not for more programs, better methods, bigger and fancier campaigns, or an increasing reliance on mass media. The main need, the most central component of evangelism, is found in our daily living of the principles of Jesus. It is the daily practice of biblical Christianity that Scripture emphasizes.
God’s goal for the church has always been that Christians would be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). It is therefore no coincidence that the Bible says Scripture gives us “the knowledge of the Son of God to a mature man, the measure and stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). We have, consequently, “the mind of Christ” revealed in the New Testament (1 Cor. 2:16).
The “mind of Christ” is, however, not intended to be something that is found only on the printed page. We are to have Christ’s mind in us (Phil. 2:5). Paul’s prayer for brethren was that they would have Christ dwelling in their hearts by faith (Eph. 3:16-17; cf. Rom. 10:17). Paul intended that every Christian would be a living epistle (2 Cor. 3:1-4)!
The “process” of this transformation is most significant. We learn in the Bible that it is a daily walk with Christ that changes us from the inside out. We are to look to the Lord as the model or pattern for our change, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18; cf. Rom. 12:1-2). In this process, we are to “in humility receive the word implanted,” and “prove ourselves doers of the word and not merely hearers” (Jas. 1:21-22).
Paul could well relate to this process of transformation for he was a zealous participant, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). Paul practiced what he preached and we must also realize that the preaching of this process of transformation was not a lesser concern—it was central to Paul’s message.
In Colossians 1:24-29 we find Paul relating the plan he used when he worked with newly formed congregations. We are more accustomed to thinking of Paul as a congregation starter. However, we need to see the rest of the story—how Paul worked to bring congregations to maturity. This methodology is vital to understanding our need for evangelism. Also, we need to understand that this method was not the exclusive method of Paul. Paul did not start the Colossian church; it was Epaphras. Nevertheless, Paul knew that the approach he took was the approach taken by all who would follow the Lord’s pattern.
Paul pointed out in this passage that Christ “in” a Christian was a believer’s hope of glory (Col. 1:27). Paul saw his ministry to the saved as being one of presenting them “complete in Christ” (Col. 1:28). It was for that very purpose that Paul would “labor and strive” (Col. 1:29). This work or labor of developing Christ in a Christian was what Paul engaged in after he planted a church (cf. Acts 20:17-35).
This plan that Paul pursued with such diligence is reflected in his striking remarks to the churches of Galatia. The brethren in Galatia were being led astray by Judaizing teachers who sought to take them into a legalistic, Old Testament oriented manifestation of Christianity. Paul knew that the brothers and sisters only real hope was in bringing them to maturity in Christ. His words still ring with passion, “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you” (Gal. 4:19).
Paul well understood that if the Christian life was to be lived successfully, people had to be brought to maturity. The maturing process would not only provide great preventive medicine against false teachers and false doctrine; it would equip the saints for their work of service (Eph. 4:12-15).
It is with the most positive aspect of Christianity, Christ-likeness, that we find the Bible’s central teaching about evangelism. As we “grow up in all things unto Him who is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:15), one of those “things” is most certainly evangelism. As we become more like Jesus, we become better able to relate to the lost in Jesus’ own way and as suggested by the Great Commission, “as you are going” (Matt. 28:18-20).
In taking this look at the way of Christ concerning evangelism, we must be careful to understand the seriousness of reviving this vital pattern. We would be most remiss if we saw the value of the pattern for first becoming a Christian, organizing the church, and worshipping God under the authority of Jesus, but did not esteem God’s pattern for evangelism.
Even as Moses was instructed by God to “make all things according to the pattern” (Heb. 8:5), so we must give “much greater attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Heb. 2:1). There is a great need for the church to return to God’s pattern for evangelism!
The Christ-Centered Evangelistic Plan
The New Testament pattern for evangelism is what the church needs. This pattern centers in personal Christ-likeness. All through the record of the New Testament the church is constantly and passionately admonished to live in a manner compatible to the nature of Christ. That is what walking in the light and fellowship are all about. “If we walk in the light as He, Himself is in the light; we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Consider the wisdom of this plan. Who could do a better job with God’s work than a person conformed in a mature way to the image of Jesus? Is there a better plan than that? Of course not!
There could be no better way of conducting the Father’s business. Whether the service to God would involve benevolence, edification or evangelism, the best way to conduct the business of God is to do it as Christ would do it. Jesus’ entire earthly mission was followed by a singular devotion to the will of the Father (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 8:28; 12:49; 14:10). We cannot do no better than to follow His example.
As we come to see the significance of the Christ-centered New Testament plan, we come to see certain well-known teachings in a broader light. For instance, consider the Bible’s teachings on Christ as the head of the church (Eph. 1:22; 4:15; 5:23; Col. 1:18; 2:19; I Cor. 11:3). We realize that this means that there is only one head and thus only one church. This is devastating to modern denominationalism, but there is more to this teaching than just what it rules out. There is much here that is ruled in.
By studying the headship of Christ as it relates to the need for the church to practice biblical evangelism, we might readily think of a number of applications. One example is how a body cannot function unless it receives instructions from the head. Likewise, the church cannot carry out God’s will unless it understands the thinking of the head, Christ. Without a strong connection to Jesus, the church is capable of only spasmodic movements that cannot accomplish God’s purpose.
Remember the slogan for the United Negro College Fund, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”? That memorable phrase has an application to our subject. The church has been given the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16) and each Christian is to take up that mind (Phil. 2:5). What a waste it would be if Christians looked to themselves and their own devices in evangelism, rather than to the thinking of Christ.
Another thing in this evangelistic rethinking of ours concerns Christ as the Master Teacher. We readily acknowledge that Jesus is the master teacher, the greatest teacher that ever lived. Are we, however, really using what we know about Him in our evangelistic efforts? To what extent are our evangelistic patterns compatible with the practices of Jesus? Do we traditionally begin with a first look at the Christ, or at something steps removed?
What we do learn from Jesus is unmistakably that He did not have any one-size-fits-all method. While He was always seeking to get people to arrive at the same place, His methods were as numerous as the people, circumstances and situations He faced. The truth never changed, but the way Jesus addressed the many conditions He encountered was forever changing. Is that not one of the main reasons we call Him the “Master Teacher”?
I realize that Jesus’ approach requires maturity and growth before a Christian would be able to go at personal evangelism in such a flexible way. I also know that the various program methods available can be helpful in getting us to a more confident, mature, flexible approach. However, I even more significantly know that we rarely give priority to the flexible teaching example of Christ. We speak of Christianity being a lifestyle; yet rarely see the obvious connection with evangelism being a lifestyle. We might go as far as to say that Christianity is God’s plan for evangelism just as it is for everything else.
Methods can easily get us in a rut. A thing that might help us to grow can, at times, actually become a crutch. Studies have shown that the most effective means of study is one person sitting across the table from another with an open Bible between them. Good, old-fashioned Bible studies that use the Bible as the “equipment” not to mention Jesus sanctified in the heart as the always ready as you are going “method.”
One more thing about the Jesus emphasis, and this might be the most important benefit of all. As we come to know Him better we will grow in our love for Him. When all has been said, the conclusion of this and all things Christian is this. If we love Jesus, we will keep His commandments (Jn. 14:15, 23; 2 Cor. 5:14-15)! Good bye apathy, hello Christ motivated life!
Brethren, the need for evangelism is great, but evangelism needs to be understood by first listening to God. The slower, less sensational way of the New Testament is to be chosen over a “quick fix.” We of all people who stand for Pattern Theology should make every effort to get back to the Bible to learn the old way of evangelism.
“Thus says the Lord, ‘Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it!” (Jer. 6:16a).
Edwin has been active in a wide variety of ministries for almost fifty years. Currently he serves the Lehman Avenue congregation in Bowling Green, KY, and is director of the Commonwealth Bible Academy (CBAKY.com).