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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

If You're Thinking about Leaving A Church . . .

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The following is from page 57 of Mark Dever's What Is A Healthy Church?

BEFORE YOU DECIDE TO LEAVE
 
1. Pray.
 
2. Let your current pastor know about your thinking before you move to another church or make your decision to relocate to another city. Ask for his counsel.
 
3. Weigh your motives. Is your desire to leave because of sinful, personal conflict or disappointment? If it’s because of doctrinal reasons, are these doctrinal issues significant?
 
4. Do everything within your power to reconcile any broken relationships.
 
5. Be sure to consider all the “evidences of grace” you’ve seen in the church’s life—places where God’s work is evident. If you cannot see any evidences of God’s grace, you might want to examine your own heart once more (Matthew 7:3-5).
 
6. Be humble. Recognize you don’t have all the facts and assess people and circumstances charitably (give them the benefit of the doubt).
 
IF YOU GO . . .
 
1. Don’t divide the body.
 
2. Take the utmost care not to sow discontent even among your closest friends. Remember, you don’t want anything to hinder their growth in grace in this church. Deny any desire to gossip (sometimes referred to as “venting” or “saying how you feel”).
 
3. Pray for and bless the congregation and its leadership. Look for ways of doing this practically. If there has been hurt, then forgive—even as you have been forgiven.
 
Mark Dever is the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and the president of 9Marks.

Book Review: The Missional Quest, by Lance Ford & Brad Brisco

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The Missional Quest wants us to know that being “missional” derives directly from who God is. The evidence of "sending language" in the Bible, they assert, "not only emphasizes the missionary nature of God, but it also stresses the importance of understanding the church as a sent, missionary body" (26). This produces an “alternative vision of the church,” rooted in the sending-ness of God, that will change how we understand the nature of the church. The church changes from being a cul de sac of consumers saying “gimme,” to a hub of community-engaging missionaries seeking to serve the world. “The church still gathers, but the difference is that we gather not for our [members’] own sake but for the sake of others.” I simply want to reply—well, kinda.

What seemed immediately clear to me was the fundamental disagreement I had with the authors concerning the institutional church as it relates to both its nature and function. It seemed hard at times to understand what the authors were actually trying to say the mission of the church was. In their establishing pages, the authors seemed to be issuing a corrective to two different perspectives. The first view is "the Reformation perspective," which defines a true church as one that rightly bears "the marks"—the Word rightly preached, the sacraments rightly administered, and church discipline rightly practiced. The second view promotes church as a "place where . . . members are viewed as customers for whom religious goods and services are produced" (28).

The authors insist that the problem with these two views is that "the church is seen as an institution that exists for the benefit of its members" (28). There’s only one problem with this: it does! To be sure, the church doesn’t only exist for this reason, but certainly a main objective of the church is, in fact, to benefit its members.

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Encourage One Another: Giving Grace with Your Words

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“Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Heb. 3:13)

Yesterday I received a kind note of encouragement from a friend. It was only about three sentences long but the Lord used it to stir some much-needed strength in my soul.

Receiving the note led me to open up my Bible and dig around to see what the Lord says to us about encouragement. As I read passage after passage, I was struck by how vital this expression of love is for God’s people. In one sense, encouragement is like oxygen in the life of a church. It keeps hearts beating, minds clear, and hands inspired to serve.

Because encouragement is so important to the church, God doesn’t merely recommend it; he explicitly commands it (1 Thess. 4:185:11Heb. 3:13).

WHY WE NEED ENCOURAGEMENT

God commanded that his people encourage each other because he knows we need it. In the Gospel of John, Jesus warned that “in this world you will have trouble,” which he then followed with a much needed encouragement: “But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

We live in a broken world where everything calls us toward selfishness and despair. Sin steals joy, our bodies break down, our plans falter, our dreams die, our resolves weaken, our perspective dims. We are promised suffering (1 Pet. 4:12), persecution (John 15:202 Tim. 3:12), and trials of various kinds (James 1:2-3).

When encouragement is absent from the life of a church people will feel unloved, unimportant, useless, and forgotten. God knows his people are in need of grace-filled reminders, so he calls us to encourage each other every day until his Son returns (Heb. 3:13).

WHAT IS ENCOURAGEMENT?

Biblical encouragement isn’t focused on complementing someone’s haircut or telling them how good their homemade salsa tastes. That kind of encouragement is important, but the encouragement the Scriptures refer to is explicitly Christian encouragement.

Encouragement is shared with the hopes that it will lift someone’s heart toward the Lord (Col. 4:8). It points out evidences of grace in another’s life to help them see that God is using them. It points a person to God’s promises that assures them that all they face is under his control.

The New Testament reveals that encouragement was a regular part of the early church’s life together (Acts 13:1516:4018:2720:1-227:36). They shared Scripture-saturated words with each other to spur one another on in faith (Acts 14:22), hope (Rom. 15:4), unity (Rom. 15:5Col. 2:2), joy (Acts 15:31), strength (Acts 15:32), fruitfulness (Heb. 10:24-25), faithfulness (1 Thess. 2:12), perseverance (Heb. 10:25), and the certainty of Christ’s return (1 Thess. 4:18).

Encouragement was and is an essential way of extending grace to each other.

HOW DO I GROW IN BEING AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO OTHERS?

There isn’t only one “right way” to encourage each other, but here are a few ideas to help you get started.

  1. Pray for God to make you an encourager. Ask him to give you a heart that loves others and creativity to know how to show it. Ask him to help you die to self-centeredness and grow in a desire to build others up. Because God delights in helping his people obey his commands, we can trust that his Spirit will teach us how to bless others for his glory and their spiritual good.
  2. Study Barnabas and ask God to make you like him. Barnabas was nicknamed the “son of encouragement” by the early church (Acts 4:36). He was the kind of guy you wanted to have around as you were serving the Lord. He wasn’t just a spiritual cheerleader, but he was a man of great conviction who wanted to see the church flourish and did all he could to make it happen. Ask God to give you and your church a heart like Barnabas.
  3. Make encouragement a daily discipline. For some of us encouragement comes naturally, for others, not so much. I have a reminder in my calendar each day to send someone an encouraging note, email, text, or phone call. I need this reminder to pause, pray, and then intentionally try to spur someone on in Christ.
  4. Pray for God to show you who to encourage. Ask God to bring someone to mind that you should reach out to. One way to do this is by praying through your church’s membership directory. Check out this article to learn more about that.
  5. Use Scripture if you’re able. Nothing encourages us like promises from God’s Word. Make a list of Scriptures that God has used to bless you personally or an excerpt from something you read in your daily devotional. Mine the Psalms, Romans 8, and the Gospels. Find and share riches of God’s grace with others.
  6. Be specific in what you say. The note I received from my friend included two very specific ways he had seen evidences of grace in my life. When I read them, I was humbled and reminded of the fact that God does actually work in and though me. I needed that.
  7. Regularly encourage your pastor. If your pastor says something that God uses, tell him about it. Don’t expect him to write you back, but just send a few lines in a card or an email. Nothing encourages a pastor like hearing specific ways God used a sermon or counseling session to work in your life.
  8. Pray that God would create a culture of encouragement in your church. Ask God to make your church a community that loves each other in specific, tangible ways like encouragement. Ask God to use you to help fan that flame. Don’t get discouraged if people don’t return your encouragement (Matt. 6:3-4Eph. 6:3-8) or if you don’t see fruit from it (Gal. 6:9-10). Creating a church culture that glorifies God takes a long time, lots of prayer, and abundant grace. I encourage you to keep at it.
  9. Be wise. If you want to encourage someone of the opposite sex, use discernment in how best to do it. If I’m going to encourage a single sister in the congregation, I will tell my wife and copy her on the email. If I were encouraging a married sister, I would again tell my wife and copy her and the husband of the person I’m encouraging. You can also use that as an opportunity to encourage both the husband and wife.
  10. Get started. Who can you encourage right now? Who has blessed you recently that you can thank? What verse can you share with them? How might God use it?

May the Lord do more than we can imagine through just a little encouragement (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Garrett Kell is the lead pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia

Editor's note: This article originally appeared on Garrett's personal site, "All Things for Good."

Book Review: The Rise of the Nones, by James Emery White

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Let's begin with a boring statistic: 8.1 percent. According to an American Religious Identification survey, that's roughly how many Americans in 1990 were willing to identify themselves as having "no religious identification." Fast-forward eighteen years to 2008 and that same ARIS study number becomes 15 percent. Give it four more years in the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life's 2012 study it becomes 19.3 percent.  That's one in five Americans. In other words, in a space of about 20 years, the number of Americans willing to claim no religious identity has doubled and there is no indication that trend is slowing down. This is the fastest-growing religious demographic in America. The statistics aren't as boring anymore, now are they?

Apparently, "Nones" are on the rise. As the body commissioned to preach the gospel to and disciple all nations, the question becomes, "What is the church going to do about it?"

In The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated James Emery White steps in to provide an answer, or rather, a vision for the American church to reach those Nones with the gospel of Christ. As the former president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and the founding pastor of Mecklenberg Community Church—one of the fastest growing churches in the nation—he seems particularly qualified for the task.

With a clear, engaging style, vivid illustrations, biblical roots, and a proper sense of history, White lays out a clear path for churches to make the changes necessary to deal with the shifting religious sands. The book breaks down into two parts. In the first, White tells us who the Nones are, and in the second, he lays out a plan to reach them.

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Definitions: Gospel and Persuade

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In evangelism, we have a very specific bull’s-eye to our aim: we want to persuade people to become followers of Jesus. We want them to convert.

But Paul says we persuade others to follow Jesus (2 Cor. 5:11). I find the word persuade helpful, as it guards us from error: we persuade, but we do not manipulate; we persuade, but we are not the ones who bring about repentance or conversion. Of course, we long to see people converted because we understand that conversion is required for them to become Christians. But true conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Conversion is the point of Christian faith that is most often misunderstood. It’s also a word that’s not particularly in favor with the modern world. No surprise. It was confusing when Jesus taught it to a religious leader of his day (John 3), and it is confusing to Christians and non-Christians today. So it’s good to spend some time explaining it.

In the Muslim context where I live, many people from other faith backgrounds find it disorienting to hear me preach that no one is born a Christian, that all Christians are converts. Even those from Christian backgrounds are confused about conversion, because many come from traditions that emphasize that a person is a Christian because of external reasons. But the Bible clearly teaches that conversion is not a function of your parents’ religion, of which church you join, or of what your passport says. It’s not based on your academic achievements, even if they are from a religious institution. Conversion comes from true, conscious, genuine faith in Jesus.

But just as we cannot produce conversion, neither can we produce genuine faith. This also is the Holy Spirit’s territory.

Of course, when we teach the gospel with the aim to persuade we must know the gospel well enough to be able to teach it. When we share our faith, we center on the message that leads to salvation. It’s important to note that when the Bible uses the word gospel, in the Old Testament as well as the New, it always does so in relationship to salvation.

Here’s a good working definition:

The gospel is the joyful message from God that leads us to salvation.

This is another definition that appears to be underwhelming because we must ask, “What, then, is the message of salvation?”

The gospel message answers four big questions: Who is God? Why are we in such a mess? What did Christ do? And how can we get back to God? There are no more important questions to deal with in the world, and the answers are summarized in this outline: God, Man, Christ, Response (see the appendix for various Scripture passages that support this outline):

God is our Creator. He is loving, holy, and just. One day he will execute perfect justice against all sin.

People are made in the image of God. We are beautiful and amazing creatures with dignity, worth, and value. But through our willful, sinful rebellion against God, we have turned from being his children to his enemies. Still, all people have the capacity to be in a restored loving relationship with the living God.

Christ is the Son of God, whose sinless life gave him the ability to become the perfect sacrifice. Through his death on the cross, he ransomed sinful people. Christ’s death paid for the sins of all who come to him in faith. Christ’s resurrection from the dead is the ultimate vindication of the truth of these claims.

The response God requires from us is to acknowledge our sin, repent, and believe in Christ. So we turn from sin, especially the sin of unbelief, and turn to God in faith, with the understanding that we will follow him the rest of our days.

Another way to tell the same story is in an outline of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. There are many other good summaries of the gospel. The particular outline you use doesn’t matter as long as you teach the message people must know to be reconciled with God.

The hope in evangelism is that we so steep ourselves in gospel truth and gospel living, and so apply ourselves to gospel study, that the gospel can’t help but come out of us.

 

Mack Stiles lives in Dubai with his wife Leeann. He serves as an elder of Redeemer Church of Dubai and as the General Secretary of the IFES (parachurch) movement in the United Arab Emirates. He is also the author of a number of books on evangelism, including Marks of the Messenger: Knowing, Living and Speaking the Gospel (IVP, 2010).

Editor's note: This article is a lightly adapted excerpt from Mack's most recent book from the Building Healthy Churches series: Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus (Crossway, 2013). It's the second of four excerpts. (The first, "How Should We Define Evangelism?", can be found here.)

College Students and Church Membership

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Should college students join a local church by campus if they have a church membership “back home”?

This question is often asked of me in reference to Christian students who are coming to college and have a church membership “back home.” Here are some things to consider that may help to answer the question.

FIVE THINGS TO CONSIDER
 
Church membership should not be kept out of sentimental value.
 
At the church where I serve as an elder, we all sign a church covenant before joining. One of the things we agree to when we join the church is this: “We will, when we move from this place, as soon as possible, unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word.” 
 
Church membership is meant to be meaningful.
 
A church gathers together, worships together, serves together, sits under God’s Word together. In other words, the local church follows Jesus together. Our church would not be doing anyone a favor to keep their church membership in our local church if they move away. How could they “do church” with us and carry out the commands of the Bible with us if they aren’t regularly with us? A college student shouldn’t keep their church membership “back home” simply because it’s a nice reminder of where they came from.
 
Where do you regularly gather?
 
At the very core of being a part of a church is regularly gathering together to worship God. That’s what churches are—assemblies that regularly meet together. If you have a church membership back home and are now at a college campus, you need to consider where you are going to be on Sundays. If you moved from California to go to school in Washington D. C., it’s pretty clear you won’t be flying back each Sunday for church. Hebrews 10:25, points to the necessity of regularly meeting together in the local church. In other words, your membership should be with the church you regularly attend.  
 
Who is best positioned to keep watch over your soul?
 

It’s difficult for a Christian to keep the commands of Hebrews 13:17—“obey your leaders and submit to them”—if you move away. Put simply, how can leaders/pastors “keep watch over your soul” and “give an account” for someone who is no longer there? Bless your now-former leaders; bless those who have to give account by placing your membership at the church best positioned to shepherd you and keep watch over your soul.

College students should not be thought of as a "special case."

Though college years are a unique season of life, college students shouldn’t think of themselves or be encouraged to think of themselves as some kind of special case. Though a student’s time at college is limited, four years is more than long enough to plug into a local church. Living somewhere temporarily doesn’t negate the call to be in the fellowship of the local church. Rather than being viewed as special, college students should be viewed as normal and, thus, should be encouraged to do what Christians “normally” do: join a local church.  

A WORD TO PASTORS
 
You would do well to encourage your high school students and their parents to think through their church membership before they move off to college. Counsel them during their college selection process and campus visits to consider the presence of healthy churches in proximity to the campus. Help them think through visiting churches and making the decision of where to land. You certainly won’t be doing them or yourself any favor if you are attempting to keep watch over the soul of someone who isn’t regularly gathering with you. I realize that there may be some exceptions, but I generally would recommend you encourage them to join a local church by their campus. If they move “back home” after graduating college, they can resign their membership at their local church by the campus and join your church again, if they so choose. It is a great service to students to help them think through setting themselves up to live their college years in the fellowship of the local church.
 

Dave Russell lives in Washington, DC where he serves as the Director for Campus Outreach DC and an Assistant Pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. After 15 years of serving in college ministry, Dave is transitioning to plant a church in Charlotte, NC that will launch in 2015. You can follow him on Twitter at @DRussinDC.

Book Review: The Twilight of the American Enlightenment, by George Marsden

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In The Twilight of the American Enlightenment, George Marsden offers us a window into a lost world and, to some extent, the story of how that world was lost.

These days, we have heavily-scripted quasi-reality shows on every major network most nights of the week: from WWE Raw to The Bachelor to whatever number Big Brother is up to this season. Pretty much everyone knows these shows are rigged, and pretty much no one cares. It’s tough to imagine a world where rumors that the contestants of The $64,000 Question were prepped for their answers sparked a congressional investigation and set scandalized elites bewailing "how deeply corruption had struck into the heart of the culture" (5).

It's not any easier to imagine a world where these same intellectuals foresaw doom in the "predictable moralistic plots" of The Rifleman and the mindlessness of sitcoms like Leave It to Beaver. What would these men say of The Walking Dead, or any particular iteration of CSI?

Marsden’s book is about American thought and culture in the 1950s, especially how an influential group of public intellectuals looked, from that time and place, toward the future of American civilization.  These intellectuals were spread throughout the academy, the print media, the government, and even the church—men like Walter Lippman, Henry Luce, Arthur Schlesinger, and Reinhold Niebuhr.

As Marsden frames it, the burning question these men faced was this: "If what passed for culture in America was increasingly to be dominated by TV, then what hope was there to cultivate the higher ideals necessary for the survival of Western civilization?" (6). If the masses lose interest in those "higher ideals," if all they want is to be entertained and to buy whatever they're told is in fashion, how will they resist the rise of Soviet-like totalitarian authority?

That intellectual elites should criticize the ad-driven, consumption-oriented vacuity of American popular culture is not foreign to our 21st century context. But today, members of this class often speak with the frustration and condescension of an outsider. In other words, they’re describing problems of other people. By contrast, Marsden's subjects were the consummate insiders. They were at the power centers of American society and they knew it. These men were driven not by frustration but by anxiety—anxiety born of identification, ownership, responsibility. They believed the future course of American culture was theirs to guide, and they saw that what they loved was drifting away.

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The Drama of Preaching

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Have you every stopped to think, what  are we demonstrating when we preach? As we stand before our congregations and expound God’s Word, what are we expressing or dramatizing? As preachers deliver shorter sermons or even replace the sermon with a dialogue, what are we saying theologically?
 
In this space I want to say something about the theological significance of preaching. I will not deal with questions of how to preach or even of the content of the sermon. Instead, I want to look at the act of preaching and work out what we are signifying when we preach the Word of God to God’s people. 
 
In short, preaching is a visual demonstration of God ruling his church. The very nature of preaching (monologue, authoritative, speech) is a public demonstration of God ruling (teaching, correcting, rebuking, encouraging, training) over his people (God is saving a people, not simply individuals). 
 
THE MONOLOGUE CONTROVERSY
 
Before going on to explain why I believe this about the act of preaching, I’d like to chew on the monologue versus dialogue issue for a moment. As many of you know, and even experienced, among some Christian circles preaching-as-monologue is being replaced with preaching-as-dialogue. 
 
Why? Without boring people with detail, let me outline the argument as I understand it. It is thought that preaching belongs to a modernist worldview, a perception of reality which promoted intellectualism and absolutism (which are apparently inherently bad). Dialogue, on the other hand, reflects a post-modern epistemology, acknowledging that no single person has a monopoly on God. Dialogue encourages participation and an appreciation for a liquorish assortment of viewpoints. Dialogue gives the impression that we are all valued, each of us brings to the table a distinct understanding of God, and that as we toss them around we can come closer to discovering divine truth—kind of like the fried rice I make at home, all the ingredients are chosen randomly and it usually tastes like the grey water filling up in the shower’s bucket.
 
I am not denigrating Christians talking together about God. It is every pastor’s dream to see his church enthusiastic for speaking about God. After all, the Bible affirms dialogue; Paul speaks about Christians admonishing one another with the word of God in song (Col. 3:16). Not only are mid-week Growth Groups an example of dialogue, but church itself ought to include dialogue. When we sing we are singing to one another, as much as we are singing to God. Church also ought to involve a time when we share together words of testimony, encouragement, etc. Yet in all these instances of dialogue, it is only legitimate "God-speech" so long as it conveys the truth of God in the Word of God. But even then, it should not replace the sermon. 
 
The issue is not dialogue, but dialogue in the place of preaching. We need to understand what is driving some peoples’ preference for dialogue. Dialogue is code for a theological concept: divine conversation. Divine conversation says God has not spoken authoritatively, sufficiently, and finally in his Word. Rather, God invites us to converse with him and each other. Thus, God speaks in the Bible, but he speaks in many other ways and places, and the meaning of any given text is not fixed but dependent upon the community of believers who interpret it. 
 
Replacing the sermon in church with dialogue is dangerous because it denies that God has spoken definitively in his Word (Heb. 1:1-4 and 2 Tim. 3:16-17) and it potentially gives voice to views that should not be given credence in church. And, at the end of the day, it’s a farce. When we reject monologue in favor of dialogue we are not doing away with authority, we are simply giving it a facelift, providing an avenue for the "strong" figure in the dialogue to sway others of their set of assumptions about God by stealth. 
 
Here are three theological statements that the act of preaching demonstrates. These are either particular to preaching or more greatly emphasized in preaching, contra other word-ministries.
 
1. God rules.
 
Preaching demonstrates God’s authority in a public and visual way. As the congregation sits under the Word, as it is read and explained, they are recognizing God’s rule over them. God is teaching them. God is rebuking them. God is encouraging them. Like at Sinai when Moses read the law, or Ezra expounding the law to the returning exiles, or Timothy preaching at Ephesus, when we preach the Bible God is ruling his people. When we meet to hear the word of God, we are saying God rules us.
 
2. God is saving a people.
 
God rules all the time and everywhere, not just in the sermon at church. And of course, every time a Christian opens the Bible (whether individually or in a group) God is giving instruction. Yet, preaching is saying something theological that other word ministries cannot—that is, God rules over his church. God’s big purpose in the world is not to save individuals, but a people, his church.
 
When Christ’s people congregate together to hear the Word of God we are declaring to each other and to the world that we are his people and that we live under God’s rule. It is a magnificent picture. It is a mirror of heaven. It is an awesome testimony to our community. 
 
3. God matters.
 
Preachers are preaching shorter sermons: some because they are too busy shooting off emails to expend the time required to put together a decent sermon, others because our congregations believe God is more easily discovered in music than in the sermon, or because our congregations have the attention span of my 3-year-old son, or because they are already thinking about the footy game after church and the preacher doesn’t want to hold them up (especially because he’s going as well).
 
What are we asserting when we succumb to the trend of giving short sermons or leaving out a sermon altogether? I realize we live in the age of 30-second advertisements. There is a limit to how much our congregations can consume in one sitting, but we can educate them and train them to sit through longer sermons. I wonder, is a 15 minutes sermon sufficient to keep a Christian going and growing for the other 167 hours and 45 minutes of the week? As preachers we need to learn what our limitations are. I’ve been joking around with my church that Christians in the Bible sat through very long sermons, so why don’t we? I learned that I can’t preach for an hour without putting myself to sleep, and with my congregation nodding of 15 minutes earlier.
 
Know your limits, but work hard at improving and work hard at training your congregation to eat more from the Word of life. We need to expend more time studying the text, applying the text, and making it interesting. If you’re a boring preacher, don’t preach for longer, stop preaching—or at least find a mentor to help you. Let’s not forget the main job for pastors is to "preach the word." Don’t neglect it or replace it.
 
When the preacher stands before the congregation, faithfully, passionately, and clearly expounding the Word of God, we are saying to our congregations that God matters. There is no activity of greater worth in the week than listening to the Bible. We are saying God’s Word is crucial for you to live this week. God knows what is best for us and we need to listen to him, now.
 
Murray Campbell is Lead Pastor of Mentone Baptist Church in Melbourne, Australia.
 
Editor's note: This is a newer version of an article originally published at Christianity Today.

Book Review: Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, by Don Whitney

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Gratefully, Don Whitney’s new edition of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life has removed all references to sermon tapes and subscription services. I confess it led to a little bit of snickering and apologizing to the college students I work with. But if that’s all that we think about when we see that Spiritual Disciplines has been updated and revised, we will miss a re-wrapped gift for the church.

MOST NOTABLE IMPROVEMENTS

Perhaps one of the greatest improvements Whitney provides in this second edition is a proper understanding of how believers ought to pursue spiritual disciplines in relation to their acceptance before the Lord. Indeed, he wisely states, “It’s crucial—crucial—to understand that it’s not our pursuit of holiness that qualifies us to see the Lord. Rather, we are qualified to see the Lord by the Lord, not the by good things we do” (3, emphasis original). From the beginning of his book, Whitney rightly and wisely situates spiritual disciplines in the context of the gospel. Since Christians are loved by the Father through the work of Christ and empowered by the Spirit, they now have the freedom and ability to grow in holiness. Later, Whitney teaches, “The presence of the Holy Spirit causes all those in whom he resides to have new holy hungers they didn’t have before” (ibid., emph. orig.).

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How Should We Define Evangelism?

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I don’t think Christian people set out to write books on evangelism based on unbiblical principles. But it happens. It happens because there are wrong ideas about the critical components of evangelism. Usually, these wrong ideas are based on marketing principles or on human understandings about how to argue someone into the kingdom. It has more to do with results and effect, which is the realm of the Holy Spirit, rather than faithfulness in proclaiming the truth, which is our job description.  If we don’t have biblical evangelism nailed down, we tend spend much time doing things we call evangelism, but may not be evangelism at all.

For example, a housewife meeting with a friend over coffee may be evangelizing, while a brilliant Christian apologist speaking to thousands in a church sanctuary may not be. Few see it this way, but that’s because we have false understandings of what evangelism is. Defending the faith is a fine thing to do, but it is easy to give apologetics for Christianity without explaining the gospel—and we cannot evangelize without the gospel.

We need to know what we’re talking about when we say “evangelism,” “conversion,” or even “gospel.” Those words raise different definitions in people’s minds and often come with question marks. If Christians don’t understand these basic concepts, we will quickly spin out of biblical orbit.   So, we define evangelism in a biblical way to help align our evangelistic practice with the Scriptures. Here’s a definition that has served me well for many years:

Evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.

Sort of dinky, huh? I bet most people would expect much more from such an important theological word. But this definition, small as it is, offers a far better balance in which to weigh our evangelistic practice than looking at how many people have responded to an appeal.

Here is how the Amplified Bible might have expanded my definition:

Evangelism is teaching (heralding, proclaiming, preaching) the gospel (the message from God that leads us to salvation) with the aim (hope, desire, goal) to persuade (convince, convert).

Notice the definition doesn’t require an immediate outward response. Walking an aisle, raising a hand, or even praying a prayer may tell us that evangelism has happened, but such actions are not what evangelism is. Notice, too, that if any of the four components (Teaching, Gospel, Aim, or Persuade) are missing, we are probably doing something other than evangelism.  Let’s look at two of these: teaching and aim.  We’ll spend time on gospel and persuade in the next post.

Teaching

Many of us think of preaching when we think of evangelism, as we should. I, for one, want any sermon I give to contain the gospel. Certainly Paul did his share of evangelistic preaching. But often when Paul describes his ministry, he says it is a teaching ministry (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11). J. I. Packer, in his survey of Paul’s evangelistic practice, says that Paul’s method of evangelism was primarily a teaching method.1

This is good news for those of us who don’t get to preach every Sunday. Not all of us can be preachers, but we can all teach the gospel as opportunity comes. I often wonder whether more people come to faith over lunch when someone asks, “What did you think about the sermon today?” than during the sermon itself. Great things happen when we can teach the gospel.

Aim

An “aim to persuade” also reminds us that people need more than a data transfer. Some who think of evangelism as only teaching do a good job of explaining, expanding, and answering questions, as we all should. All Christians should apply themselves to think through reasons for the hope we have in Christ, reasons that sweep aside the objections and questions. But as we set out the facts of the gospel, remembering evangelism’s aim helps us to be compassionate, understanding, and loving (1 Pet. 3:15).

Having an aim helps us keep perspective on what we’re doing. It steers us toward an end. Our aim helps us remember that much is at stake: to see people moved from darkness to light, from bondage to freedom. Aiming for something bigger helps us know which fights to pick and which to avoid.

 

Mack Stiles lives in Dubai with his wife Leeann. He serves as an elder of Redeemer Church of Dubai and as the General Secretary of the IFES (parachurch) movement in the United Arab Emirates. He is also the author of a number of books on evangelism, including Marks of the Messenger: Knowing, Living and Speaking the Gospel (IVP, 2010).

Editor's note: This article is a lightly adapted excerpt from Mack's most recent book from the Building Healthy Churches series: Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus (Crossway, 2013). It's the first of four excerpts. (The second, "Defintions: Gospel and Persuade," can be found here.)