If you're within striking distance of Cedarville, Ohio, don't miss the upcoming 9Marks at Cedarville conference!
Where: Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio
When: October 29-30, 2013
Topic: A biblical understanding of the gospel
- Garrett Kell, Senior Pastor, Del Ray Baptist Church, Alexandria, VA
- Greg Gilbert, Senior Pastor, Third Avenue Baptist Church, Louisville, KY
- Mike McKinley, Senior Pastor, Sterling Park Baptist Church in Sterling, VA
- Danny Akin, President of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
- Jason Lee, Dean of the Cedarville University School of Biblical and Ministry Studies
More Information: click here.
I recently returned from sabbatical. My church totally relieved me of duty for the months of June and July. I was banned from Sunday services at our church and was kept in the dark about pastoral issues they faced during this two-month period.
Leading up to this time, I sought counsel from many pastors who had been given similar time off. I was struck by how many shared of different regrets once their time was done. So I tried to use my Sabbatical in the most fruitful way possible. Here are a few lessons I learned.
1. Delight in your wife. Have plenty of date nights. Care for her. Study her. Learn from her. Laugh with her. Enjoy her. Reflect on your years of ministry together. Realize she needs this time as much as you do. Resolve to make it a great benefit to her soul. Seize time to delight in her while the busyness that often cuts into your time together is temporarily relieved.
2. Enjoy your kids. I have never before had such an extended period where I can focus on time with my kids. I needed to make sure they were not only a primary focus, but that my heart was taking in this time with them and truly enjoying them. Many pastors expressed regret to me on this front. So we spent time at the pool, parks, out of town a bit, reading, wrestling, laughing, riding bikes, and whatever else they wanted to do.
3. Be intentional with spiritual disciplines. I committed to have times of reading God’s Word that were long and covered large portions of text. I usually spend most of my time “staring at the trees” for sermon preparation; for this break I allowed “the forest” to feed my soul.
I also had intentional times of silence and prayer for the sake of my own soul, asking God for guidance on a vision for our church for the next ten years, as I’ve just finished up my first ten as pastor. Additionally, I renewed a helpful discipline I’ve neglected: journaling. Embrace the basic spiritual disciplines we exhort our people to engage in that we can often let slide in our own lives.
4. Be consistent with physical disciplines. Commit to sleeping eight hours a night. Try to renew regular exercise—for me, this meant a three to four day a week workout plan. And resolve to eat well. If you do none of these well in your normal grind, a sabbatical can be a great time to recommit to stewarding your body and energy well. I lost ten pounds on my sabbatical and was reminded how much sleep I actually need to be at my best to serve the Lord. Do not underestimate how poorly you care for your body during the grind of ministry.
5. Be mentored by a faithful dead pastor. Dead pastors from different moments in history can teach us about pastoral ministry in ways modern pastors cannot. I chose the great 18th century English Particular Baptist Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) to mentor me during this time via his writings. It was so encouraging! Pick one, then immerse yourself in his life and ministry and allow him to teach you.
6. Learn about preaching from a faithful living pastor. I chose Ted Donnelly, who pastored in Northern Ireland for over 35 years until his health recently declined. He is known in Britain as one of the most gifted, Spirit-filled preachers in the last half century. I listened to his sermons and learned much. God also fed my soul through his Word in the process. Choose someone you don’t know very well but would be a helpful instructor to push you to grow in your preaching.
7. Visit other churches. It can certainly be restful and encouraging to worship among your people with your regular pastoral duties relieved. But the inevitable conversations that will arise can make a Sabbatical less of a break if you spend Sundays in your own church. So I made sure my responsibilities at church were covered so that I could worship at other churches for the entire sabbatical.
If you go to other solid churches where the Word is preached you will experience Christian fellowship. There is much to learn from other churches and pastors. You may experience something in their public gathering you then choose to bring back to your church. If you do not have many choices, pick a couple of solid churches during your sabbatical where you can simply attend, relax, and be fed while sitting with your family.
8. Put off the tasks you normally put on. A Sabbatical will not be truly restful if you hang on to what normally wears you down. This is why my fellow pastors banned me from writing a book or preaching anywhere, both of which are a normal part of my ministry. Although many take sabbatical time to write—which is fine for some—my fellow pastors were right to forbid me from doing so. Make sure you are honest with yourself about the things that wear on you. And make sure set them down for this time, even if they are things you love to do.
9. Play golf. Golf is relaxing yet humbling for most of us. There are layers of reasons this is good for your soul. I shot some of my best rounds of golf in years during my Sabbatical and beat my very competitive father for the first time in my life. Clearly, the favor of the Lord was upon me. If not golf, find some other relaxing, humbling way to have fun that’s tough to fit into your regular grind.
10. Truly rest. I typically don’t rest well. But I realized through others’ counsel that if I came to the end of my time off and my wife and I did not feel refreshed and rested, we would have defeated the purpose of this gift from our church and squandered this opportunity. Whatever will help you rest from the rat race of your regular labors and refresh your soul is what you should do.
If you are planning for an upcoming sabbatical, I hope this begins a helpful conversation between you and your fellow pastors about what would be the best way for you to benefit from this gift. Be intentional. Involve others in your church to help determine the best way for you to spend your time. Listen to your wife’s input. And pray God would grant you to rest well and wisely, so that fond memories vastly outweigh regrets when you return to the normal routine of ministry.
Brian Croft is the senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky and the founder of Practical Shepherding. Along with his wife Cara, he is the author of The Pastor’s Family: Shepherding Your Family through the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Zondervan, 2013).
Flip to just about any TV channel with religious programming and you are likely to encounter the prosperity gospel. From Joel Osteen’s perma-smile to T. D. Jakes’s mopped brow, from Jan Crouch’s bouffant cotton-candy hairdo to Benny Hinn’s Nehru jackets, America’s electronic preachers tell us there is a God of inexhaustible abundance ready to bless us with our own personal miracle. Whether our troubles are financial, physical, or emotional, God will change our fortunes if we will just pray in faith for the desired outcome, proclaim it ours, and then act on the certainty of its arrival in our lives.
Of course, it helps to sow seeds if you want to reap a harvest, so a gift given to the ministry is a tangible sign of our faith that God will do as we say. And the bigger the gift, the larger the faith. Lest we doubt this simple spiritual formula, we need only look at the extravagant lifestyles with which the good Lord has blessed prosperity preachers. It’s all so straightforward and appealing, as American as mama’s apple pie and a 30-year mortgage. Evidently, we can’t get enough of the stuff.
THE ORIGINS AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL
In a thoughtful and engaging work, Kate Bowler unravels the origins and development of the prosperity gospel into a multi-billion dollar industry. Although there are several varieties of prosperity gospels with subtly different animating convictions and practices, Bowler sensibly lumps them together as birds of a feather, a range of species in the same genus. “Word of Faith,” “Positive Confession,” “Health and Wealth,” and so forth, they all share a bedrock conviction that God chooses to bless his children with material prosperity in body, mind, and brokerage account, awaiting only our willingness to get on board.
Click here to continue reading.
We asked four churches to tell us how they equip their people to evangelize. Here are their responses. Answers from University Reformed Church, Sterling Park Baptist Church, the Village Church, and the Church at Brook Hills.
Ben Falconer, University Reformed Church, East Lansing, Michigan
If we’re going to evangelize faithfully, we need to talk, pray, and be challenged about it. With that in mind, at University Reformed Church we attempt to keep evangelism at the forefront of our ministry as much as possible.
The foundation is laid with regular admonition and encouragement from the preached Word on Sundays. As often as the text gives us opportunity to trumpet our responsibility to be heralds of the good news, we take it. Evangelism and praying for the lost are repeated applications that we as pastors make from the text.
Another way we teach on evangelism is by including it in our new members class. We want those interested in the church to hear right from the beginning that the Scriptures expect believers to share their faith. We take class time to walk through a gospel tract that our senior pastor Kevin DeYoung and the staff developed a number of years ago. Then we give each new member time to practice sharing with a partner.
A third way we have sought to equip the congregation in evangelism is by making it our theme for a given year. We have identified four basic disciplines of the Christian faith (prayer, Bible study, missions, and personal evangelism) and we aim to focus particularly on one each year. For each theme, we offer specific training, have a corresponding sermon series, and provide other opportunities for practice or accountability. When we focused on evangelism a few years back, we also had the entire church read through Mark Dever’s book The Gospel and Personal Evangelism and discussed it in our small groups.
Ben Falconer is associate pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan.
Mike McKinley, Sterling Park Baptist Church, Sterling, Virginia
At Sterling Park Baptist Church we offer training to our people on how to share the gospel with the hurting and needy. Our mercy ministry and outreach to “at-risk” youth generate a lot of gospel opportunities, but we realized pretty quickly that most of our members weren’t naturally comfortable interacting with and sharing Christ with people who seemed so different.
We try to train our people to listen and ask good questions so that they can identify how this person understands what has gone wrong in their life and what they think will fix it—that is, their version of the Fall and Redemption. Once our member understands how that person understands their “story,” they can share the true story of Christ with them: their real problem is that they are enemies of God, but the good news is that God has made a marvelous salvation available through Christ.
We also have about 30 minutes set aside in our Sunday evening service to pray for evangelistic opportunities that have come up in the previous week, or that we hope will come up in the following week. Members share about conversations that they’ve had or plans they’ve made to share Christ with people in their lives, and then we ask God to give more opportunities to us and bear more fruit through us. This helps make evangelism seem like a normal part of the Christian life, rather than something done by the professionals. It also drives home the point that evangelism begins with prayer.
Mike McKinley is the senior pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in Sterling, Virginia, and is the author, most recently, of The Devil Made Me Do It (Good Book Company, 2013).
Josh Patterson, The Village Church, Flower Mound, Texas
At The Village Church, we try to equip our people to fulfill the Great Commission in three ways: we model it, preach and teach it, and celebrate it.
First, the church leaders model evangelism. We are not asking our people to be involved in something that we ourselves are not doing. The pastors and elders are sharing Christ with their neighbors, friends, and family members.
Second, the pastors preach it and teach it. The preaching of the Word stands as a constant reminder of God’s call for his church to be his ambassadors in the world as he makes his appeal through us. Also, we teach evangelism in a variety of contexts. A primary equipping venue for us is our home group groups. Here we have a “multiplication guide” that walks a home group through six-month evangelism training course.
Finally, we celebrate it. What is celebrated is cultivated. And a culture of evangelism is stronger than any evangelistic program. We celebrate evangelism through stories of conversion and faithful members who bear witness to Christ. Four times a year we have “Celebration Weekends” where the bulk of the worship gathering centers around the proclamation of the gospel through baptism. At The Village, we ask those who were integral in the conversion of the individual being baptized to perform the baptism. In other words, our members baptize those they lead to Christ.
Our desire to celebrate, teach and preach, and model evangelism serves to reinforce this biblical call that for disciples of Jesus, evangelism should be normal.
Josh Patterson serves as Lead Pastor for Ministry Leadership at the Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas.
J.D. Payne, The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, Alabama
At Brook Hills, we recognize that the best evangelism equipping strategy is multifaceted. This requires:
- regular biblical teaching that provides a Great Commission foundation;
- ongoing exhortation to share the gospel in Birmingham, across North America, and throughout the world;
- personal examples set by the leaders of the church;
- and regular, practical equipping in the area of personal evangelism.
While we spend a great deal of time in multiple venues talking about sharing the gospel, we know it is not enough to just talk about evangelism. All of our elders are required to develop and submit an annual personal disciple-making strategy, and all of our members are encouraged to do the same. This past year, two of our pastors preached a several-week series on personal evangelism. At least twice a year, we offer a six-week personal evangelism training, with plans to offer it three times per year starting in 2014. I also do a weekly 5-10 minute vodcast called “Multiplication Matters,” addressing issues related to evangelism.
J. D. Payne is Pastor of Church Multiplication at The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, Alabama
I am grateful for Trevin Wax’s blog post “I Weep for Miley.” And I want to tell you why: it joins a genre of Christian literature that is rare but appropriate—the cultural lamentation.
There is plenty of Christian writing (and teaching) in which the writer (or teacher) laments his or her own failings. And there is lots of cultural criticism to be found on any given day in the Christian precincts of the twitterverse or blogosphere. All this can be done well or poorly.
But what makes the lamentation distinct as a form of criticism is that it more obviously exposes the writer's heart posture to be one of love. The writer hurts, mourns, even weeps because a person or a people whom the writer loves are destroying themselves with folly and sin. Beholding such sin, the writer cannot help but say, “Oh, please, no, don’t! God, help! Friends, why would you…”
America is not the new Israel, nor is any other nation to be equated with the people of God. But I think there is a place for the Christian citizens of a nation to behold the self-destructive forces of sin at work in their nation and then to weep, just as one might weep for a non-Christian parent. Our nations—at least the better ones—have reared, protected, and provided for us in our growth into adulthood (see Acts 17:26-27). We are rightly affectionate for them.
These are the people who came to our birthday party at age 7, and played on our soccer team at age 11, and showed up with us for freshman orientation at college, and sat in the cubicle next to us in the office. They have built our streets and watched our borders. These are our friends and guardians.
So there should be something inside of every Christian that mourns for these friends when we see them hurting themselves by rejecting Christ and believing the lies that lead to death.
“Ah, a people loaded with guilt,” the Old Testament prophets would say.
And David: “I weep because your laws are not kept.”
Jesus, too: “Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I long to gather you as a mother gathers her chicks.”
Yes, the unteachable and the self-righteous will always reject our lamentations because a lamentation involves moral evaluation, and moral evaluation defiles the temple of the sacred self.
Yet everyone laments something. Even that most holy priest of the sacred self, Walt Whitman, offers a wonderful specimen of the genre in his poem, “I Sit and Look Out”:
I sit and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon all oppression and shame;
I hear secret convulsive sobs from young men, at anguish with themselves, remorseful after deeds done;
I see, in low life, the mother misused by her children, dying, neglected, gaunt, desperate;
I see the wife misused by her husband—I see the treacherous seducer of young women;
I mark the ranklings of jealousy and unrequited love, attempted to be hid—I see these sights on the earth;
I see the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny—I see martyrs and prisoners;
I observe a famine at sea—I observe the sailors casting lots who shall be kill’d, to preserve the lives of the rest;
I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons upon laborers, the poor, and upon negroes, and the like;
All these—All the meanness and agony without end, I sitting, look out upon,
See, hear, and am silent.
In certain respects, Whitman’s conclusion is appropriate. Meanness and agony should leave us dumbfounded. In other respects, the Christian knows that God alone is the one before whom we are utterly silent, and that we do have something to say in the face of evils committed or endured:
Oh, my fellow citizens, look to Christ!
Look to him for healing from your woe,
and for pardon from your guilt!
How my heart aches because you will not look but choose death!
We just released a new interview with Russell Moore on religious liberty and ethics. In it, Dever and Moore discusses Moore's new role, rap, relevance, and why "it's even worse than it appears, but it's alright."
Yes, that is a Grateful Dead quotation. A 9Marks first, if I'm not mistaken. What more reason do you need to listen?
InterVarsity’s “New World Gospel Presentation” is an evangelism outline “designed to lead others to make a decision for Jesus Christ and join his mission to heal the world.” As of today there are training materials on their website, Vimeo and YouTube. Additionally, they have developed a free app (iOS and Android) to help illustrate the main points of the presentation during a gospel conversation.
ENGAGING THE “FOUR WORLDS”
The presentation is built on the premise that most people ache for a better world. The outline works through the paradigm of a world, using four worlds to communicate the biblical story. These four worlds are the four points for the conversation. Like many other presentations, they aim to frame redemptive history in their main points:
World 1: The world and all that’s in it was designed for good.
World 2: We—and the world—were damaged by evil.
World 3: Jesus came to restore the world and everything in it to what God intended.
World 4: Jesus invites us to join him and his community to heal the world.
InterVarsity ambitiously attempts to pull off the evangelistic version of a hat-trick with this presentation. They aim to listen to people’s stories (especially their scars and wounds), frame them within the context of the Bible’s story, and clearly communicate how Jesus answers their aches and pains. All of this they do while aiming to be faithful, winsome, compelling, clear, and understandable. Do they pull it off?
In communicating the first two worlds they do a fairly good job showing the divine design for creation and the problem we brought through human rebellion. “This better world really did exist,” they say, “and was designed for flourishing and intimacy with God. However, we rejected God, put ourselves in the place of God and as a result damaged the world.”
Yet here we see the good and the bad of contextualization. The good is seen in how they unpack words like idolatry with the helpful phrase “putting ourselves in the place of God.” The bad is in what they do not say. After all, why is it a problem that we put ourselves in God’s place? Is it bad simply because it wrecks our world or because it breaks his law, lies about his glory, and earns his just wrath? In an attempt to simplify the presentation many crucial questions go unanswered.
In world three we learn, that
Instead of leaving us in our brokenness God sends Jesus to be like us, to die on the cross and to rise from the dead. In this Jesus identifies with us, owns our judgment we deserve for damaging the world, and releases his power to restore the world for better.
Again, all of these statements are true but they are dangerously reductionistic. How does Jesus become like us? After all, we are the ones who messed everything up (see world 2). Did he contribute to this? Why did he have to die on the cross? How does this intersect with how I have “damaged” the world?
The fourth world is the invitation to join Jesus and his community in healing the world. In order to do this we must do three things:
(1) Identify with Jesus; believe that his death and resurrection broke the corruption in the world and in our hearts.
(2) Own our responsibility for the damage and the scarring in this world.
(3) Overcome by choosing to follow Jesus. Jesus does not leave us alone; he gives us himself, the Holy Spirit, and his people to go together and follow people.
These things are not untrue but they are, in my view, unclear. Following Jesus is reduced to becoming a conduit of healing. If we have not explained who God is, what sin is, and how the reconciliation is exclusively achieved through the cross of Christ, then we are not being totally forthright. At some point Christians have to agree that the gospel has irreducible components. These categories need to be developed and explained; they cannot be glossed over and certainly cannot be replaced with vague phrases like becoming “a conduit of healing.”
Another point that I found troubling in reviewing the material was the sheer lack of Bible. The videos I reviewed were curiously devoid of any mention of Scripture, even in passing. Yet the Bible should feature prominently in our evangelism. After all, it is the word of Christ that brings faith (Rom. 10:17).
What’s my bottom line?
I appreciate and even applaud the four worlds, the drawings, and the goal of listening to people’s stories in order to show how they fit within the big picture of God’s story. However, in setting out to do this, we must exercise great care about what we say, not just how we say it.
While it’s set in the Bible’s storyline, the New World Gospel Presentation is so user-friendly that it is simply not Christian enough. I would imagine that Roman Catholics and even Mormons could use this material within their doctrinal framework without violating their convictions. While helpful in some points, the New World Gospel Presentation simply lacks the main ingredients of the gospel. I would not recommend this program for use in your church.
 http://evangelism.intervarsity.org/how/gospel-outline/new-world-gospel-presentation; accessed 8/5/13.
Erik Raymond is the pastor of Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Nebraska.
Every Christian should know the gospel and be able to present it to others (1 Pet. 3:15). Now, our circumstances, personalities, and gifts will vary hugely. Nonetheless, if you are a follower of Jesus, you should know the central message of Christianity, and be able to articulate it faithfully and clearly. Two Ways to Live by Matthias Media is an excellent resource to help you do just that.
Two Ways to Live summarizes the message of Christianity in six steps, following the logic and storyline of the Bible.
- God, the loving ruler and creator. God made the world and made mankind to rule under him.
- Humanity in rebellion. This world is not the way it should be because all people have rebelled against God.
- God won’t let people keep on rebelling forever. God is good and will call all people to account. The punishment for our rebellion is death and judgment.
- Jesus, the Man who dies for rebels. Because of his love, God sent his Son Jesus Christ to offer his life on the cross, taking our punishment and bringing us forgiveness.
- Jesus, the risen ruler. God accepted Jesus’ death as full payment for our sins, and raised him from the dead to prove it. Jesus now reigns and will one day return to judge the world.
- The two ways to live. We can continue living our way, rejecting God’s rule and running life our way, or we can live in God’s new way, submitting to Christ and relying on his death and resurrection.
First, this is an excellent gospel presentation. Most importantly, it is faithful to Scripture. This is the good news of Jesus Christ, as foretold by the Old Testament and proclaimed by the New.
Second, it’s easy to remember. It is two points longer than the “God, Man, Christ, Response” outline that I’m most familiar with. But the additional points are simply an expansion on Man (points 2 and 3) and Christ (points 4 and 5). In a culture resistant to the idea of sin and judgment, it’s good to give a little more time to the reality and consequence of our rebellion. And given how easily we can treat the resurrection as an afterthought, it’s helpful to have a separate discussion of its significance, both in our salvation and in the coming judgment.
Third, as people are increasingly illiterate when it comes to the Bible, Two Ways to Live presents the gospel in language and ideas that are understandable. By talking about God as king, sin as rebellion, judgment as being cut off from God’s goodness and punished by God, repentance and faith as submitting and relying, Two Ways to Live presents the gospel without using too many Christian-y terms, but without watering it down either.
So the content of TWTL is faithful and useful. Even more useful, there are three categories of resources that go with it:
- Training Christians to share the gospel. Two Ways to Live: Know and Share the Gospel is a seven-week course (with a Leader’s Manual, Workbooks, and DVDs) designed to train Christians in sharing the gospel. What I appreciated about it is that it doesn’t just train students to give rote presentations, but to use it as a framework for presenting the gospel thoughtfully in various situations.
- Evangelistic resources to give away. Two Ways to Live booklets come in many varieties: for adults, for children, in digital formats (CD-ROM, iPhone app, web), and in various translations (Chinese, French, Japanese, Spanish). There is also a Two Ways to Live booklet in Bible study format that allows a seeker to open a Bible and walk through the presentation interactively. All these are excellent.
- Longer evangelistic Bible studies. The Essential Jesus presents the life of Jesus through the Gospel of Luke, and then explains it using Two Ways to Live. This would be great to give to someone who has never read the Bible before. There is also a longer children’s book, Gumtree Gully by Kel Richards, which presents Two Ways to Live as a children’s parable. Two Ways to Live is also simple enough so that any church could easily develop a 6-week study through it in order to train members in evangelism. (See, for example, Capitol Hill Baptist Church’s Two Ways to Live Core Seminar.)
In other words, there is no shortage of ways you can use this in your discipleship and your evangelism.
Bottom line? Use Two Ways to Live! We want to be prepared to give the reason for the hope that we have to anyone who asks. Two Ways To Live is a great place to start.
Geoff Chang is an associate pastor of Hinson Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon.
The Story is a gospel presentation tool designed by SpreadTruth.com. It is a popular tool for sharing the gospel; half a million people have viewed the gospel presentation online and The Story ESV Bible was published by Crossway in 2013. The Story can be accessed online (at http://viewthestory.com) through an app or via traditional printed tracts.
But is it any good? Well, leave it to us here at 9Marks to criticize the way other people share the gospel. I’ll discuss a few strengths and a few eyebrow-raising issues, then give a bottom line.
1. Biblical theology. The Story begins at creation and works its way through to the consummation of all things. This is a very good thing. The gospel is a message that comes to us with a context. The Story does a great job with that context.
2. Penal substitution. The Story gets the heart of the gospel right: on the cross Jesus bore our guilt and the wrath that our sin deserved. A lot of gospel presentations develop “alligator arms” at this point, so it’s nice to see that clearly presented.
1. Visuals. This is the least important quibble, but the pages of the online version of The Story switch back and forth between visual styles in a way that is distracting. Sometimes the colors and bright and the font is crisp, at other points it feels gothic and grim in a way that doesn’t aesthetically connect with what came before it. Just a small peeve, but it feels like a missed opportunity to create something that is visually arresting.
2. Soft-pedaling condemnation. The way The Story talks about the consequences of sin is less than the full truth. The ultimate consequence of sin, it says, is “eternal separation from a loving God, in terrible misery and unhappiness.” And it refers to hell as a “painful separation.” That’s just not good enough. The Bible teaches that sinners aren’t merely separated from God; they are under his wrath. I fear that by soft-pedaling condemnation, The Story’s presentation of the gospel sells God’s holiness short.
While I’m grateful that The Story gets the heart of the gospel right and frames the gospel in the biblical narrative, I won’t be switching over to use it. Instead, I’d recommend Jesus. Who, Why… So What? or Two Ways to Live. Both of those resources do a better job communicating the gospel with sharp edges intact.
Mike McKinley is the senior pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in Sterling, Virginia, and is the author, most recently, of The Devil Made Me Do It (Good Book Company, 2013).
Is evangelism an individual sport or a team sport? Really, it’s both.
Think of fishing. There are times you might saunter down to the dock by your lonesome, dangle your feet off the side, and cast in a line. But ask the men on an ocean trawler what it takes to haul a ton of wriggling mackerel out of writhing seawaters. They desperately need one another.
The fishing analogy does not say everything we would want to say about the relationship between evangelism and the local church, but it’s biblical, and it’s a start. Jesus told the disciples to follow him, that he would make them fishers of men, and then he sent them out two by two to preach that people should repent (Mark 1:17; 6:7, 13). Like fishermen on a trawler, we need the church to do the work of evangelism.
Yet there’s a bigger picture to see in relating evangelism and the church. Think of the first chapters of Acts, where the apostles proclaimed the resurrection, and behind them was the church, living together and sharing everything in common, “praising God and enjoying the favor of the people” (2:47; also 5:13). Somehow, the life of the church, sitting there as a backdrop to the proclamation of the gospel, served as a witness to the gospel. It caused many in Jerusalem to view the saints with favor, and it seemed to lead to more conversions.
Was it these early days in Jerusalem that Peter had in mind when he later described the church as a people, a priesthood, and a nation “that you may declare the praises of him” who called us out of darkness, and to live such good lives that pagans would see our good deeds “and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:9, 12)?
In both the early chapters of Acts and 1 Peter 2, one gets the feel of the church as a beehive, a buzzing ball of honey-making sweetness, swarming with the comings and going of busy worker bees. The hive is essential to the individual bee’s work, and part of the work. What might all this say about the relationship between evangelism and a church?
No analogy goes all the way and captures everything. Let’s see if we might sum up the relationship between the church and evangelism in the Bible in four systematic statements, and then ask what practical lessons follow for churches.
1. Evangelism Points to God, Not to the Church
If you were trying to convince someone to join your club, you would point to all the benefits of the club: the fun members have with one another, the annual table tennis tournament, and so forth. This is not how it works with evangelism and the church.
Evangelism points to God, not to the church. That’s the first statement.
Paul tells the Corinthians that Christ had given him (and them) a “ministry of reconciliation” and a “a message of reconciliation.” He (and they) were “Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” And this message of reconciliation is simple: “Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:18-21).
The evangelist’s good news is not, “Be reconciled to other people,” even though the good news will lead to being so reconciled. Rather, the evangelist’s good news is how a person can be reconciled to God. Everything else flows from this.
2. The Church is One Outcome of Evangelism
By the same token, the first hoped for outcome of evangelism is reconciliation with God. But there is a second hoped for outcome: reconciliation with the people of God, the church.
If your doctrine of conversion is missing the corporate element, it’s missing an essential piece of the whole. A covenant head must have a covenant people. Our corporate unity in Christ is not just an implication of conversion, it’s part of the very thing. Being reconciled to God’s people is distinct from but inseparable from being reconciled to God (see my “The Corporate Component of Conversion”).
All this is put on display wonderfully in Ephesians 2. Verses 1 to 10 explain forgiveness and our vertical reconciliation with God: “By grace you have been saved.” Verses 11 to 22 then present the horizontal: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (v. 14). Notice that the activity of verse 14 is in the past tense. Christ has already made Jew and Gentile one. It’s what they are because God has done it, and God did it in precisely the same place he accomplished the vertical reconciliation—in the cross of Christ (see also Eph. 4:1-6).
In short, we are saved into a people.
The early chapters of Acts demonstrate what this looks like in practice: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41; see also 2:47; 4:4; 6:7). People trust in Christ and are added to “the number” of the church in Jerusalem. They are counted. Their name gets added. If they had had cameras, a photo no doubt would have gone into the church directory!
The converted life is congregationally shaped. Christians belong in churches, and so this is where the evangelist will send people.
3. Evangelism is the Work of the Church
Third, evangelism is the work of the church. Once a person is reconciled to God and (therefore) to God’s people, he or she gains a new job: sharing the gospel with others. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” said Jesus (Mark 1:17; also, Matt. 28:19). Every Christian and church member, in other words, is charged with sharing the gospel (see Timothy Beougher, “Must Every Christian Evangelize?”).
The first chapters of Acts emphasize the preaching of the Apostles, but when persecution broke out in Jerusalem and the church scattered, “Those who had been scattered preached the gospel wherever they went” (Acts 8:4).
Local churches exist to worship God and share the good news of Jesus Christ. This is why the teachers teach and the members learn. In fact, Jesus gives the so-called evangelists, pastors, and teachers to the church to equip them to do ministry (Eph. 4:11f), a ministry that surely includes evangelism.
We work together to haul in the fish.
4. The Church Is an Apologetic in Evangelism
The life of a converted people, grouped together in congregations, should also commend the gospel that saved them. “Gospel doctrine,” Ray Ortlund has written, “creates a gospel culture.” And that culture, embodied in our churches, should be attractive to outsiders, at least to some (see 2 Cor. 2:15-16).
This brings us back to the picture of the church as a humming, honey-filled beehive. We see this in Acts and 1 Peter 2. We also see it in Matthew 5, when Jesus talks about the church being salt and light (vv. 13-16). And it’s remarkably pictured in John 13, where Jesus observes, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (vv. 34-35).
Our good deeds toward outsiders and our love for our fellow church members points neighbors and colleagues to Jesus!
All that to say, the local church is an apologetic in evangelism. The life of the church argues for the gospel. Believers living with one another testifies to the power of God in salvation. As we sit under the preaching of God’s Word week after week, and as the Spirit conforms us to the image of the Son little by little, we exemplify what the gospel can do to us as individuals and as a people.
Slowly, we are becoming the new humanity, following after the one who is the firstborn of the new creation (Col. 1:15). And this new humanity serves as a wonderful backdrop or billboard in our evangelism. It offers a contrast culture to the cultures of this world.
What are some practical lessons we can take from these four systematic principles? Often, pastors try to strengthen a church’s evangelistic ministry by exhorting people to share the gospel. Surely that’s one piece. But it’s also critical to grow the church as a contrast culture, which acts as this attractive backdrop for evangelism.
1) Evangelism should lead to baptism and membership. Churches should not evangelize and then leave new converts out on their own. Nor should they evangelize, baptize, and then, maybe, someday, get around to bringing someone into church membership. Except for exceptional circumstances (e.g., Ethiopian eunuch), churches should do what the church in Jerusalem did: baptize people into their number (Acts 2:41). Baptism, after all, is the corporate and authorized sign by which a church formally affirms a person as a believer. That affirmation should then be protected and nurtured by the ongoing oversight given through membership and the Lord’s Supper. We don’t leave new hatchlings outside of the nest, but bring them inside.
2) Teach members to integrate their lives with one another. In order to strengthen a church’s apologetic power, members should constantly be reminded through the teaching of the word and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper that we are one body (e.g. 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 1 Cor. 12). Hardly a Sunday should go by when members are not reminded to build relationships with one another so that they might encourage, build up, strengthen, speak truth, warn, and love one another (e.g. Rom. 12:9-13; Eph. 4:11-32). They should be exhorted to show hospitality (Rom. 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9). All this creates an attractive witness for the gospel.
3) Teach members to sacrifice for one another. Even more specifically, Christians should think about how they might better sacrifice for one another, financially and otherwise (e.g. Acts 2:42-46; 2 Cor. 8-9; 1 Peter 4:10). In a consumeristic nation, especially, the example of shared generosity among believers presents a powerful contrast culture. Remember, Jesus told Christians to love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34)—a sacrificial love if there ever was one.
4) Practice church discipline. Christian hypocrites and heretics in our midst compromise the witness of the church. When the church members in a community are known as liars, backbiters, and adulterers, that church’s evangelistic work will not go so well. That’s not to say that a church should discipline every saint who still struggles with sinning in their midst. Then there would be no church left. Rather, churches should confront and discipline unrepentant sin. This serves, ironically, to evangelize the unrepentant member (see 1 Cor. 5:4), as well as a church’s city more broadly (see 1 Cor. 5:1-2).
5) Equip members to share the gospel. Church leaders should look for various ways to make sure every member can explain the basics of the faith. This can be done from the pulpit, the Sunday School classroom, the membership interview, and elsewhere (see Kevin McKay, “Overcoming Objections to Evangelism”).
6) Encourage members to live lives that bless outsiders. Church members, hopefully, are known as kind, friendly, and quick to lend a hand. We should be quick to jump in with a rake to help clear the neighbor’s leaves, quick to offer help to an office-mate, quick to defend a victim of abuse, quick to work hard at preserving the jobs of hard-working employees in difficult times, quick to bless in all sorts of ways. Good deeds should adorn our evangelistic words.
7) Invite people into formal and informal gatherings of the church. Countless stories could be given of how non-believers heard the gospel and then watched the church in motion, both in formal or informal gatherings, and then came to faith. The church’s life together compelled them. It pointed to something they had never known in their family, school, or workplace. In other words, inviting outsiders into the life of the church surely must constitute one part of our evangelism.
8) Set the example in evangelism. Wherever a church’s elders are known for their evangelism, you can expect to find an evangelistic church. Where the elders don’t, you won’t.
9) Feature evangelism and conversion stories. Church leaders should pepper stories of evangelistic encounters into their sermons and lessions. Church members should share prayer requests for evangelistic opportunities. Baptismal candidates should be given the chance to share their conversion experience. Things like these all help to make evangelism a "normal" part of the Christian life and the church experience.
10) Brag about your church. The apostle Paul sometimes boasted about his churches as a way of boasting about Christ (see 2 Cor. 9:2; 2 Thes. 1:4; cf. Phil. 2:16). Christians, likewise, should look for ways to speak positively and gratefully—not obnoxiously or pridefully—about their churches around non-Christian friends. When a colleague asks about the weekend, mention how your church gave your wife a wonderful baby shower. Mention something encouraging the preacher said on Sunday. Mention the work your congregation is doing at the shelter when the subject of homelessness comes up. Doing this well, no doubt, takes practice.
Rightly relating church and evangelism in our understanding and practice requires more than exhorting people to evangelize. It requires attending to matters of polity and governance, membership and discipline. It requires building a healthy church that sits under God’s preached Word, and knows what God has tasked the church to do.
It requires godly leaders who teach and set the example. And it requires members who love Jesus and increasingly can’t help but sing the praises of him who brought them from death to life—inside and outside the church building.
Jonathan Leeman, an elder of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and the editorial director of 9Marks, is the author of several books on the local church. You can follow him on Twitter.