Book Review: The Master Plan of Evangelism, by Robert Coleman
Robert Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism. Revell, 1993. 191 pages. $10.99.
No personality necessary—have you ever taken an evangelism course like that? In Bible college, I took a course called Personal Evangelism. The class required each student to memorize a plan for sharing the gospel. It was all laid out: the exact sequence of questions, the progression of Bible verses, the best illustrations to make your point, and yes, of course, the all-important call for decision at the end. That was it. No relationship necessary. Personality not included—or needed.
If you have been through a class like this, then The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman would be a breath of fresh air—not to mention it’s only 108 pages short.
As Coleman unfolds the principles that characterized Jesus’ life and relationships (the “Master’s plan”), we are reminded that Jesus never had a mere decision in view. He didn’t want “converts”; he wanted followers. He wanted people who would drop their nets and follow him. And he wanted to teach them how to follow not by handing them a manual for Christian living, but by living before them as a model they could follow.
Coleman sees in the Great Commission a calling not merely to preach the gospel, but “to make disciples—to build people…who were so constrained by the commission of Christ that they not only followed his way, but led others to as well” (93).
The book is not about Coleman’s grand strategy for making converts, but rather “it is an effort to see controlling principles governing the movements of the master in the hope that our own labors might be conformed to a similar pattern” (14). Coleman sees in the pages of the Gospels a “well-thought-through strategy of movement day by day in terms of the long range goal” (14). And he attempts to distill that strategic movement into eight principles that rise to the surface as one considers the life of Jesus.
Throughout the book, Coleman follows this objective with great care as he thoughtfully evaluates the interaction between Jesus and the disciples.
- He notes the precision with which Jesus chose the Twelve and how he deliberately concentrated his life on just a few people. In this he sees the principle of selection.
- Next Coleman observes that Jesus was constantly with his disciples, confident that “in his presence they could learn all that they needed to know” (35). Coleman calls this association.
- The third principle highlights the “hard sayings” of Jesus, such as Luke 14:33, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” This is the call for total consecration.
- Not only did Jesus call them to give themselves to him, but he gave himself completely to God and to others. “He lost no opportunity to impress on his followers the deep compulsion of his own soul aflame with the love of God for a lost world” (54). Jesus gave himself away, particularly by sending the Holy Spirit as his perpetual presence and authority amongst his people—this is impartation.
- As Jesus went into desolate places to pray, applied memorized Scriptures, and constantly taught people the way of salvation, he was showing the disciples how they ought to live. Jesus taught by demonstration.
- Jesus called the disciples to be fishers of men. In other words, he passed along to them the same work that he had come to do himself. Jesus sent out seventy other witnesses as well, from which we see the principle of delegation.
- After sending the disciples to do the work of ministry, Jesus collected them again to give instruction. This back and forth between ministry and assessment shows us Jesus’ method for supervision.
- “The disciples were to go out into the world and win others who would come to be what they themselves were—disciples of Christ” (93). This is what Coleman calls reproduction.
Taken together, these principles give the picture of a disciple as a person who integrates the teaching of Jesus into his or her way of life. Disciples are people who go about the work of making more disciples. For this reason the greatest strength of Coleman’s book is that it precludes an approach to evangelism that targets the point of decision to convert as the main goal. Rather, he shows how the aim of Jesus was to train his disciples to live as sincere followers and to multiply themselves through spreading the message of the kingdom.
The book’s brevity and the memorable sequence of principles make for accessible reading for any Christian. It may be a particularly important tool for pastors and lay leaders as they seek to encourage their congregation toward a thoughtful approach to personal evangelism. It would also be particularly appropriate for a small group study or a book reading club, in part because it includes an excellent study guide.
You may have gathered this already, but I certainly recommend this book as an important addition to your bookshelf and a valuable tool to encourage yourself and others in evangelism.