MAKING DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS: EVANGELISM IN LIFE AND MINISTRY
A paper submitted to Dr. David Wheeler
In partial fulfillment of the requirements for
the course EVAN 565
Liberty Theological Seminary
Friday, May 10, 2013
I have been sinning; there, I confessed it. It is not that I am unfamiliar with the Great Commission from Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations….” I simply have not put much time, money, or effort into following it. Sure, I make sure that I am constantly aware of my witness to others; I speak about Christ all of the time. Still, I must admit that I am not out to actively make disciples; I have not been doing the very work Jesus commanded me to do. It was not always this way; there were days in my early Christianity where I went out for purposeful witnessing. At one point I completed a “soul-winning” class, and then later at another church I completed another. At some point however, I became disillusioned with this way of witnessing, what many would call “drive-by-evangelism”. Therefore, I threw out the intention with the method, and I stopped purposefully evangelizing.
Let me be clear, I have always considered my witness to be important; I have labored to bring my life and practice under the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Yet, I have not sought out to introduce lost people to Jesus, so that he, not I, can save them. I have often been frustrated with my independent Baptist legacy: to be separated from the world so much that you cannot reach it; to be so out of touch with sinners, that you think everyone is a saint.
Of course this outlook is delusion, and as much as I can cast blame on the churches I grew up in, the responsibility falls on me. Even though God is sovereign, and he will save those who are lost; I am still the agent he chooses to use to save them. I have, and will continue, to struggle with the balance that this theology brings. This is my confession as I begin this paper: even though I care deeply about the lost and their need for Christ, I have done very little to go out of my way to reach them. I have sinned against God, and I have sinned against them. Praise God for forgiveness in the name of Jesus.
WAS BLIND, BUT NOW I SEE
Three times in the book of Matthew, Jesus calls the Pharisees “blind guides,” men who lead from their self-righteous traditions rather than from the spirit of the Law. In Matthew 23:1-3, Jesus reveals their hypocrisy further, “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.'” The Pharisees were guilty of pointing fingers and refusing to help with the very loads they were unwilling to carry. Unfortunately, this behavior is not limited to Pharisees.
I have spoken a lot about reaching the lost, whether at church, on Facebook, or through words of my blog. I have constantly encouraged the mass of Christianity to reach out to the lost, repeating my belief that a true presentation of the Gospel demands both declaration and demonstration. Not only have I said this while refusing to do it, I have also criticized those who do it in a way that I do not approve. While my criticisms may be just, these individuals are trying to reach people while I am not doing anything. If I truly believe in my method of witnessing, then the best way to critique other methodologies would be to practice what I preach.
William Fay in his book, Share Jesus Without Fear, seeks to give encouragement to those who are afraid of failure in witnessing, “You see, success is sharing your faith and living your life for Jesus Christ…It has everything to do with obedience. Even if you do not…see someone respond…you have not failed, because you were obedient.” As much as I believe in the sovereignty of God and God’s grace, I have not believed both enough to pursue witnessing. In my pride, I have been afraid to fail and prove the other methods to be valid. Not realizing it, I have been giving lip service to God, and Jesus rebukes me in Mark 7:6, “And he said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.'” I have been guilty of professing a great love for God, and denying that my heart is sometimes from him.
Dave Early and David Wheeler in their book, Evangelism Is…, note that our lives were made to glorify God, “Ultimately God gets the most glory, and we find the deepest fulfillment when our lives are concentrated on ‘the salvation of souls.’ God is glorified as we lead others to become God glorifiers.” This accords well with the Preacher’s outlook on life at the end of the book of Ecclesiastes, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (12:13) In another passage in Proverbs, Solomon alludes to the lifestyle of someone who seeks to cause others to glorify God, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.”(11:30) So, I as a follower of Christ who came to, ” seek and to save the lost,” (Lk.19:10) should be about the task of making God glorifiers.
The motivation for witnessing should not be begrudging obedience, as Willam McRaney points out in his book, The Art of Personal Evangelism, “The highest level of motivation for evangelism is love for God. We should desire to expand his glory on earth and to all the peoples of the earth out of a deep love for the one who extended love to us in spite of our unworthiness.” According to McRaney, my love for God is not as great as it should be, or I am refusing to express that love; either way I am showing outwardly I do not love Christ. Jesus asked the question, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Lk. 6:46), and he also remarked that, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Jn. 14:15) Clearly, my love for Jesus has not been close to his love for me; I need to remedy this.
It was a great encouragement that the course focused on servant evangelism; demonstrating the Gospel while declaring it. As Richard Leach and David Wheeler point out in their book, Minister to Others, “True ministry to others, ministry that was modeled by Jesus Christ, requires you to minister as a servant…It is an attitude about yourself, the one you serve, and the thing you give away…you do it for someone else’s benefit, not your own.” Servant evangelism is using this ministry toward others as a means to reach them, something I have always believed in strongly. If I was going to start being intentional in evangelism, it would have to start as acts of service.
Over the weeks of this course I was not able to share Christ with a ton of people directly; however, I positioned myself to do so. That is a major step from where I was before. I have benefited from the servant evangelism projects, one of which I was able to witness to a young man who had become apostate. The first project put me in the unknown; it made me get out of my comfort zone and partner with believers I was unfamiliar with. The Soul Food Cafe shows that it has a heart to meet all of the people’s needs, and that is important. The second project allowed me to do something different, to try a method that I was not sure was going to work. It is through this project that we had the most interesting conversations. We were able to offer complete strangers fruit and water in exchange for a story, and an opportunity to talk about Jesus. The third project put us in touch with our neighbors and it allowed us to see what kind of people inhabit our neighborhood. These are the people who will see us all of time. Other than family and close friends, these will be some of our toughest critics.
What really opened my eyes through all of these experiences was how uncomfortable I was sharing my faith with a stranger, how quickly I wanted the projects to end. It still bothers me that I have such a fear of rejection; this is a fear that the writers in the course are very familiar with. Fay writes, “When people reject your message, it is not you they reject; they are rejecting Jesus and God’s Word.” While I understand this sentiment, I have come to reject it; when people reject Christ, if indeed Christ has become my identity, then they truly are rejecting me. So, in a sense I need to be prepared for rejection, and seeing it in a positive light. Thus, as McRaney writes, “to the degree we do experience rejection, we participate in this with Christ.” McRaney is echoing the Apostle Peter, who wrote, “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of gloryand of God rests upon you.” (I Pt. 4:13-14)
No longer am I blind to the needs of people; no longer do I hide behind my teaching unwilling to pursue it to its logical conclusions. I have been a blind guide for far too long; I desire to lead people to walk in the light of the Spirit of God, to be aware of those whom he is still seeking to save. I will not hide behind excuses of methodology or the fear of rejection, I instead trust in the Lord’s words to Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Jos. 1:9)
MAKING MY PATHS STRAIGHT
Solomon writes, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Pro. 3:5-6) My own understanding has been far inadequate and found wanting; I need to make corrections to my life that allow me to follow the Lord more fully. As Fay writes concerning his readers, “My concern is not who you are now. My concern is who you will become…” It is no good to just see where I am; I need a vision for what I will become.
My own vision is to make evangelism an intentional part of my life; that means that I will devote time, money, and energy to go about making disciples of all nations. It starts in my own neighborhood, but it does not end there; there is so much more than Donna Kay drive. As Leach and Wheeler state it, “Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus was willing to seek and associate with lost people in order to bring them into a relationship with the Father.” Jesus traveled everywhere: in Galilee, up to Jerusalem, through Gentile cities, and even took stops in cursed Samaria. While reaching my neighbors could have aspects of the total vision, my vision must go beyond my neighborhood.
God spoke to Israel through the writer of Malachi, “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will begreat among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.” (Mal. 1:1) Who are the nations? Answering that question will bring clarity to my overall vision; my life’s work should be to make Christ’s name great among the nations. But who are the nations; how do we see the nations? The Great Commission mentions making disciples of all nations, so what must I do to be focused on that?
I believe that Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates what his definition of ‘the nations’ is. In Luke 10, Jesus describes a neighbor as 1) someone in need, 2) someone we should have compassion on, and 3) someone whose need we should try to meet; if Jesus brought together a Jew and a Samaritan, then I think the meaning of nations is clear. God wants disciples from all people, of all backgrounds, of all countries, from all religions; he wants people from every social subcategory we can conceive. Therefore, when the Scripture speaks of reaching all nations, making his name great among the nations, it is speaking of making God glorifiers everywhere, of everyone who will come. John 3:16 states it simply, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
With this definition established, what will have to change in my life in order for the new vision of intentional evangelism to be established? There are several steps that need to be taken to make evangelism intentional. The first is praying for the lost; in order to pray for lost people I need to be getting to know some lost people. The second is finding ways to connect on a deeper level with lost people; if they are ever to be open to the Gospel they need to trust that I care about them. The third is discovering opportunities to perform acts of service that benefit those individuals; what does a single mom, a retired couple, and a part-time Muslim need? The fourth is being aware of the opportunities I have of making disciples, of bringing the Gospel to all people; is my neighbor going through a difficult time, is my church going on a short-term mission trip, or am I seeing an openness to talk about Christ with someone at Soul Food cafe?
Praying for the lost requires that I know a lost person; there are plenty of lost people to go around, even in the Christ-haunted South. Fay tells why we pray, “We pray for the salvation of others, not because we believe they are worth of salvation, but because we believe in Christ’s love, power, knowledge, and mercy. We pray because we know that Christ desires all men to know him as Lord, just as he did us.” How do I expect to share Christ with the lost if I do not ask for God’s power and love to break through to their hearts on a regular basis? Prayer should be the foundation for every contact and every work that I do on behalf of Christ to my neighbor. One way of doing this is recording the names of people that I meet, especially neighbors, and praying over them on a regular basis. Occasionally I can check up on those neighbors to see how God is moving and working in their lives.
I have to admit that finding points of connection with lost people is sometimes rather difficult; my ultraconservative church background does not help. So, if I am to intentionally reach the lost, I am going have to find ways to associate with them. This is important, as Earley and Wheeler point out, “In a day when crime is high and trust is low, busy people tend to isolate themselves from contact with others. This can make sharing the Gospel challenging.” In order to be able to reach the lost, I need to gain their trust. I can think of no better example of Jesus being willing to eat with the lowliest of sinners; Matthew brought plenty for Jesus to eat with. I think this begins by being a catalyst to make my home church community more evangelistic, Earley and Wheeler write, “Evangelism is a living example of biblical community. The issue of genuine community is huge in the contemporary church. Everyone wants to feel accepted and loved, not condemned and prejudged, especially by people who are supposed to represent Christian ideals.” Making my community an inclusive place where sinners can come and be loved by Jesus through his people, is a big first step to creating ways of interaction. This could include planning get-togethers that involve neighbors, co-workers, and friends that we would like to introduce to Jesus. These could be events where we go out to eat or invite them over; whatever it takes to get them involved in authentic community where Jesus is worshiped and honored.
Performing acts of service simply requires that I keep my eyes and ears open; there are always ways in which Jesus could be calling me to serve my neighbor. Leach and Wheeler admonish, “To assess the needs of others, you first have to be willing to see the needs…Slow down and notice the needs around you every day. It takes time to see needs, especially if they are outside your circle of relationships.” Servant evangelism is very effective when we are actually aware of the needs. Going back to the prayer list earlier, one route to meeting needs could be actually listening to my neighbors prayers needs. I cannot meet all their needs, but there are some that I can meet, and those I cannot meet I will make less of a burden. For instance, I cannot bring the single mom’s son home safely from Afghanistan, but what I can do is give her encouragement, to write her son and let him know there are people who care and are praying for him. Just because I cannot meet the primary need does not mean that I do not have a role in meeting a secondary need.
Making disciples is not for the faint of heart; it takes a lot of time and discipline. Most importantly it takes a strong walk with Christ. Earley and Wheeler state it well, “Living an incarnational life demands surrender not only to the words of Christ but to his actions as well. Regardless of the circumstances the world may present as stumbling blocks to our faith, we must always yield our actions and our attitudes under Christ’s authority.” One of the pastors in our church recently admitted that the hardest part of making disciples is following Christ; I would agree completely with that statement. Once the relationships are established, and God provides the opportunity, there needs to be a plan in place for me to share the Gospel. If I have been walking with Christ and God has opened up hearts, then all I need to do is to explain how Christ has called us to repentance and salvation in his name. All of the previous steps must be taken however, before this is even possible.
TEACH THIS TO FAITHFUL MEN WHO WILL TEACH OTHERS
It would be easy at this point to jump right into the impact of evangelism on my future ministry in a church context and ignore the biblical order of things. First and foremost, I must be a follower of Christ myself, as the Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians, “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (I Cor. 9:26-27) It would be really easy for me to preach Christ, and yet be wearing a scarlet letter on my heart inflicted by my sin. If I want others to follow Christ, then I must follow Christ ever the most closely.
Second, I must model this approach in my family; I must live out the Gospel in the confines of my home in order to lead the church to do so. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians about wives submitting to their husbands, and husband showing sacrificial love to their wives, but notice how he ends his teaching, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Eph. 5:32) How I love my life is to be how Christ loves his church. Therefore, I need to not only be living a lifestyle of personal evangelism, but I need to model it with my home, and use my home as a means of testifying to Christ. We do not have children yet, but when we do, it will be my responsibility to model this and pass it on to them. Jerry Pipes and Victor Lee in their book, Family to Family write, “His was an evangelistic mission; thus ours must be as well!…We are to be a people on mission for Christ, a people living the Great Commission.” This thrust for the Great Commission requires that I prepare my family to continue the work when I have left this world. Wheeler writes concerning his own father, “The baton of service was the greatest gift my father gave me. His life modeled humility, compassion, and love. And he was willing to sacrifice because he loved God and people more than himself.” Therefore, the best way to lead my family evangelistically is to model servant evangelism for them.
It is from a strong relationship with Christ, marriage, and family that I will be able to lead a church toward being Great Commission minded. This will likely begin at an established church level, but will eventually become part of the cornerstone of a church plant in New Orleans. Each situation will require a different approach to disciple making; each one will require a different method for accomplishing the Great Commission.
From an established church platform it will likely be that I am a support minister of some sort. Thus, my influence in the area of evangelism will be felt more by what I do personally, than what I do in the church. First, I will encourage the engaging of lost people, whether it is at work, school, or a neighbor next door; I will do this by hosting non-invasive events at my home where people can see Christ working in the lives of those present and their desire for Christ would begin to grow. Second, I would begin a prayer list from my conversations with those individuals, and I would begin to formulate ways of meeting needs from that prayer list. Christian community with servant evangelism becomes a dynamic way to introduce people to Christ, and to demonstrate to the local church the value of intentionally engaging lost people. Third, I would begin to move out into the community; in the agenda would be participating in service projects, offering our services to various groups in the community, and becoming actively involved in our local politics. This would show that we are not just focused on our own neighborhood, but on the entire community in which we live and work.
At this point, the church should be moving in a more evangelistic direction without the need for drive-by-evangelism and other gimmicky tactics. From here, I can begin to influence the church with the larger picture of God’s desire to make disciples of all nations. I could volunteer to set up and participate in either a domestic or foreign missions trip that deals specifically with servant evangelism and engaging lost people in this country and overseas. This could turn into a church-wide missions focus that would include all points of the biblical concentric circles of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth.
When it comes to church planting, the strategy will be similar, but with some differences. Since I would be one of the architects for Renaissance Church, it would be my responsibility to lay a foundation of missional evangelism. This would first have to be a part of our church DNA, encoded in our mission statement and basic beliefs; having an evangelistically-focused church does not happen by accident. It is from this mission statement and identity that we would judge everything that we do; if it is not useful for accomplishing our mission or if it goes against who we are, then we toss it out.
Renaissance Church would operate from the principle of being “inwardly-focused outward;” we would develop the Christ life in our community so that we have a base from which to witness to the outside world. This would save us from the perils of being too inwardly and too outwardly focused. Jesus says in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The historic witness of the Church has been based upon the carrying out of the Great Commandment: love God with everything in you, and love people with the love he pours into your life. So, our home groups would be characterized by their desire to meet each others’ needs, so that the presence and power of Christ will be in their public and private witnesses. These groups would also reach out by participating in small and large scale servant evangelism.
Once we have established our basic growth activity as evangelistically making disciples, it would then be important to train others to also make disciples. Let me make it clear that we want our disciples training other disciples; there will be many ways of doing this. First, there will be one-on-one mentoring that will include the responsibility of each mentee discipling someone else. This would allow us to continue to do missional evangelism many, many years down the road. Second, we would offer opportunities to be involved in larger, community servant evangelism projects. This would engage our disciples in active missional outreach; bringing Jesus to those who most need him in New Orleans. Third, we would offer venues and safe places for Christians and non-Christians to interact; thus, we would be actively hosting and encouraging non-Christians to come and hangout with us. Fourth, we offer them the opportunity to enter a house group leadership apprenticeship, where they would be given the responsibility of helping to lead a house group. Since these house groups are evangelistic in nature, it would further ground them in making disciples.
This is by no means an exhaustive examination of the present and future role evangelism in my life; that would take much more reflection and many more pages. Still, I hope it is a glimpse of something new; a new way of life and a new direction for someone who has previously ignored evangelism altogether. I hope that if you ask me in five or ten years how I am doing with making disciples, my answer will be incredibly different. It is not enough for me to confess my sin of ignoring the Great Commission; I must repent and do something about it. The real test of the impact of this course on my life, will be what I actually do with the insights I have learned; whether I rise to the challenge or not. I hope that my answer will one day be that of the Apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (II Tim. 4:7)
Earley, Dave and David Wheeler. Evangelism Is–: How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence. Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2010.
Fay, William and Linda Evans Shepherd. Share Jesus Without Fear. Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Books, 1999.
Leach, Richard and David Wheeler. Minister to Others. Nashville, TN: Trust Media Oto, 2009.
McRaney Jr., Will. The Art of Personal Evangelism: Sharing Jesus in a Changing Culture. Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2003.
Pipes, Jerry and Victor Lee. Family to Family: Leaving a Lasting Legacy. Downers Grove, IL: North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1999.
 William Fay and Linda Evans Shepherd, Share Jesus Without Fear (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Books, 1999), 3.
 Dave Earley and David Wheeler, Evangelism Is–: How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2010), 14.
 Will McRaney Jr, The Art of Personal Evangelism: Sharing Jesus in a Changing Culture (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2003), 198.
 Richard Leach and David Wheeler, Minister to Others (Nashville, TN: Trust Media Oto, 2009), 5.
 Fay and Shepherd, 17.
 McRaney, 192.
 Leach and Wheeler, 39.
 Fay and Shepherd, 134.
 Earley and Wheeler, 299.
 Ibid., 201.
 Leach and Wheeler, 41.
 Earley and Wheeler, 214.
 Jerry Pipes and Victor Lee, Family to Family: Leaving a Lasting Legacy (Downers Grove, IL: North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1999), 32.
 Leach and Wheeler, 88.