Have you noticed how few people are being converted today in our “Spirit-filled” churches? It seems that we are heavy on the ‘theory’ and the ‘theology’ but light in the ‘fruit’ category. I believe that it is time for those of us from charismatic, prophetic, Pentecostal, renewal, and five-fold apostolic backgrounds to wake up to a painful reality: Non-Spirit-filled people often have more passion for evangelism than we have – and thus more fruit. But, you might protest, some of the largest churches in the world are charismatic or Spirit-filled. This is true – but, many of the big churches we see today are growing primarily from transfer growth – attracting converts already won by other churches and ministries.
The statistics, for example, of the church in the United States are shocking. Eighty percent of the churches have either plateaued or are declining in membership. Fifteen percent of the churches are growing but primarily through transfer growth as people leave churches they deem less spiritual. Less than five percent of the churches are growing because of conversion growth. This is, in reality, a terrible situation. Fewer than five percent of the churches in the United States are successfully reaching the lost!
I am not being critical of those who are out there on the front lines trying to win the lost. I just think not enough Christians or churches are actually working at winning the lost. Many who are not out regularly seeking and saving the lost are critical of those who are – critical of the way things are being done. I like the story about D.L. Moody… a lady once came to him and told him that she disapproved of his methods of preaching the Gospel. Moody was not defensive but sincerely wanted to learn how his preaching could be more effective. “What method do YOU use to preach the Gospel?” he asked her.
The lady’s countenance fell as she admitted to Moody that she didn’t share the Gospel at all. Moody replied, “Well, in that case, I guess I like the methods I use better than the methods you don’t use!”
Paul the apostle seemed to have a similar perspective, rejoicing whenever the Gospel was preached, as imperfect as the method or motives might be:
“Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; But the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the Gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in the pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and will rejoice. ” (Philippians 1:15-18)
So, I want, in the next few days, to take a look at the missing ingredients in traditional evangelism as seen from a biblical, apostolic perspective.
Without trying to be critical of anyone’s methods of evangelism, let’s take a look at some biblical principles. The early apostles saw evangelism as more than a meeting where you invited unsaved friends to come, hear the Gospel, and get saved. It was an everyday lifestyle. It was how they lived and what they lived for. Jesus said, “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8). He did not say that we would “do” – He said that we would “be” witnesses. A big difference. So, their main emphasis was on training and equipping each and every believer to have an evangelistic lifestyle. To be contagious Christians.
The role of the five-fold ministry of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher (Ephesians 4:11) is to equip the people of God to do the work of God – to be witnesses. (Ephesians 4:12) Of course, the main training for evangelism will be done by the five-fold evangelists. Evangelists who never train and motivate others for ministry are missing out on an important aspect of their job description. In fact, one would be right to wonder if they were truly five-fold in their ministry as the task of all five-fold ministers is to “equip” and not just to do the ministry.
The first thing we note about evangelism in the early church that is “missing” today is the fact that people were “true converts.” Not just believers, followers, fans, or Christians but true converts. 1 Peter 4:18 speaks of fainthearted converts who are “scarcely saved.” The early apostles were concerned that the converts have a solid foundation, not merely saying a token ’sinner’s prayer,’ but truly turning from darkness to light, from Satan’s domain to the Kingdom of God.
As Peter told the crowd at Pentecost, apostles understand that genuine conversion includes being “saved from this perverse generation” (Acts 2:40). They also recognized the importance of converts being baptized in water and empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-38). This, of course, after they are first convicted by the Holy Spirit of their sin, experienced godly sorrow with repentance, asked and received forgiveness (2 Corinthians 7:8-10). While these experiences are not seen as conditions of salvation they are considered vital preparation for true conversion and for a victorious and fruitful Christian life.
Yesterday we looked at the missing ingredient of making true converts and disciples of The Lord Jesus as contrasted with simply saying a sinner’s prayer and becoming a cultural Christian and/or a carnal Christian. Let’s focus a bit today on the word “disciple.”
The apostolic perspective knows nothing of converts who are not also disciples. It was expected that every true Christian would become a serious and committed disciple of Christ. The early Church would have been baffled by many of our common testimonies today:
“I accepted Jesus as my Saviour in 1990, but I didn’t accept Him as my Lord untol 1995.”
“I gave my heart to Jesus in high school, but I didn’t start to really follow Him until I was out of college.”
“I became a Christian in the army,but I didn’t become a disciple until years later.”
The apostolic perspective understands the Great Commission in terms bigger than conversion alone. While Jesus said in Mark 16:15 to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature,” the commission in Matthew’s Gospel is to “go and make DISCIPLES of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19). Until a convert becomes a committed disciple, the job of evangelism is not done.
So, as a result, part of the apostolic perspective on evangelism and seeking and saving the lost involves also designing a strong discipleship journey for the new concerts and thus disciples. The local church must design the steps on the journey to becoming a mature, reproducing disciple so that a new believer is aware of what is now expected of them and sees the Christian faith as a life-long journey of discovery. The discipling process needs to be well thought out, designed to be culturally relevant, and involve both bring the new believer to maturity as a disciple as well as training and equipping them to be reproducing believers who are contributing to the expansion of the Kingdom on a daily basis.
Until a local church has prayerfully thought through this journey and begun to implement steps to actually bringing those already involved into full maturity enjoying the life that is their’s “in Christ” and thus setting in motion the process for those just entering into the Kingdom as new believers – until this is established The Lord will not add to the local church those who are being saved because the local church is not ready and prepared to care for these new believers.
A good place to start is to determine what a mature disciple would look like. In other words, determine what your end product is suppose to look like and then work backwards to the entry point in the journey and decide which steps are needed to bring about the desired end result. Often we use terms like “disciple” and never really define and establish what we mean by these terms. Thus we end up with a process or a journey that is vague and ineffective and that does not enable us to achieve what we have set out to do.
We are looking at the missing ingredients in the traditional evangelism we see today in the church. To do so we are looking at what transpired in the early church as recorded in the book of Acts and elsewhere in the New Testament. We have looked at “the apostolic perspective,” “the need to focus on true “converts,” and the fact that the goal in evangelism is to “make disciples.” Today, let’s look at two other key factors in biblical and apostolic evangelism.
The early church under the leadership of the apostles saw that evangelism was to lead to more “church members.” One of the biggest criticisms of evangelism today is that many of the apparent converts never end up becoming a part of the church. This would have perplexed the early apostles, for their converts were expected to be knit together with other believers. We are told that after Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, “about three thousand were added to them” (Acts 2:41). Then at the end of the description of the Jerusalem Church in Acts 2:42-47, a glimpse is given into the apostolic perspective on evangelism: “And The Lord added to the Church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Those who were being saved were clearly expected to be ‘added to the church.’ This “membership’ is more than just having a name in a church directory; it is always a functional relationship of nurture, accountability, and service (ministry).
Secondly, from the apostolic perspective, each believer is to be involved in some kind of ministry. “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (1 Peter 4:10). Paul confirms this interpretation.
“There are diversities of gifts, but the same spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)
One of the reasons the Early Church was so effective in evangelism was that every Christians was participating in the Great Commission. Conversions were not happening only in crusades or church services but daily, as an outgrowth of the witness of ordinary Christians. The discipleship process was not complete until a believer was brought to maturity and equipped for “the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12).
In the early church we see that reproduction was a central part of the life of the Church. In Acts 19 it states that every person in Asia heard the Gospel through the people of the church in Ephesus (Acts 19:10). As a result the Church grew and the Kingdom expanded.
An apostolic perspective is that as disciples are to go and make more disciples – so churches are to plant more churches. It is the principle of multiplication and reproduction. This concept is lacking in the Church today. Either individual Christians are not involved in “going into all the world and making disciples” or the local church is not reproducing and planting new churches or both. It is regretful that most believers today are not even thinking of “seeking and saving the lost.” And, instead of planning to plant new churches most existing churches are dreaming of becoming a mega-church or a multi-campus organization.
The Bible states that healthy disciples will reproduce and there will be more disciples. We are called by Jesus to be fruitful – disciples birthing new disciples, five-fold ministering training and mentoring the next generation of leaders and five-fold ministers, and churches birthing new, autonomous expressions of the church. Churches should have a vision for planting new churches. Reflecting the foundational principle of Genesis 1:28 to “be fruitful and mu.” Reproduction and being sent out to reproduce is a core apostolic value.
One of the weaknesses of many of our evangelistic efforts today is a lack of the supernatural. Out approach, whether we realize it or not, relies heavily on either intellectual arguments or emotional appeals. As a result our converts often have a deficient foundation. Those who have been reached by intellectual arguments tend to be “cerebral Christians,” with little passion for knowing The Lord or sharing Him with others. Those reached by emotional appeals, on the other hand, often become addicted to continual emotional fixes in order to feel saved.
The early apostles were very aware that the quality of their message would often determine the quality of their converts. Paul told the Corinthians of his concern that their faith would rest on a firm foundation: “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
Paul understood that if people were persuaded to become Christians because of his eloquence or ability to stir their emotions, their foundation would be flawed. Instead, he wanted their faith to rest “on God’s power.”
Some would try to turn this into an anti-intellectual argument, but that was not Paul’s intention at all. He did not see the Gospel as a mystical or emotional philosophy but as a verifiable truth. For that reason, we are told in several places that Paul ‘reasoned’ with those he shared the Gospel with (Acts 17:2, 18:19)
Yet Paul and the other early apostles realized that conversion is a matter of the heart and the will, not just the intellect. Echoing the message of John the Baptist and Jesus, they challenged people to ‘repent,’ which required a change of heart and a resulting change of conduct. Mindful of Jesus’ parable of the Sower, the apostles understood the danger of pressuring people into ‘fast conversions,’ where the Gospel seed springs up quickly but soon withers.
Most importantly, the apostles recognized that conversion is a supernatural occurrence, not something we can just talk people into. Conversion is a new birth, being transformed into a new creature (John 3:1-8, 2 Corinthians 5:17). It means passing from death to life, from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13). Though today we tend to emphasize everyone’s free choice in coming to Jesus, He said that people can’t truly come to Him unless the Father draws them (John 6:44). Because of this, salvation is not a matter of human effort but is wholly based on the grace and mercy of God.
How does your brand of evangelism compare with the perspective of the early apostles? Some would argue that there is no ‘right’ way to evangelize, and to some extend that is very true. Throughout the pages of Scripture and Church history, a variety of methods of sharing the Gospel have borne good fruit.
Nevertheless, wise harvesters will not be haphazard. They will maintain an apostolic outlook, constantly evaluating their fruit by the objectives presented in Scriptures. Are we seeing quality converts, radically devoted to Christ and full of the Holy Spirit? Are our converts becoming true disciples, church members, and ministers? Do our methods succeed in reproducing not only individual Christians, but also new churches?