The Local Church is God’s plan for Evangelism!

I admit that this subject has affected me much in recent years. In thinking through evangelism and the local church, I come to a subject that has not only provoked me to grow but also to move away from a previously held position.

My introduction to vocational ministry was evangelism through a parachurch ministry. All throughout my 20s, I believed that I was the tip of the evangelistic spear and that the local church was the cumbersome-but-necessary shaft which played the menial role of tossing me into the target. In my pointed conversations and through my honed preaching, I believed parachurch evangelism to be the best way to engage the world with the gospel of Christ. Today, I am ashamed of my posture and perspective during those days. Oh, how foolish and wrong I was to assume such a low view of the local church.

Today, I understand the local church to be the apple of God’s eye and the lifeblood of God’s evangelistic activity in the world. The local church is the people by whom the gospel is upheld (1 Tim. 3:15), the people among whom the gospel is made visible (Col. 3:11), and the people through whom Christ is present in the world (Matt. 18:20).

When the local church is healthy and vibrant, it is a testimony of God’s grace, a picture of Christ’s transformative work, and a mechanism by which sinners may encounter the real power of God’s Spirit.

The evangelistic role of the church is crucial in the world because any evangelistic efforts detached from the local church will only provide an incomplete gospel at best. Furthermore, it seems to me that many Christians have resorted to just such an incomplete gospel.

American Evangelicalism is abundant with hoards of privatized Christians who think, speak, and act much like the world. These Evangelicals are secure in their eternal destination because they prayed a prayer at some point in their lives, or simply because they have a “personal relationship with Jesus” based on some subjective feeling. But this is not biblical evangelism or historically grounded Christianity.

If Christians are calling sinners into something (namely God’s family, along with all accompanying blessings) and not merely out of something (such as God’s judgment), then only those Christians who point to a healthy local church have any way of making such an appeal. If lone-ranger Christians merely talk of God’s love without demonstrating any affectionate love for fellow Christians, then they have failed to meet the Bible’s simple test of genuine spiritual life (1 Jn. 3:14). Thus, lone-ranger Christians bear false testimony of God, of Christ, and of the Spirit-filled Church.

Christians must embrace the messy-yet-beautiful relationships that can only be experienced in the covenantal, loving, sin-fighting, encouraging, spirit-maturing, humbling, and sanctifying atmosphere of biblical local church membership. And Christians must invite sinners to join them in this nourishing garden by entering through the narrow gate of Christ’s person and work.

May God revitalize churches around the world to give testimony to the gracious and glorious character of God, the joyfully obedient sonship of Christ, and the supernaturally transformative work of God’s Holy Spirit.

“Evangelism” by Mack Stiles

This book was refreshing and simple, and the average reader can read it in less than 2 hours. It was as though Mack had observed all the ways evangelical churches often misunderstand the church’s role in evangelism and then measured these against the biblical emphasis on what the local church actually is and does. Mack’s simple layout and explanations of evangelistic methodology from the Scriptures was very easy to follow.

Anyone reading the book would have difficulty disagreeing with Mack’s direct and sensible statements about the local church. Additionally, I found Mack’s examples and stories compelling. I am not normally a story-guy, usually skipping past these in order to get straight to an author’s arguments, but I found myself celebrating God’s grace in each of these accounts of regular church members living in step with the gospel.

Mack’s basic premise might be highlighted by his statement,

“In a culture of evangelism, people understand that the main task of the church is to be the church. We’ve already seen that church practices are a witness in and of themselves. Certainly the church supports and prays for outreach and evangelistic opportunities, but the church’s role is not to run programs. The church should cultivate a culture of evangelism. The members are sent out from the church to do evangelism (pg. 65-66).”

Mack articulates elsewhere what the church is and does (p. 70), and I think this might be the very backbone of the book and the culture of evangelism Mack urges throughout. The humble approach Mack took with this book and the sincere application of biblical concepts (church, evangelism, discipleship, etc.) makes this resource fantastic for church leaders and members alike.

I have absolutely no negative critique for this book. It was to the point, heartfelt, thoroughly biblical, compelling, and inspiring. I appreciated Mack’s no-assumption policy with Christianity and his exemplary-ambassador model of evangelistic efforts.

As I mentioned above, Mack’s definition of a local church was extremely helpful. No matter what someone believes about this definition, often the practices of local churches convey something much different. One question Mack forces the reader to consider is, “What is the biblical definition of a local church, and how does this argue for the inclusion of certain practices and the exclusion of others?”

Many churches seem to think that the local church is responsible to create a whole slew of programs and structures by which the members of a given church can feel a sense of engaging their community for the sake of Christ. In effect, however, these programs are much more likely to insulate Christians from the community around them rather than facilitate evangelistic efforts.

Vacation Bible School, outreach events, church excursions, concerts, campus expansions, gymnasiums, coffee shops, community groups, home groups, upward sports programs, and a host of other things seem much more likely to segregate Christians from the outside world rather than create inroads to meet the world with the gospel. Obviously, there can be some examples of things like these encouraging Christian engagement with the world, but a broader observation is what I am making here.

In my own local church context, I have tried to simply let dying programs die and avoid putting anything else in their place. I have also urged my congregation to see themselves as ambassadors for Christ, and I have tried to model gospel conversations for those with whom I spend time during the week. I haven’t done as good of a job at some of the things Mack mentioned, but I plan to remedy this as best as I can.

May God create a culture of evangelism among FBC Diana, and may God help me to be a better example among my church family and in my community.

See this book on Amazon by CLICKING HERE

Sowing Seed & Bearing Fruit

The sower sows the word… those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold” (Mark 1:14, 20).

What is the basic function of the Christian life? Surely, this question should be uniformly answerable by most Christians… but you are likely to get quite a range of answers. Of course, we are to do all things to the glory of God (Col. 3:17), but what things are Christians especially commissioned to do with their lives?

It seems clear from the New Testament that Christ intends His disciples (i.e. Christians) to be about the tasks of bearing fruit and sowing seed. These farming metaphors are pointing towards the mission of personal spiritual growth and publically broadcasting God’s word. These two are interrelated responsibilities and privileges, and every Christian is commissioned to take part.

We know that God’s word alone is powerful to bring life (Rom. 1:16), and we know that God’s Spirit must work in us to produce the fruit of godliness (Gal. 5:22-23), but Christians are called to participate in both of these activities.

Christ, the ultimate Sower (Jn. 1:14), has commissioned Christians to sow as well (Matt. 28:18-20). And the God who makes all things work for the good of His children (Rom. 8:28) commands those He adopts to strive towards Christ-likeness (Lk. 13:24; Heb. 4:11). In both, God will produce growth as He sees fit – for His own glory and for our great joy (1 Cor. 3:5-13).

Should a believer wait to have a “burden” before witnessing?

When is the right time to witness to someone?  What does a Christian need to know before witnessing or evangelizing?  Must a Christian wait to witness to someone until he or she is burdened or compelled by some inward sensation?  This question may be phrased in numerous ways and yet ask basically the same thing.  I think asking and answering three larger questions will help us answer these and others more definitively, as well as guide our understanding of evangelism or witnessing in general.

What is evangelism or witnessing? 

Essentially evangelism and witnessing are two ways of labeling the same activity.  Evangelism comes from the word evangel, which is a transliteration of the Greek word euangelion, meaning good message.  The message called good is that singularly wonderful message of how God promised and performed all that was necessary to save sinners in the person and work of Christ.  Therefore, evangelism is the activity of proclaiming or telling of that great message.

Witnessing carries the same idea.  To witness to someone is essentially to attest to those propositional statements, which make up the good message or Gospel.  So, evangelism is the telling of the Gospel (the good message of salvation through Christ), and witnessing is testifying to the trustworthiness of that message.

There is a common ambiguity in our day concerning both the Gospel message itself and what it means to convey that message.  There are those who would attempt to expand or condense the Gospel in order to enhance or improve it, but any adjustment to the Gospel is a violent attack upon it (Galatians 1:6-9).  Many are not satisfied to only adjust the message; they even seek to thwart the communication of any real substance.  Some would claim that the Gospel message may (and in many cases should) be delivered in action rather than speech.

Well-intentioned preachers and Christians attribute a saying to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.”  This phrase is not a direct quote because there is no actual record of St. Francis ever saying or writing these words.  Yet, even if there were such record, the statement would remain utterly nonsensical.  While bringing a meal to an individual in need of nourishment may be an illustration of what implications the Gospel message has, it is an extremely poor substitute for the Gospel message itself.  A sinner with an empty belly, after eating a marvelous meal, remains still an enemy of God and destined for eternal destruction.

Only the verbal (audible or otherwise) communication of propositional statements concerning God, sin, Christ and His eternally saving work will suffice as a means by which God brings dead sinners to life in Christ and saves their souls (Romans 10:13-14).

What role do Christians play in evangelism or witnessing? 

Wrapped up in the desire to tell people about the Gospel is usually the Christian’s aspiration to see at least someone believe that message.  So, one would do well to understand how much a witness or evangelist can contribute to the conversion of another before they set their contributive goals.  If the evangelist’s goal is to save sinners, then he or she has set a goal unattainable by anyone but Christ.

The Apostle Paul says to those to whom he had been a witness, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  He says that he had been the recipient of a message and he had also passed that message along to them.  The message he speaks of is that message concerning Christ and His work that was ‘according to the Scriptures.’  The Apostle Peter refers to the “good news” that was preached and received or believed (1 Peter 1:12, 25), thus resulting in “the salvation of souls” (1 Peter 1:9).

There are a number of passages that would lend themselves to this discussion, but in these two passages we may understand at least a couple of things.  One, the Gospel or good news is a message of a particular content that is to be transmitted by someone (or more than one) through the use of words.  Two, the believing or receiving of the message is distinct from the message itself and this is the delineating line between those who experience the salvation of which the Gospel speaks.

It is not an overstatement then to say that the best and most an evangelist can do is transmit the good message or Gospel.  There are far reaching and profound implications in this simple phrase, not the least of which is the idea that the highest goal of the evangelist is to transmit the message accurately – without addition or subtraction.  This short address of another issue will not give enough space to map out all or even most of the implications in the statement above.  Yet, the fact remains that the role of the witness is to transmit or communicate the message.

Successful communication of the Gospel, then, is nothing more and certainly not less than accurate communication of the content of that preeminent message.  In other words, whether one believes the message upon hearing it has nothing whatever to do with the role of the evangelist.

What is the ultimate purpose of evangelism or witnessing? 

If the purpose of witnessing to someone is not to try to convert them (as we established above, this is not the role of the evangelist), then what is the purpose?  The short answer is to glorify God.  One cannot read through the first 14 verses of Ephesians chapter one without surmising that what God has done in the salvation of sinners is for His glory and according to His will or good pleasure.

There is no doubt that some will perceive this goal as too rigid, lifeless, or uncompassionate, but this is the highest goal that anyone might have.  In fact, this is the chief goal of everything in life.  The Christian is privileged to participate in God’s work of glorifying Himself in the salvation of sinners.

Thanks be to God that He has given Christians any part to play at all!

So, evangelism is telling people of the message of Jesus Christ’s redeeming work, and the witness’s role is simply to transmit that message accurately and regularly.  The ultimate purpose of witnessing is to bring glory to God in an accurate proclamation of what He has done in revealing Himself through the Gospel.

Because these are true, it seems easy to answer the questions listed at the beginning.

Should a believer wait to have a “burden” before witnessing?  NO! 

Why would one need to wait for anything like that at all?

Jesus, Prayer & Evangelism

Prayer is essential in the life of every Christian.  Most churchgoers would fully acknowledge this as a reality, but some may be embarrassed to answer any questions regarding the frequency, intentionality, or purpose of their own prayers.  Likewise, most churchgoers would accept some responsibility for evangelism generally.  However, personal evangelism and the clear requirement of every Christian to participate would cause a bit of discomfort to say the least.  Prayer and evangelism should mark the lives of every Christian, and no less than Jesus Himself has commanded His followers thus.

Regarding prayer, Luke tells us that Jesus said people ought to “always pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).  Jesus Himself provides examples of prayer.  “[H]e would withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:16), He “went up on the mountain to pray” (Luke 9:28b), and there was a time when “all night he continued in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).  People brought children “to him [Jesus] that he might lay his hands on them and pray” (Matt. 19:13), and Jesus prayed when He healed people from sickness and death (Jn. 11:41-42).

The most beneficial passage in the Scriptures concerning prayer is found in the sixth chapter of Matthew in the form of what we call the Lord’s Prayer.  Matthew records Jesus’ helpful statement just before this exemplary prayer, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father” (Matt. 6:6).  We can observe at least a few things from this single phrase.  First, Jesus assumes that Christians will pray.  He says ‘when you pray’ as though there is no question that one will indeed participate in prayerful expressions towards God.  As has already been mentioned, prayer is essential to the life of every Christian.

Second, Jesus expresses the intentionality of prayer as being relationally vertical rather than horizontal.  He says, ‘go into your room and shut the door.’  This does not seem to be a statement about methodology, as though Jesus were saying that one should not pray outside or even inside with any doors open.  Instead, it seems to be a statement about the intentions of the human praying.  We are to pray not in order to be heard by others around us, but in order that we may be fixed on the God of heaven.  Our prayerful relationship is meant to engage us primarily with God.  Third, prayer is an intimate connection with an imminent counselor and omnipotent provider.  Jesus refers to God not only as His Father, but ‘your Father.’  This immediacy of relationship and accessibility of such a powerful refuge is no small thing to consider.

Regarding evangelism, Jesus commissions all who would follow Him to “make disciples” of all people groups everywhere (Matt. 28:19).  While some may attempt to distinguish the group described by terms like believer and disciple, I find no reason at all in Scripture to do so.  In fact, the two appear to be synonymous when referring to one’s relationship to Christ (Acts 9:26; Jn. 8:31).  Therefore, the commission given by Christ to all His followers at least includes evangelism.  Discipleship may refer to much more than conversion, but no one would rationally argue that it refers to less.

Evangelism, then, is the privilege and obligation of all Christians everywhere.  Yet, there is a very real sense in which the conversion of sinners from death to life is something that no Christian can produce.  Indeed, only God can create life where there is none and bring faith into the hearts of those who are bent on disbelief and rebellion (Eph. 2:1-10).  At this, an astute person may ask, “What role does a Christian play in evangelism?”  Well, the Apostle Paul makes a helpful assessment in his first letter to the Corinthians.  Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6-7).  He states clearly that evangelism is about ‘planting’ and ‘watering’ ‘seed,’ but God is the one who causes life, growth and salvation.  The analogy of seeds and sowing is not new, and Jesus explained an analogy very much like Paul’s in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8.  The ‘seed,’ Jesus says, is the ‘word of God.’

This subject deserves more time and reference than it is given here, but the word of God may refer to every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, a specific prophecy concerning an immediate event or person, or some compilation of words attributed to God.  The word of God is certainly inclusive of all God’s words, but most particularly it refers in Biblical terms to the Gospel (Acts 11:1) and to Christ as the embodiment of that message (Jn. 1:1-4).  So, then, Christians participate in evangelism by proclaiming and defending (planting and watering) the message of the Gospel (seed).  Christ followers may tell others of the good news, and rely upon God to give the growth; that is they rely upon the Spirit of God to transform the soul of sinners (Jn. 3:3).  This then is where evangelism and prayer intersect, and again Christ affords both instruction and example.

Because God alone makes sinners alive with eternal life, and because Christians have immediate and intimate means of communication with the God of salvation, it is then vitally important that Christians express their reliance upon God through prayer.  Jesus prayed just this way when He prayed, “I do not ask for these only [that is His accumulated followers during His earthly ministry], but also for those who will believe in me through their word [that is all subsequent believers], that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn. 17:20-21).  Jesus clearly associates this belief in His being sent from the Father with trusting Him as Savior or Messiah (Jn. 5:38-40).  Jesus asks the Father to bring unity of belief in the truth of Christ’s person and work to all those that the Father gives the Son (Jn. 17:24).

In summary, Christ teaches us to pray that God save sinners and He emboldens Christians to participate in the work of planting, watering and harvesting the growth only God can bring (Luke 10:2).  Prayer and evangelism go hand in hand.  As Christians tell the story of salvation, it behooves them also to pray that God performs the regenerating work that only He can.

Should a person ‘receive Christ’?

Is “receive Christ” terminology proper to use in presenting the gospel?

It is of paramount importance that anyone who seeks to articulate the Gospel of Jesus Christ does so in terms that are understandable to the one or ones with whom the evangelist is attempting to communicate.  This means that the evangelist will need to take several things into his or her consideration, and defining or explaining terms that may be unclear is a great way to ensure that the desired message is being heard.  Therefore, concerning the two-word phrase in focus here, “receive Christ,” an explanation of both may make the phrase not only proper but desirable in evangelistic encounters.

The phrases “I received” or “You received” as they are attached to “mercy,” “grace,” “gift,” “salvation,” or even “Christ” are found in more New Testament passages than I could count in a short time.  For the sake of our discussion, let us examine a few.  The Apostle Paul says, “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain [or receive (NIV)] salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9)[1].  So, those of whom Paul speaks – those who are not destined for wrath, but instead for salvation – are recipients of their destiny through the Lord Jesus Christ.  There is certainly much more that could be said here, but it is no tangential matter that salvation comes through the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the mediator of such salvation; He is the provider of the saving work; He is the bringer of the gift. It is clear that salvation is through the Lord Jesus Christ, and anyone who receives this great salvation has no less received the embodiment of it.

Elsewhere Paul says, “those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17).  Again Paul speaks of recipients of salvation, but this time in terms of grace and the gift of righteousness.  Though the details of this saving work are described distinctly here, Paul remains sure that these gifts come through Jesus Christ.  Here, however, we are given a bit more information as to the specifics of what exactly Christ brings to those who are beneficiaries of His salvation, namely abundant grace and foreign righteousness.  We may find a better explanation of just how abundant this grace is in the context of the passage, but the righteousness of which Paul speaks we know is foreign precisely because it is a gift.  If the righteousness were inherent in the recipient, it may have been said to be enabled, reinforced, or motivated by Christ.  Yet this righteousness is a gift brought to the hopelessly unrighteous inheritor to be received from another who does inherently possess such virtue.

On a separate occasion Paul chastised the Galatian Christians for their ridiculous posture of false human holiness before the judgment of God.  Paul points out the definition of grace as unmerited favor in his question posed to them, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Gal. 3:2).  The thing being received in this passage is ‘the Spirit.’  Paul is reminding the Galatian believers that God is the giver of His Spirit and all Christians are receivers of the Holy Spirit, not because of their meritorious effort, but ‘by faith.’  There is not the space necessary here to expound on a theological statement concerning the biblical doctrine of the Godhead as Trinity, but it is pertinent to note that the Spirit of God is one in the same as the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9).  Therefore, it is not wrong to say that Paul’s explicit statement here is that all those who hear the Gospel with faith in the person and work of that good message are also recipients of the Spirit of Christ – they have received Christ by His Spirit, the Spirit of God.

It is not new to turn to Romans chapter 3 for the purpose of evangelizing.  The oft-memorized “Romans Road”[2] begins right on this terrain.  While verses 23 through 25 of Romans chapter 3 may or may not be familiar, they lend a great deal of help to our discussion here.  Again we read the words of the Apostle Paul, “[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:23-25).  If one unpacks the meaning of this text, the substance of it carries tremendous power.

First, it is clearly stated that ‘all’ are sinners who have failed to live up to the holy demands of God.  This is especially disheartening when one considers the absolute power, perfect justice, and unique eternality of God.  He has enough power to do whatever He desires to do, always justly punishes sin, and He will never ever cease to be exactly what He is now.  This is not good news to the sinner, who finds him or herself under the righteous judgment of that same God.

Second, those sinners to whom Paul referred are also said to be ‘justified’ by a gift of grace.  To be justified means to be made or proven right, righteous, or commendable.  This is almost too incredible to be true!  The same person who is clearly guilty and sinful may be proven to be righteous and commendable?!  Wait… If we pause for a moment and consider the logic of such a statement, it doesn’t make sense.  Either a person is sinful and guilty or one is righteous and commendable, but he or she cannot be both at the same time and in the same way.  How can Paul say that God proves sinners commendable?  Has God forgotten about their sin?  Is He no longer concerned with His righteous demands?  Is God no longer just?  Has He lost His power to condemn?  No!  God remains just, sin remains abhorrent to Him, and He is always utterly resolute in His judgment against it.

Third, the reason that sinners may be proven righteous is explained in the statement that this justification comes ‘through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood.’  Two demonstrative terms are used in the Romans passage that point to the work performed by Christ on behalf of sinners.  (1) Redemption is a monetary term, carrying the idea of buying back, or exchanging something for an award or something else of monetary value.  (2) Propitiation is a term of satisfaction, carrying the idea of a gift given to a conquering king in order to appease his anger towards the offending or rebellious king who has been overcome.  When we see these terms in the light of what Christ has done for sinners, then the justification spoken of earlier becomes clearer.

Jesus Christ offers His own life as a substitute for the sinner before God’s bar of justice.  This accomplishes two things.  One, Christ propitiates or appeases God wrath against sin by absorbing the wrath due sin on the sinner’s behalf.  Jesus redirects God judgment from the sinner and towards Himself.  This is why it is rightly said that God made Christ to be sin even though Jesus had not sinned Himself (2 Cor. 5:21).  Two, Jesus redeems sinners by offering His own righteousness, obedience and goodness to all those who trust Him for it.  God requires a life of holiness from all humans.  Jesus Christ lived the life of obedient righteousness before God that is required of all humanity, and He offers His earned righteousness to sinners as a gift to be received (Rom. 5:19).

Fourth and finally, this gift of justification (proven right and commendable) is to be received by faith.  That is, one must put down all his or her own effort to achieve a goodness of their own, and he or she must simply trust in the effort of another – namely in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  When we visualize this transaction as a dirty-clothed sinner exchanging his guilt-stained garb for the beautiful robe of Christ’s righteousness, it would not be hard at all to see why one might describe it as “putting on” a “new self” (Eph. 4:24).

Therefore, we are to understand that sinful humans are ‘proven righteous’ because of the righteousness of Christ.  Furthermore, we may also consider that Christ is not merely the ticket to an eternal reward greater than Himself.  Certainly this is not the case at all!  In spite of contemporary jargon that might suggest, or explicitly claim, otherwise (which is often just a recapitulation of past error), Christ is Himself the prize.  He is the destination!  His presence, His glory, His eminent majesty is what we long to behold!  If we are looking for Christ to take us to a reward that is something other than Himself, then we have set our aim far too low.  He is both our transport and our station, and there is no greater reward than the triune God of our salvation.

Praise be to God!  If we have received Christ’s righteousness, then we have most certainly received Him.  If we are heirs to Christ’s sonship, then we share in His loving relationship with God our Father.  If we are beneficiaries of Christ’s redeeming and propitiating work, then we have exchanged ourselves for Him, our sorrow for His joy, our sin for His obedience, our idolatry for His genuine worship, and our deserved penalty for His earned reward!  With the Apostle Paul, we may indeed say to one another “on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20) by receiving Christ – all that He is and all that He has done for you – and “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him” (Col. 2:6).

All terms may be used erroneously or mischievously.  The terms used in articulating the Gospel are most important because of the message they communicate; therefore to twist and mangle them is supremely egregious regardless of intent.  This should drive us to a reverent and diligent commitment to communicate this message and its implications as accurately as we are capable.  So, is it proper to use the phrase “receive Christ” in an evangelistic exchange?  Yes.  If it is explained well then it is not merely proper, it can be wholly advantageous.


[1] All Biblical citations are from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless noted otherwise.

[2] The Romans Road refers to several passages in the book of Romans that may be sited for evangelistic purposes.  Seeking to present the Gospel in biblical terms, the evangelist would begin with chapter 3 and verse 23, then move to chapter 6 and verse 23, then cite chapter 5 and verse 8, and finally land in chapter 10 and verse 13.

A Theology of Church Growth & Outreach

Church growth and church outreach have been topics of interest among church leaders for a long time.  These subjects are not new.  In fact, the biblical record can give us some incredible insight into these concentrated areas.

Far from being a field through which we may walk, seeking to ‘cherry pick’ verses to fit our agenda, the Bible is the storehouse of harvested wisdom and the place that one ought to begin his or her investigation of what it means for a church to be involved in outreach and experience real growth.  There are at least several things of which we may be certain as we study the biblical text with a keen eye towards the areas outreach and church growth.

The first thing we may clearly understand about outreach from the scriptures is that God intends His people to reach out.  There are many things that one might consider the ‘outreach efforts’ of a church, so it seems that defining biblical and effective outreach would be a good starting point.  Outreach may be defined as sharing in the ministry of proclaiming the message of Christ – the ministry of reconciliation – and living in (Gal. 5:25), walking in (Gal. 5:16, 25), keeping in step (Gal. 2:14) with that message and its implications.

One of the most famous passages in the Bible is the one found at the very end of Matthew’s gospel.  Jesus says to His disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).  There is much more that could be said of these verses, but we can at least see that there is indeed a great commission given here.

Jesus tells His followers that they are to be the ones who will now take the content of the message that Jesus Himself came to proclaim – namely the declaration of God’s grace upon sinful humanity (Luke 4:16-21, cf. Isaiah 61:1-2) – to the ends of the earth.  With the commission comes the promise that Jesus Christ, by His Spirit, will be with them in their outreach endeavor.

Discipleship seems to be defined, at least in overarching terms, by Jesus in the words that describe the activity of “discipling all nations.”  Baptize and teach are the two imperatives, and these are under the lead imperative of “make disciples.”  Therefore, outreach and church growth are closely linked, and outreach is every Christian disciple’s commission as well as privilege.

The effectiveness of a church’s outreach may be entirely based on its depth of its spiritual growth and understanding of the Gospel message.  Those who have received the message of hope, and trust in the Object of that message, will seemingly have an expected inclination to share that same hope-filled message with others.  A close consideration of what has actually transpired in order for a sinner to be redeemed will be helpful here.

The Apostle Paul says, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.  More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:10-11).  Once we sinners were enemies of God and under His judgment.  Now, because of the death and life of Christ, we currently enjoy and look forward to the day when we will ultimately enjoy complete reconciliation with the God of our salvation.

As a Christian comes to understand more profoundly the reality of his or her new position before God, especially when contrasted with their previous position, he or she will likely become a more enthusiastic participant in the ministry of reconciliation – or outreach.  Turning again to the Apostle Paul, he says elsewhere, “All this is from God [the passing from death and judgment to life and new creation], who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).  In other words, we who have been reconciled have received not only our own reconciliation from God, but we have also received the commission from God to play a role in His ministry of declaring reconciliation upon others.

This is a marvelous and humbling reality for all Christians – we have been reconciled and we have been given the ministry of reconciliation, or we who are the beneficiaries have become the heralds of the same Gospel that we received.  Therefore, God intends His people to be actively reaching out with this message of hope.

The second thing that we discover clearly presented in the scriptures concerning outreach is that Christians are expected to stir one another up towards such efforts.  In addition to finding our motivation for outreach efforts in our own reconciliation, we may also find further encouragement towards this ministry in the camaraderie of our fellow Christian community.  The author of Hebrews writes, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Two things seem to jump out from this text immediately.

One, love and good works are to be the theme of Christian life and activity.  Throughout the letter to the Hebrews, the author has been laboring the point that Jesus is the all-sufficient Savior.  Significantly, Christ has performed all that is necessary for sinners to be redeemed and glorified, and He has performed this task in exemplary fashion.  Jesus is the perfect example of all that He is and does – and this is particularly of interest to us because Jesus is both God and man.  Therefore, He is the perfect example for humanity in all that He did and does.  No one can be compared with Christ when it comes to love and good works.  His love was unconditional and His good works were (and are) the evidence of such love.  From self-sacrifice to enriching others in notably personal ways, Jesus is the quintessential picture of what a Christian life ought to look like.

Two, love and good works are clearly encouraged by other believers in the context of time and life spent together.  Love and good works are not meant to be done in passing at a weekly church meeting or merely articulated through some media outlet.  This may get more to the heart of what discipleship actually looks like, but doing life together is where love and good works are actually manifested.  Whether by living out a life of love and good works, or by lacking these in one way or another, only in regular close proximity are Christians able to stir one another to such love and good works.  It simply is not possible for real discipleship to take place without the deep relationship of Christian life upon Christian life.

Both love and good works are two sides of the same coin; good works evidences love, and one will not be present without the other.  These are to be enjoyed by all those who interact with Christians.  Believers and non-believers alike may benefit from the operation of love and good works in and through the life of a Christian.  Non-believers can especially profit from these in the area of outreach.

There may be much more consideration given to the form that love and good works takes on in each local context, but that Christians should impact their community with love and good works is evident.  God has instituted a community of faith wherein all believers are to stir one another towards love and good works as they live in step with the Gospel together.

The third and overarching characteristic of outreach that one might find in the biblical text is that it may be performed with confidence.  Christians may have the full confidence that the Gospel message they proclaim is true, and the One who promises to save will not prove to be unfaithful.  The author of Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).

“Hope,” translated here from the Greek word elpidos, does not mean wishful thinking.  The term loses a bit of its original intent if we hear it with our contemporary ears.  Hope, in the biblical sense of the word, is much more akin to a confident expectation than to a mere possibility.  This has big implications for the confidence of every Christian – both for personal assurance and for public declaration.

Every Christian may indeed hold fast to their confident expectation of ultimate glory.  Why?  Because He who promised has demonstrated that He is faithful!  God has actually and surely saved sinners through the substitutionary obedience and sacrifice of Christ!  We can proclaim this truth with supreme confidence and more than sufficient evidence.

Christians may also proclaim the Gospel message in different ways and in diverse relationships with full confidence that sinners will be saved.  The Apostle Paul says, “If you confess with you mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’” (Romans 10:9-11).

The imperative here is to believe and confess, but the indicative (that which will be the subsequent result) is that salvation will accompany such belief and confession.  Christians may declare to their unbelieving friends that they not only might be saved upon placing full trust in the risen Lord, but that they most certainly will be saved.

Not everyone who hears the Gospel message will believe.  In fact, many will reject the claims of Christ and the claims of those who have trusted Him.  Conversion may be the result of evangelism, but it is not the ultimate goal; God’s glory is the ultimate goal of evangelism.  Christians glorify God in an accurate presentation of the character and nature of God, particularly as He has demonstrated and revealed Himself in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We play the role of ‘planting and watering’ the seeds of truth, and it is God who causes the growth (1 Corinthians 3:5).  Additionally, we may endure the rejection and assault of as many as will not receive the Gospel message in order that we may continue to proclaim it for the sake of those who will (2 Timothy 2:10).  We proclaim this beautiful message of reconciliation and do so with total confidence in the God of salvation; He will do what He said He would do.

Outreach is the individual and collective participation of Christians in the ministry of reconciliation.  The particular application of what outreach looks like may vary greatly from one church to another and from one situation to another within each church.  The Bible is full of examples of outreach.  They are so numerous and distinctive that it seems foolish to attempt to construct a rigid theological framework around the method(s) of outreach and evangelism.

Of two things we can be sure; (1) the content of the Gospel message is essential to biblical outreach, and (2) that message may be communicated through all sorts of mediums.  Christians may, therefore participate in the ministry of reconciliation, live in step with that message as the Spirit of God empowers such life, and do so with tremendous confidence in the God of all salvation.

Church growth will positively impact outreach and will be positively impacted by outreach.  As was mentioned before, the two are closely linked.  While it is not true that every local community of believers must needs increase in number or that God promises to provide such inflation, God does indeed glorify Himself in the inevitable growth of His universal Church.  We may benefit from turning to the Scriptures once more, this time for wisdom and clarity on the subject of church growth.

First, any growth that a church enjoys is from God and according to His providential and gracious activity.  For the sake of clarity, church growth (at least in the sense it will be used in this essay) is not tantamount to numerical increase in any particular local church.  Instead, church growth is the deepening of spiritual maturity and the numerical proliferation of the universal body of Christ.  Church growth then will have a varying impact on all local churches, possibly even a negative effect on local churches who have become less than Gospel-centered or so liberal that they have lost the Gospel altogether.  Again, God providentially and graciously moves to grow His kingdom, the body of Christ, as He sees fit.

The Apostle Paul says, “Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God” (Colossians 2:18-19).  Paul’s letter to the Christians at Colossae includes this section of encouragement, which is that his readers hold fast to God/Christ – who is the Head of the body – as they understand their own operation as members of that body.  Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul goes into greater explanation of the relationship of one member to another.  Here we may at least understand his point that Christ is the head of the Church and He is the one that grows the Church with a growth that is ‘from God.’  Far from being attributable to man in any way, genuine church growth is from God.

Laboring this point further, and turning now to the book mentioned previously, Paul charges the Corinthian Christians to keep from forming factions around any particular man or group.  He says, “What is Apollos?  What is Paul?  Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.  He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.  For we are God’s fellow workers.  You are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).  It seems Paul is not willing that anyone misunderstand his idea here.

There are at least three things of important note in this passage.

One, Paul says that he and Apollos are “servants through whom you [those Corinthian Christians] believed as the Lord assigned to each.”  The Lord’s assignment may be the ‘servant’ to the ‘believer’ or the ‘believer’ to the ‘servant,’ but either way this has profound implications concerning the numerical result of any Gospel ministry.  This statement clearly presents God as an ‘assigner’ of ministerial charge and reception.  Deeper study may demonstrate that both are surely assigned by God.  God distributes the one who spends incredible time and effort in Gospel ministry to the field in which he toils; and God consigns the believers who are regenerated by the Holy Spirit through the use of such ordinary means of grace – the preaching of God’s word – to the undershepherd in whose care they have been placed.

Two, Paul says emphatically, “Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything.”  Now, most ministers would not likely consider their efforts “nothing;” and it does not seem that Paul intends to describe Gospel ministry as nothing here.  Yet, it does seem that he intends to make perfectly clear that all the effort in Gospel ministry that can be conjured by all humanity will amount to ‘nothing’ on its own or without something or someone else.  Unless or until God moves in such a way as to provide or generate growth, it will at best remain potential rather than actual.

Three, “God gives the growth.”  This statement needs no lengthy explanation.  God alone, only, and singularly is responsible and due glory for any growth of His Church.  When His good pleasure is to generate growth, His body will indeed grow.  All genuine, Gospel-centered growth that any local church enjoys is due to the sovereign work of God in and through the means of grace and by the power of His Spirit.

Because church growth is from God, we may secondly understand that church growth is inevitable.  Christ, God the Son, has stated in no uncertain terms that He is about the work of growing His church.  “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16-18).  Whatever else Jesus Christ is saying here about Peter or the ‘rock’ upon which He will build His Church, He is at the very least declaring that He will definitely build His Church, and His Church growth production will actually be successful.  This clear pronouncement from the lips of Christ cannot be overstated. Coupled with the declaration of Christ (already cited in the previous section on the ministry or outreach of the Church) in the Great Commission, which seems to be the method by which He will do such a thing, Christians may be fully confident that Christ/God is successfully building His Church and will continue to be thus.

Briefly recalling the powerful claim of Jesus in Matthew 28, He says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples… And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, abbreviated).  The King of heaven and earth says to ‘make disciples,’ and He will be with His disciple makers all along the way through the end of the task – He will build His Church!  Of this we may have no doubt – Church growth is inevitable.

Third and finally, Church growth is ultimately to the glory of God.  Because it is from Him and empowered by Him, it is to Him and to His glory that the task be done.  It is true that all things are created for the glory of God, chiefly God’s apex creation – man.  Everything of creation, because of the fall, has been marred by sin, but the purpose for which creation was brought into being has not changed.  In the current estate of creation, God is pleased to bring sinful rebels into His Kingdom – the Kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:13-14).  This extension of His Kingdom is for His glory and for the benefit of sinners.

The Apostle Paul says, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were to first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.  In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11-14).  So much more is said here than what is of particular interest to the topic at hand, but there are at least a few things that apply.

Once again, as has already been presented at length, any who are beneficiaries of the ‘obtained inheritance’ have been ‘predestined’ thus ‘according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.’  God is the Giver of growth and the Appropriator of the same.  Additionally, the growth of each individual member of Christ’s body (to draw upon the analogy used previously) is ‘guaranteed’ to continue in growth until he or she is fully matured and takes complete possession of the promise in glory.  Lastly, and of great importance to the subject of church growth to the glory of God, both the obtaining of the inheritance and the delivery of such endowment is ‘to the praise of HIS glory’ (emphasis added).

God is about His glory!  He glorifies Himself in the conversion of sinners, the regeneration of dead men to life in Christ Jesus.  The growth of God’s Kingdom through the proclamation of the Gospel is to the praise of His glorious grace.  He also glorifies Himself in the sanctification of those He has redeemed.  The growth of love and good works (Heb. 10:23) enjoyed by the Church and by all those who are touched by her is to the praise of His glorious consecration.  God ultimately will, and now does, glorify Himself in the total salvation of all those who are found in Christ.  The steadfast God who is worthy of our confident hope above any other guarantees the growth to maturity, which every Christian will enjoy – sinners will be glorified to the praise of His glorious splendor!

We may at this point breathe in a restful sigh of worshipful serenity in the God of our salvation, for He does and will glorify Himself in our salvation and that of others.  However, as with seemingly every aspect of theology, there is a bit more that might take us over the superlative edge.  Just after the Apostle Paul speaks of the ‘mystery’ of the gospel, he closes the section of his letter to the Christians in Ephesus that consists of the basis for the unity and life of love, which is the thrust of the remainder of this letter, with a call to look to and trust God for that which only He can do.

He says, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Through all generations this same God who works within us to will and to do His good pleasure will do far more than we might ask or think.  The fullness of His redeeming work, sanctifying progress, and glorifying result is too high for us to comprehend!

He who is able to do far more than our minds may conceive, to Him be glory.  To Him be glory in the Church – in the salvation and loving good works of those who are compelled by the Spirit of Christ towards such activity of thought, word and deed.  To Him be glory in Christ Jesus – as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is spread abroad by participants in the ministry of reconciliation and glorifies God in the exaltation of His triune salvific work.  To Him be glory throughout all generations – every generation that passes one to the next will be to His glory as sinners of a new demographic come to understand their universal dependence upon God’s gracious grace.

To Him be glory forever and ever – for we who are the redeemed will be the venerating display of God’s saving work among a sinful creation in order that all eternity will know that God is both the just and the justifier of all those who have faith in Jesus Christ!  Amen.