Evangelize as Your Edify, Edify as You Evangelize

Tim Brister —  July 14, 2011 — 3 Comments

One of the biggest tensions regarding philosophy of gathered services is the issue of breadth and depth, or who should be the priority and focus of the ministry.  Obviously, everything we do should be first and foremost with a focus and passion for the honor and glory of God.   But the question we are usually asking is this: “Should our gathered services be evangelistic, focusing on unbelievers, or edifying, focusing on believers?”

Yesterday, Tim Keller answered the question by referencing Martyn Lloyd’Jones by saying “both.”  Keller concludes:

The lesson I eventually learned from him was—don’t preach to your congregation for spiritual growth thinking everyone there is a Christian—and don’t preach the gospel evangelistically thinking that Christians cannot grow from it. In other words—evangelize as you edify, and edify as you evangelize.

I agree with MLJ and Keller completely.

The “seeker” churches will emphasize that everything should be catered toward the lost, and the experience is often very man-centered.  The more “traditional” churches will emphasize that everything should be catered toward the believer, and while it is often God-centered, much is assumed in language and experience.  One of the benefits of the recovery of the gospel in local churches is how such a renewed focus corrects the tendencies of both camps.

The greatest thing an unbeliever needs to hear is the gospel.  They need to be evangelized with the good news of Jesus Christ.  The great thing a believer needs to hear is the gospel.  They need to be edified with the good news of Jesus Christ.  When there is a robust commitment to preaching Christ from all of Scriptures, unbelievers will be evangelized and believers will be edified.

On the one hand, a gospel-centered focus in gatherings corrects the seeker’s man-centered emphasis and often times watering down truth; on the other hand, it corrects the traditionalists assumptions and closed-mindedness in their planning and communication.  When rightly used theological terms are used, they are careful to explain those terms in ways that children can comprehend them, not just expecting those in attendance to have a certain level of theological education.  As Keller explained in his prior articles on a missional church, when you preach as if you entire neighborhood/community is there, they will eventually show up.  Why? Because church members will realize that the same message they are being edified is the same message that is good for their neighbor’s evangelization.

This is particularly instructive for church planters and new church starts.  There is much to reject both from seekers and traditionalists.  However, there are things in both that should be appreciated.  We should appreciate the heart and desire for seeker churches to reach the lost and their attempts at contextualization.  Likewise,we should appreciate the heart and desire for traditional churches to strengthen believers with passion for truth and a pursuing a pure church.  But as I have argued in the past, Christ is both the builder and perfecter of the church.  In that article, my arguments were very similar:

For the Christian, the sanctified lifestyle and sent lifestyle go hand in hand. To pursue holiness apart from mission or to pursue mission apart from holiness is to pursue a path contrary to the way of Christ. On the one hand, too much cultural adaptation misses the call to holiness (Christ the perfecter); on the other hand, too much cultural isolation misses the call to mission (Christ the builder). The promise of Christ’s building through mission and the purchase of Christ’s bride for purity should be held together.

So what MLJ and Keller are arguing with the dual, gospel-centered emphasis of evangelization and edification is nothing short of seeing Christ fulfill His promises in church growth and church health, evangelization and edification.

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3 responses to Evangelize as Your Edify, Edify as You Evangelize

  1. How do you find the balance? I’ve attended churches that swing too far one way or the other. I’ve not yet seen a church good at building up believers without falling into too many assumptions that would leave a nonbeliever wondering why they weren’t invited to the information meeting first.

    • David:

      That’s a great question. I think the key is how a church and its leadership understand the gospel and all of its implications for their lives. Here’s what I mean. If preaching is moralistic, then the unbeliever will feel like they are never good enough and the believer will base their acceptance upon their religious performance. It’s devastating. If preaching is simply doctrinal, then the unbeliever will be unengaged by lack of understanding and the believer will be tempted to think that spiritual growth is merely acquisition of bible knowledge.

      However, if the preaching is gospel-centered, they will be taught to understand God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness, the law and gospel, idolatry and legalism. Both believers and unbelievers will be instructed to look away from themselves whether it is for justification or sanctification. Both believers and unbelievers are called to respond in repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ. Both believers and unbelievers will hear the message they need the most – the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and learn how Jesus transforms your life.

      Preaching the gospel clearly and simply gives the preacher no luxury of assuming God’s holiness or mans sinfulness or Christ’s perfect righteousness and atoning sacrifice. The truths and realities of the gospel is what the unbeliever needs to embrace for conversion and what the believer needs for renewal and daily transformation. When it is preached well, Christ will be applied by the Spirit through the instrumentality of the Word to all who hear and respond in joy-driven repentance and faith.

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