Archives For Evangelism

I have been listening (via Audible) and reading again through Robert Coleman’s classic book, The Master Plan of Evangelism. It has been over a decade since I last read it, and I am finding more and more jewels than before (hopefully a sign of discernment). This morning, I came across a profound observation from the ministry and method of Jesus in shaping and forming his disciples. In his chapter on “Supervision,” Coleman writes:

Here is on-the-job training at its best. Jesus would let his followers have some experience or make some observation of their own, and then he would use this as a starting point to teach a lesson on discipleship. The fact that they tried to do his work, even though they have failed at it, gave them greater awareness of their deficiencies, and hence they were more disposed to the Master’s correction. Moreover, their encounter with life situations enabled Jesus to pinpoint his teachings on specific needs and to spell it out in the concrete terms of practical experience. We always appreciate an education more after we have had the opportunity to apply what we have learned (96).

Jesus’ method of instruction and training was intensely practical. He employed his disciples in the work, and quite often they failed in it or did not understand the life Jesus was calling them to embrace. Having been confronted with repeated failure and disappointment, the disciples learned humility and greater dependence upon their Master. Being conformed into the image of Jesus meant a constant chipping away at their lives so their thoughts, desires, and actions were brought into complete submission to the way and will of their Master.

I find this method of Jesus rather foreign to current methods of training and discipleship today.

For example, when someone trained for leadership in the local church is told they should go to Bible college or seminary, they are brought into an environment of the classroom where they gain a considerable amount of knowledge. But where is the intensely practical training? Where is the opportunity to fail? Where is the molding and shaping of everyday life where they model their teacher? When these are absent, what we find is disciples to correcting others rather than being corrected by their Master. Because they know more, the “practical application” is exercising that knowledge to make a point, win an argument, or demonstrate their superior intellect – all manifestations of spiritual pride.

One of the reasons we do not have a movement of disciple-making in America is because we have bought into methods of training different from our Master. We are setting ourselves up for failure, and when we wonder why evangelism and disciple-making are waning, we ask those in the classroom to hold a conference or present a lecture on evangelism and disciple-making.

What we need are a bunch of failures who have stubbornly continued in deeper and deeper levels of humility to follow Jesus in his ways of loving people and sharing the gospel in everyday life. We need practitioners who view the front yard as their classroom, the neighbors as their disciples, and their community as their mission field. We need people who have felt the cuts and bruises of daily conformity to the ways of Jesus as their pursue the kingdom of God and pray it down in their hearts.

Where are these people today?

We need them.

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“Clearly Jesus did not leave the work of evangelism subject to human impression or convenience. To his disciples it was a definite command, perceived by impulse at the beginning of their discipleship, but progressively clarified in their thinking as they followed him, and finally spelled out in no uncertain terms. No one who followed Jesus very far could escape this conclusion. It was so then; it is so today. Christian disciples are sent men and women—sent out in the same work of world evangelism to which the Lord was sent, and for which he gave his life. Evangelism is not an optional accessory to our life. It is the heartbeat of all that we are called to be and do. It is the commission of the church that gives meaning to all else that is undertaken in the name of Christ.” – Robert Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism

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Evangelism is not an optional accessory to our life.

“Now those who were scattered went about preaching the Word.” – Acts 8:4
“Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch…” – Acts 11:19

Those who read the book of Acts will notice the influence of two major churches: the church in Jerusalem and the church in Antioch. Jerusalem was the city where the New Testament church started through the preaching of Peter at Pentecost, and Antioch became the missionary sending center for Paul and Barnabas throughout the Gentile world. But there is an amazing connection between these two churches that can get easily overlooked while reading about Stephen’s martyrdom, Paul’s conversion, and Peter’s dreams. It’s the ordinary life on mission from the no-named army of disciples who preached Jesus everywhere they went.

In Acts 8, the church scattered from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria due to persecution from the hand of Saul and his accomplices. They were identified as “those who were scattered.” The persecution that sent them did not stop them or silence them. Providence pushed them toward proclaiming Jesus, and they “went about” their lives doing just that. How did the gospel get from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria? It happened as Spirit-empowered disciples bore witness to Jesus and His resurrection and preached the Word as they stepped out on mission.

Fast forward a couple of chapters and you see that same gospel seed spreading from Judea and Samaria to the Gentile world, completing the promise of Acts 1:8. But how did it get there? More specifically, who took it to the Gentile world? Did God use Phillip, Peter and Paul? Absolutely. But notice the language of Acts 11:19.

“Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arise over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch…”.

The gospel went from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria because of no-named disciples on mission to make much of Jesus. And the gospel went from Judea and Samaria to the Gentile world because of no-named disciples on mission to make much of Jesus. Is it any wonder, then, that the church in Antioch would be the sending center for the early church in the book of Acts? It was comprised of disciples whose spiritual lineage descended from disciples who made disciples who preached Jesus in the power of the Spirit. They had the missional DNA from the beginning because the gospel seed was so generously and faithfully scattered by ordinary disciples “going about” their ordinary lives on mission to preach the Word and tell others about Jesus.

We will never know the stories and the sacrifices of “those who were scattered” in the early church, but they have a legacy that continues generation after generation among people from all lands and languages of people who have no name or recognition other than the everlasting fruit they leave in the wake of their life on mission.

May that be true about our generation and our cities today. The way God will reach our world may be through a Peter or Paul. But it also may be through “those who were scattered” that went about their lives making much of Jesus and sowing that gospel seed day in and day out.

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“Many of our approaches to evangelism still assume a Christendom mentality. We expect people to come when we ring the church bell or put on a good service, but the majority of the population are disconnected from church. Changing what we do in church will not reach them. We need to meet them in the context of everyday life.”
– Steve Timmis and Tim Chester, Everyday Church

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Meet Them in Everyday Life

Post-Christendom Missional AttractionalSo far in this series, I have touched on Posture and Perspectives in Post-Christendom. At the close of the “Perspectives” post, I argued, “I believe there has been a considerable shift over the past decade (or two) toward paganism where the majority of non-Christians today are ignorant, indifferent, and militant.” In this post, I want to elaborate on the two paradigms for engaging non-Christians in Post-Christendom.

The Attractional Paradigm

During the times of Christendom and its decline, the attractional paradigm enjoyed much success. It was a time when the majority of non-Christians in culture found Christianity relevant and were quite conversant from a cultural standpoint. Christianity was looked upon favorably by the many, and churches seemed to engage the “unchurched Harry and Mary“. The attractional paradigm saw the rise of the seeker-sensitive movement, where a large focus of the church’s mission was to get non-Christians to “come and see” through the church event what Christianity was about. Missiologists call this a “centripetal” movement where the draw is toward the center, namely the Sunday morning event/experience.

The attractional paradigm found ways to reach the non-Christians through a focus on relevance and pragmatism. The event focused on “the experience” wherein the message would have relevance to the most pressing issues of the day (sex, happiness, relationships, overcoming fear, etc.). Outside the event, the attractional model produced goods and services that the non-Christian consumer would find practical and beneficial. Relevance and pragmatism became a winning combination for burgeoning megachurches who could exceed consumer expectations on what they could offer them and the experience they could find.

Continue Reading…

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Me and My Ninety-Nine

Tim Brister —  June 14, 2014 — 2 Comments

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
(Luke 15:1-7 ESV)

One of the challenges I face when it comes to maturing as a disciple of Jesus is working through passages familiar to my head (knowledge) but unengaged in my heart (life change). The parable in Luke 15:1-7 is a classic example, and one where I am learning to grow in joy-inspired repentance.

We know how the story goes. A man loses one of his sheep and does whatever it takes to find that sheep. But when I dwell on this passage a little more and the unaddressed realities in my heart, a couple of things come to my mind. First, am I the kind of person who is not even aware of when a sheep is lost? Do I pay enough attention to the “sheep who are not of this fold” (John 10:16) to acknowledge when one is lost? Second, am I the kind of person who secretly tells myself, “Well, I only lost one. At least I still have the other ninety-nine. Why make the effort to go after the one who is lost anyway? Is that not a bad stewardship of my time and energy?”

In the past, I made it easy to identify with the man in this story who acts heroically to find the lost sheep. A big reason for that has to do with the superficial allowance I give myself in engaging the text merely in an intellectual manner. I agree to the truths that are communicated in the text, but I fail to discover whether my life is in line with the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:14). To my own embarrassment, I am far more competent in exegeting a text of Scripture than exegeting the subtext of my own heart.

Let’s face it. Me and my ninety-nine is not bad after all, if we are playing the numbers game. From a pragmatic standpoint, I am efficient with my time and energy. I am leveraging my limited resources and stewarding them for the maximum outcome possible. The only problem with this thinking is the point Jesus makes in this story (and with His life). There is joy to be had for finding the lost. There is joy to be shared in inviting others to enter into that celebration. There is repentance to be remembered when the story of the good news of the sheep being found becomes greater than the sheep being lost. And all of this because in the one, the man found a mission to embrace that caused him to leave everything behind until the rescue was made. Too often, I am comfortable with the ritual of remaining with the righteous ninety-nine than the risk of rescuing the one needing repentance and the reward of joy that comes as the fruit of that risk.

Would you join me in learning to be faithful to the one by taking ownership of the rescue mission therein? I long to be able to say, “Rejoice with me.” But before that, I need to believe the joy in finding the one that was lost is of far greater value than the comforting of remaining with me and my ninety-nine.

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I long for a church…

Tim Brister —  May 10, 2014 — 1 Comment

“I long for a church that understands that it—the local church—is the chosen and best method of evangelism. I long for a church where the Christians are so in love with Jesus that when they go about the regular time of worship, they become an image of the gospel. I long for a church that disarms with love, not entertainment, and lives out countercultural confidence in the power of the gospel. I long for a church where the greatest celebrations happen over those who share their faith, and the heroes are those who risk their reputations to evangelize.

I yearn for a culture of evangelism with brothers and sisters whose backs are up to mine in the battle, where I’m taught and I teach about what it means to share our faith; and where I see leaders in the church leading people to Jesus. I want a church where you can point to changed lives, where you can see people stand up and say, ‘When I came to this church two years ago, I didn’t know God, but now I do!’ I long to be part of a culture of evangelism like that. I bet you do, too.”

– J. Mack Stiles, Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus, 60-61.

 

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A couple weeks ago, I wrapped up the blog series “from strangers to missionaries” with a compilation post and summary. Or so I thought.

Since then more conversations have occurred, and I’d like to offer a few more posts that I believe could be helpful to those of you attempting to work this out. One stream of conversation has had to do with the online platform I use called NextDoor. I started using NextDoor to create an online hub for my immediate neighborhood with the purpose of owning my own square mile. Now more than six months in, I have experienced some highs and lows in seeking to live as a missionary to my own neighborhood. I have said this to more than one person: being a missionary to my neighborhood has to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

But it’s worth it. It’s what God has called me, called us, to do.

In our world today, pathways into people’s lives have changed. In times past, permission was given to enter through their front door (literally). People were much more accessible and approachable. Neighbors felt like neighbors. Now neighbors are more like strangers than ever before. People are more insulated and isolated through television, computers, video games, and other indoor hobbies that breed insular lives. People seem to always being in a hurry, with no time to talk and take every measure possible to prevent that from happening (tinted windows, gated entrances, security systems, and fenced in yards).

What I’ve discovered about my neighborhood, in particular, is that almost everyone is a transplant to our city and this neighborhood. The overwhelming majority have lived here less than five years. Several languages and nearly a dozen nationalities are represented in this diverse group of 1,400 people. And the few times I’ve hosted a “meet and greet”, the confession among us all is that we don’t know one another and really don’t know how to be neighbors to one another. There’s a desire, albeit often very small, but there’s a bigger problem of ignorance and incompetency in knowing how to live in community with other people. Someone has to take the lead and work to overcome the massive inertia to build relationships and forge meaningful community.

Continue Reading…

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The Pressure’s Off

Tim Brister —  September 16, 2013 — Leave a comment

Such an encouraging word from my seminary mentor and friend, Jason Meyer. “Doing little things with great love can make a big difference. It can change the world.” Lord, take our fresh brownies and fresh faith to behold Your mysterious and majestic work among us.

HT: Z

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