Sunday Night Live Sermons
THE IMPERATIVE OF EVANGELISM
Megatrends That Have Guided Us
This week at our Synod of the Uniting Church, delegates anticipated Moderator Jim Mein’s “Vision Statement.” It came after attending 24 visioning workshops involving each presbytery, lay ministers, presbytery ministers, youth workers, Committees, and each of the Synod boards listening and reflecting. Mr. Mein, possibly exhausted from listening to so many people, read from his notes a long list of ideas, which in careful reading take the form of a wish list of ideas from off the top of the heads of so many people, mixed with a shopping list of things members of the family want, plus a laundry list of the church’s dirty linen mixed with a trivia list of disjointed answers that might match unexpected questions.
A vision statement requires skill and discipline in formulating what people can easily remember and in communicating so believers sing “hearts inspiring, visions firing, march we onward in thy name.” A vision is necessary, said Mr. Mein, because the Uniting Church is withering as the churches are alienating, distrusted, out of date, often dysfunctional and an impediment to growth. The church needs to be built on relationships not evangelism which alienates people. But you cannot build a church on right relationships if you seek to be Biblical. Right relationships are a result of being right with God, other people, our environment and ourselves, and such relationships are the result of the atonement where peace is made through the Blood of Christ on the Cross. Such is the heart of Reformed and evangelical theology. That message must be communicated to others and that is evangelism. To talk relationships without atonement is to deny the efficacy of the Cross, and to down grade evangelism is to be disobedient.
Theological integrity must be foremost in our vision. The church of Jesus Christ is a not a pragmatic structure of humanists. It is easier to criticize past methods than to develop new ones. There may be weaknesses in earlier strategies, but we need the same commitment to proclaiming Christ as Saviour and Lord as previously. Without that the results are obvious: few conversions, little calling of people to commitment, and no evangelism. Yet churches have enormous potential among newer members whose friends are all still outside the faith, and among those long-term members who still get excited about what God is doing in the world and in telling other people about it. Solid, faithful members are a great asset if they keep their excitement about their faith and keep telling others about Jesus.
For God has not cancelled the Great Commission! The Great Commission of Jesus has never been revoked. So we cannot make secondary what Jesus Christ made primary. The Church is still under the command to go, preach, teach, baptize. At Wesley Mission evangelism is the heartbeat of everything we do. We believe proclaiming Jesus Christ is Lord is most successful when the church demonstrates that the Word of the Gospel and the deed of practical care together. One of our great mega-trends is the imperative of evangelism. Paul was the greatest church planter and Gospel communicator in history. How did he go about his work? Paul explained his ministry in a pattern for Gospel ministry today as he closed his Letter to the Romans. Here are five insights into the imperative of evangelism. Romans 15:14–20
1. EVANGELISM STARTS WITH GOD. v14–15
“I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me.” Evangelism is not a matter of our strategies and methods. It is a matter of what God does. Ultimately you cannot motivate anyone into witnessing in evangelism. But when people get excited about God, they do not need to be told to evangelise. They just do it! The trouble is that so many Christians have lost their love of God and have forgotten all that God has done for them. Recapture that love and those memories!
Like the Uniting Church, we may be “full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another” but we still need God to initiate evangelism. When Paul met Jesus Christ on the Damascus road, he experienced God. God saved him. It was God’s grace that made him an apostle. “We have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for His name.” Rom. 1:5 The Gospel starts with God. Evangelism starts with the grace of God. That means in our living and preaching God must be top of our agenda. There is much shallow preaching today by ministers who think they are entertainers or pop-psychologists, or sociologists discussing the latest social issue. Their focus has shifted from God to humanity. Preaching is too much us, and not enough God. Too much entertainment, not enough evoking a response. In all their words the Word of God is not being clearly heard.
For many, being a minister is just a job, with set hours for counselling, limits to the amount of work done each week, and activities designed to keep the church going. But the great task of the minister is not to keep the church going, but to keep the church going out into the community with the message of God’s love and salvation in Christ Jesus. That is our primary task. Dr John Piper in “The Supremacy Of God In Preaching” says “If God is not supreme in our preaching, where in this world will the people hear about the supremacy of God? Our people need someone to lift up his voice and magnify the supremacy of God.” All evangelism starts with God.
2. EVANGELISM IS CENTRAL TO MINISTRY.
Paul writes: v16 “Because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit”. Paul had a “priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God”. He used a word for minister here from which we derive liturgy: lietourgon. Paul saw his ministry like that of a priest offering, not a sacrificial lamb but new converts: “that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” He was lifting up the souls of people as a sweet-smelling fragrance to Christ. Many modern ministers are taught about liturgy: which prayers to read, what stole to wear and when to light the candle. But when the word for liturgy is used in the New Testament, it is used of proclaiming the Gospel in such a way that new people come to faith as a living sacrifice to God. Evangelism is the preaching of the Gospel as a “priestly duty”.
At Wesley Mission, Sydney, we preach for commitment to Christ every Sunday. I never stand up to preach without praying for conversions and people making public their commitment to Christ. We pray every week that God will give us disciples not just decisions. Converted, changed, repentant lives. We look for conversions in Wesley Theatre, from our radio and television audiences. And thanks to God, many find Him every week!
3. THE GOSPEL BRINGS GLORY TO GOD. v17
“Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God”. The word glory carries the idea of boasting. He was not bragging about his ministry, but boasting in what God had done. Paul did not serve to make a name for himself. He wanted to bring glory to Jesus. When we go in faith and take risks for the Gospel, preaching the Word boldly and serving the needy, we bring glory to God. Yet many are afraid to take such risks. Evangelism is bringing glory to God by reaching in faith and taking risks for God. Every time I stand in public to preach the Gospel, or face a business convention, or speak on radio or television, I am out on a limb, risking in faith. The press ridicules the evangelist. Ministers gossip about their colleague. The church councils cut down tall poppies. It is risky preaching the Gospel. The reason why so many do not like the evangelist is that the evangelist is a change agent. He or she seeks to change the lives of people. The evangelist was called by Jesus to catch men and women for Christ. Some do not like the idea of catching people for Christ. But can you image a fisherman who seeks only to influence fish, and not catch them? Bringing people back to God is central to all true ministry.
4. THE GOSPEL IS EMPOWERED BY GOD. v19
“I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done by the power of signs and miracles through the power of the Spirit.” The Spirit empowered Paul enabling signs and miracles. The signs came from God and revealed Him to others. The miracles aroused awe in people. But their purpose was to open the way for the preaching of the Gospel. The Spirit empowered Paul to “lead the Gentiles to obey God”. Evangelism exercises spiritual gifts with the aim of making people disciples. Ministry is never the art of saving the church; it is the art of saving the lost!
In our counselling, nursing, providing medical and psychiatric treatment, in rehabilitation and care, we share the love of God with the lost. God empowers our work through His Spirit for it is done for His glory, using the spiritual gifts of people, and ministering to people with loving words and practical care. Jesus called to fishermen and told them he would teach them to fish for men for God’s kingdom. A fisherman catches live fish and they die, but an evangelist catches dead men and they live. Jesus offers life that is eternal, abundant and free.
5. THE GOSPEL SPREADS TO GOD’S PLAN. v20–22
“So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.””
God had a plan for Paul to follow: he was not to preach where any other apostle had ministered. “From Jerusalem all around to Illyricum” (Yugoslavia) is more than 2000 kilometres! What the tremendous achievement despite dangers and hardship. Paul “fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ”. Evangelism is taking the Gospel to people and places where Christ is not known. Paul’s was a tough and disciplined ministry and every evangelist must be tough and disciplined, especially in his commitment to a sacrificial salary and a holy and blameless life. Everything Paul did was with the aim of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul would travel anywhere to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As John Wesley said to members and ministers of the early Methodist church: “You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this service.” That was his vision, for the world was his parish.
When the New Testament speaks of evangelism, it uses verbs, not nouns. In other words, evangelism is personal active involvement of believers, not a subject that we discuss. The Gospel starts with the grace of God, is the centre of our ministry, brings glory to God, is empowered by God, and is spread according to God’s plan. Nothing is more important than working together to communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Evangelism is the highest calling from God. His only Son brought the Good News that God loves us, that our sins can be forgiven, and through faith in what Jesus did for us on the Cross, we can live forever. Admit you are a sinner. Believe in God. Commit your life to Jesus Christ. That is the imperative of evangelism! That is the vision the Church must recapture!
- “THE SUPREMACY OF GOD IN PREACHING” John Piper Baker
- ROMANS Kent Hughes Crossways. 1991