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|2nd October, 1999|
I preach the Gospel. There is no higher calling. Yet some Australian Churches are content to sit in the comfort zone and not reach others with the Gospel. I was holding a consultation with one Church Council recently, and when I asked about their plans for evangelism, one person said: "We don't want to have a Billy Graham here!" Billy Graham is an evangelist but his is not the only form of evangelism. But the sad part of that comment is the lack of understanding that evangelism is the primary task of the church, and anything else put ahead of it must be secondary. If we do not evangelise we fail Jesus Christ, and our church is already dying.
It is easier to criticise past methods than to develop new ones. At least previous generations were committed to evangelism. The coming of Olympics 2000 gives us focus, but for many there is little proclaiming the Gospel to all people everywhere. Some denominations talk about the weaknesses of earlier strategies, but few show the same commitment to proclaiming Christ as Saviour and Lord as previously. The results are obvious: few conversions, little calling of people to commitment, and no practise of evangelism. Yet the 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 tell other people about it. These 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 Church is still under the command to go, preach, teach, baptise. Wesley Mission is one church where 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 are ministered together. As we enter the twentyfirst century, one of the great mega-trends we must take into the new millennium 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 insights in the imperative of evangelism.
1. EVANGELISM STARTS WITH GOD. v. 14-15
"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!
We may be "full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another" but God initiates 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. Some ministers think they are entertainers or pop-psychologists, or sociologists to discuss the latest social issue. Their focus has shifted from God to humanity. Preaching is too much us, and not enough God. Too much entertainment and 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.
Some students are never taught evangelism is central to ministry! For Paul wrote: v.16 "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.
In many theological colleges young ministers are taught about liturgy: which prayers to read, what colour stole to wear, how to move and how to act and so on. 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 this theatre, from our radio and from our television audiences. And thanks be to God, many find Him!
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 of 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 public cuts 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, and many do not like change. 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 wonders. The signs came from God and revealed Him to others. The wonders 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!
At Wesley Mission, in counselling, nursing, providing medical and psychiatric treatment 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 and concern. Jesus called to fishermen disciples 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 come to life in Jesus who offers them 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 2, 000 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."
When the New Testament speaks of evangelism, it uses verbs, not nouns. In other words, evangelism is a 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!
THE SUPREMACY OF GOD IN PREACHING John Piper Baker
ROMANS Kent Hughes Crossways. 1991
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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