Monday, August 19, 2019

Finding Yourself in the Great Commission(s)

While we have seen a significant increase in the number of new believers we baptize each year at our church, if we are brutally honest, the majority of our growth does not come from the unchurched. It comes from transfer growth or from de-churched, a category of people who hold to some Christian faith but have wandered from the church because of disappointment or disillusionment. While we acknowledge the validity of welcoming people into a church that is more in line with what they had hoped church would be, we do not believe that multiplication should just be a shuffling of the deck of Christians in a given area. In Southern California, church options are seemingly endless which means that church shopping and hopping have become a way of life for many Christians. We want to acknowledge the reality of transfer growth without giving in to its lure. One way we counter the lure of transfer growth is by building strong relationships with other churches in our city. We want people to know that we are not here in competition with other churches, and that any transfer to or from our church will be handled with due honor towards other local churches and their leaders.

The primary way we counter the lure of transfer growth is by doing the work of an evangelist. Even in our increasingly post-Christian, post-modern, post-everything world, Jesus promised that the harvest would plentiful and the workers would be few. So we focus our efforts on praying for and equipping people to go and work in the harvest, which means more than planting a church and living as a Christ-follower in a given city. It means actually opening your mouth to tell people the message of the good news of Jesus.

In the Apostle Paul’s charge to Timothy, he urged him in this regard. “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry." (2 Tim 4:5)

One can assume that Timothy was not an evangelist, either by gifting or motivation. We know that he was timid by nature, weak by constitution and was called to assist Paul in the planting and strengthening of newer churches. While he had an apostolic mandate, he seemed to be more pastorally inclined. And yet, here was a clear call to “do the work of an evangelist.”

Finding Yourself in the Great Commissions

This charge stands as a clear call to every member and leader in a multiplying church. We all follow the example of our Good Shepherd, who not only laid his life down for His sheep but told them, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must go to them.” Jesus lived to seek and to save the lost. We have all received the Great Commission from our Lord and while the Great Commission is more than just evangelism, it is certainly not less than evangelism. What fascinates me about the Great Commission is that it may actually be viewed as the Great Commissions. At the end of each of the four gospels, Jesus commissions his disciples in a slightly different manner. In Matthew’s Gospel, He says, “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations."(28:19) In Mark’s Gospel, He says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”(16:15) In Luke’s Gospel He says, “You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”(24:48) In John’s Gospel He says, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me so I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”(20-:22-23)

If we look at the four commissions in the four Gospels, we get a more fully orbed view of how we might do the work of an evangelist. There are more possibilities for our various personalities. I would distill the four nuanced commissions down to four essences: Matthew’s is about explaining the gospel (disciple and teach), Mark’s is about proclaiming the gospel (preach), Luke’s is about gospel story-telling (witnesses) and John’s is about gospel reconciliation (peace, forgiveness).

When we find ourselves in the Great Commissions we realize there is no one-size-fits-all in doing the work of an evangelist. We are free to find the way that best fits our wiring and personality as we share the story of Jesus. Some may be great at a slow explanation of the gospel, others skilful at punchy proclamation. Some are better at giving their testimony and telling the story creatively, while others are able to bring gospel peace into conflict situations. As leaders, we have an opportunity to help people find their place in the Great Commissions of Jesus. Which one of these commissions best fits your personality and skill set?

Doing the work of an evangelist is hard and intentional work. We can so easily be swallowed up with the duties of our ministry. Evangelism requires carving out emotional and relational space in the midst of leading or serving in a multiplying  church. It is not adding another duty to our to-do-list. It is living with an open home, open eyes and an open mouth. There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner that repents than over 99 righteous. So, let’s ask Jesus for power and skill to go after the one.

This is the primary way in which Jesus wants to grow churches as they multiply. Especially in small and medium-sized churches, evangelism will not be able to be outsourced to powerful professionals or big events. It will need to become a culture that lives in the leaders of the church and works its way through the whole church little by little until each and every person finds themselves in the Great Commissions of Jesus.

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