The Purpose of World Evangelization

Last week I shared Ed Dayton’s expanded definition of world evangelization.

Because world evangelization is a task, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the goal of that particular task.

The nature of world evangelization is communication of the good news.

The purpose of world evangelization is to give individuals and groups a valid opportunity to accept Jesus Christ.

And the goal of world evangelization is the persuading of men and women to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and serve him in the fellowship of his church.

Then we discussed the nature of evangelization, defining the good news we want to communicate. I ended the blog with the summary:

Ideally, the good news we want to communicate begins with the inner change brought about by transferring our allegiance to God through Jesus Christ; that’s salvation. It continues with a renewing of our inner selves and the process of growth to become like Christ; that’s sanctification. It should then touch those around us through our lives and overt testimony, beginning with our families, then extending to touch and improve our own society and, ultimately, the world. This might be summed up in Paul’s words from Ephesians 2:10, “. . . we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

With that background, there are two important thoughts in Dayton’s next statement, “The purpose of world evangelization is to give individuals and groups a valid opportunity to accept Jesus Christ.”

In the West, we tend towards individualization. We think and act as individuals, often with little concern for how our thoughts and actions affect those around us. We make decisions as individuals. That’s neither good nor bad, just the way it is.

We often presume on individualism when offering salvation. When witnessing one-on-one, we want to bring a person to the individual decision to follow Christ. When we give a group invitation, as in evangelistic services, we call on individuals to make a decision. Granted, people come sometimes as couples, families or other groups. Last week I was blessed to see a small family group in our church responding together, but the call is usually for individual decisions to follow Christ. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that – in our culture.

In many cultures, individuals do not make such life-changing decisions on their own. In tribal or family-oriented cultures, an entire group makes the decision to accept or reject Jesus’ call. I know of specific instances where an individual within such a group wanted to follow Christ, but did not because the group did not.

I’ve also had the joy of hearing a tribal leader say “We (all) want to follow Jesus.” I heard the words, then witnessed the change and growth in the village as a whole and the individuals within the group. It’s unbelievably exciting to be part of such a people movement.

This might sound kind of weird to our western brains. That’s why we need someone like Ed Dayton to help us adjust our mindset and mission strategizing to accommodate both individual and group evangelism and growth.

The same is true with the second half of his sentence, “. . . give . . . a valid opportunity to accept Jesus Christ.”

I know of an American missionary in India who befriended a Hindu woman. The missionary wanted her friend to follow Christ, but went slowly in unveiling the gospel. One day her emotions got the better of her and the missionary blurted out, “I wish you could be born again and have eternal life.” The Hindu burst into tears, exclaiming, “I thought you were my friend. Why would you say something so horrible to me?!”

The American was using the right western and even biblical words to communicate the gospel, but they were not received well by the Indian. The Hindu associated being born again with reincarnation. She did not want to be reincarnated over and over again (i.e., eternal life). Instead, she wanted to reach the end of her spiritual journey and cease to exist as an individual.

From the American’s point of view, she had presented a valid opportunity for the Indian to accept Christ. From the Indian’s point of view, it was anything but a valid opportunity, because she did not understand it.

I don’t want to get bogged down in theology here. I don’t want to discuss how much a person needs to understand in order to make a valid decision to follow Christ. I just want to point out that the validity of such an offer has to be seen from the perspective of the individual or group which receives the message. If they cannot understand the offer, for any reason, it is not valid.

That means missionaries (and all evangelizing Christians) must take the time to understand their target audience as they present the good news. We must present the gospel in a language people understand; we must present the gospel with words whose meaning people understand (or, at least, don’t misunderstand); we must present the gospel in thought patterns people can follow; we must present the gospel in such a way that people understand they have a choice; we must be ready to present the gospel over and over again; we must be prepared to have people consciously reject the gospel, though we sincerely hope they choose the better way.

You know we can’t force people to follow Christ. That’s their decision. But we can be trained, prepared, and equipped to cross cultural boundaries in such a way that people who receive the gospel from us can make that very important valid decision with clarity and understanding.