The Goal of World Evangelization

Two weeks ago, we started examining 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.

As I finished up last week on the topic of what constitutes a valid opportunity to accept Christ, I suggested:

. . . 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.

Having prepared ourselves and our message so that the receiving people and groups could fully understand what it means to accept or reject Christ, we can move on to the final point of Ed Dayton’s definition of world evangelization.

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.

When Jesus gave what we call the great commission, he directed that, as a priority, we make disciples. They he spoke of baptizing and teaching the new disciples. As we learn later in Paul’s New Testament writings, baptism is something we do in tandem with salvation, an act of identification with Christ in his death and resurrection. In doing this, we proclaim our unity in the body of Christ, which is the church.

As I read the great commission, we are to help people make a valid decision to follow Christ, then baptize them as a sign of incorporation into the greater body of believers. Once people are identified with Christ and other Christians, they can be more easily taught as a body and we can all use our spiritual gifts to build up one another in Christ. As Paul taught the church at Ephesus:

. . . Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)

My major hobby right now is working with bonsai trees. I am a member of several internet groups which share information about this hobby. Every so often someone new to the hobby gets into our groups asking, “how can I learn about bonsai?” Almost every time one of the long-standing group members will advise the newbie, “find a bonsai club near you and start attending their meetings. Working with them is the best way to learn.”

If you want to learn about bonsai, hook up with people who already know the hobby. If you want to run, join a local running club. If you want to grow in Christ, where else would you look than a local church, where you can find people directly gifted by God who will help you grow and find your own place within that local body?

Isn’t this what we see happening throughout the book of Acts? Paul, especially, goes somewhere, makes disciples, organizes a church, and then moves on to the next challenge.

Too often in the history of missions and evangelism, the goal has stopped with individuals making a profession of faith. Through our experience with mass evangelism, I dare say that most people in the United States think in terms of people raising their hands in a meeting, or signing a decision card, or just repeating the words of a prayer. People do this (and none of these is bad), and are usually urged to find and join a local church. But there is rarely any practical help or follow-up to match a new believer with a church.

Because of that, I’ve heard it reported that up to 90% of those people who make a decision outside the local church never settle into a church for themselves.

If we do not establish churches as needed and direct people into those churches, we end up having to repeat the evangelization process for every new generation.

On the other hand, if we “[persuade] . . . men and women to . . . serve him in the fellowship of his church,” we are doing our best to ensure they will learn and grow while serving in and through the church. The local church, then will be the best means of evangelizing their own society, allowing the cross-cultural workers to repeat the process in more spiritually needy places.

That’s a worthy goal. And that’s how we’ll get the job done.

Have you heard of the Great Commission?

Have you heard of the Great Commission?

In the last paragraph of his gospel, Matthew wrote:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

If you pay attention to grammar, you might notice there are four verb forms in that passage: go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. Only one of those is what my high school English teachers would have called the main action verb. It is the word which gives direction to this commission. And, no, it isn’t go.

The main thrust is make disciples.

In this sense, a disciple is basically a student who commits to following a teacher, learning from that teacher, then carrying on the work of that teacher. In modern society, we might see this in the trade unions, where a worker begins as an apprentice, advances up the ladder to master craftsman and then takes on his or her own apprentices.

Isn’t that a great picture of what it means to be a Jesus-follower? We see it biblically in the lives of those very disciples who first heard that commission. They met Jesus through a variety of circumstances. They committed themselves to following, helping, and working together with Him. They learned by doing as He began sending them out to do it on their own. At the point of this passage in Matthew, the disciples were ready to carry on the work of proclaiming salvation as Jesus returned to heaven.

This is what we want to see in missions.

But we can’t stop there. We can’t be content to just present the gospel and bring people to the point of following Jesus. Neither can we be content with just seeing these new believers grow as individuals. If we stop there, we have created a situation where we have to re-evangelize every succeeding generation.

That’s why I consider the last two verbs of the Commission to be so important to the entire passage. Going gets us where we need to be; making disciples starts the process which leads into the next verbs.

Jesus told His that first generation of disciples to baptize and teach.

Throughout the book of Acts, which is the history of the first generation of churches, we note that baptism goes hand-in-hand with believing. Time after time, the word goes out “repent and be baptized.” Baptism, in that first century, as now, is a public identification with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In a very real sense, baptism was also incorporation into the body of Christ, which is the church. No, not necessarily a specific local church or denomination as it might be now, but identification with and incorporation into the body that includes all believers, of all time, everywhere.

Through the book of Acts and the epistles, we also see local bodies of believers, with specifically-gifted people raised up to watch over, guide, and teach those people who identified with them. These bodies became associated with specific towns and cities, such as Philippi and Ephesus. In time, the size of these city-wide churches grew so large that smaller bodies (local churches) formed themselves, sometimes identified by the private homes in which they met for prayer and worship.

The final verb Jesus gave was teach. As He had taught His disciples, they were to teach the next generation, and so on and so on . . . right up until our generation today. That first generation of disciples, directed by the Holy Spirit, collected and recorded the words of our Lord, then often explained them in culturally relevant and understandable ways to the many people who came into the church. As these writings (i.e. Paul’s letters) were compiled and shared, the local churches became the centers of this teaching.

It would be so easy now for me to rabbit trail into a church history lecture or discuss the function of the local church. But that’s not what I’m presenting today.

Think. instead to the Great Commission as a process, rather than a series of commands. The process begins when those who know Christ go to those who don’t, wherever they might be. Having gone, we find ways to communicate the gospel, help people to make real, conscious decisions to believe in Christ for salvation and then to commit themselves to follow him throughout their lives. As people come to Christ, we bring them together into local churches which guide and teach, helping believers live and mature according to the teaching Jesus gave directly and then the Holy Spirit gave through the writings we know as the New Testament.

If we do this right and well, these same churches will send the next general of missionaries, who will make disciples, organize local churches, train leaders, etc., etc.

Does this work? You’re here, aren’t you? You, dear reader, are a product of your church, which was born from another church, which was born from another . . . No matter where we start, no matter our church or denominational affiliation, no matter our race or nationality, if we trace our spiritual family trees, we will all find ourselves together 2000 years ago on a Palestinian hillside with Jesus, hearing Him say, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Let’s keep this process moving ahead and actually get it done.