The Church and Evangelism
Manna 65: Missionary Work

Recall the Past. Measure the Present. Take Action for the Future.

Adapted sermon from Singapore

              “And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature’” (Mk 16:15).

Evangelism is the command of the Lord Jesus Christ—we have heard, read and said this countless times. We know all the evangelism-related passages by heart, perhaps even in English, Chinese, Greek and more. But more importantly, what have we done about it?

This article considers evangelism from three aspects:

Where did we come from?

Where are we now?

Where should we go?

I. The Spirit of Evangelism PAst

              Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

              (Mt 28:19–20)

This mandate of Christ to the church is commonly known as the 'great commission'. It starts with a powerful command—“Go!” Fellowship in the Lord is a blessing. After all, the warm, fraternal and godly atmosphere of the apostolic church summarized in Acts 2:42 is often held up as an ideal that the true church today should strive for, and invest effort to sustain. But Jesus' intention is also for us to take concrete action, "Go and make disciples of all nations". This is the explicit command for evangelism. In fact, to make disciples is the very reason the church exists.

There are some who say that we are “only a pastoral church”. There are at least two erroneous concepts in this sentence. Firstly, this statement implies that pastoral work – loving and tending the sheep and lambs – is all that the church needs to do. For such people, evangelism is nothing more than maintaining a presence or a prominent profile in their current community. But Jesus 'statement here is more unequivocally active—He want us to "Go".

Secondly, there aren’t any 'pastoral only' churches. What is the ultimate goal of pastoral work? It is to make disciples, teaching them all (emphasis added) that Jesus has commanded. So every person who calls himself or herself a disciple of Jesus Christ must keep all of the commandments, which includes the commandment to "Go and make disciples". In short, pastoral work and evangelism must go hand in hand.

The church that “only pastors” is a moribund organization which will eventually die. Consider a family without a breadwinner and living off a bequest. The parents may be very frugal but the inherited money is still being used up; so if nothing else is done to bring in ‘new income’, this family cannot survive.

In the context of the church, new babies born and baptized may not be sufficient to replace old members who die. So without evangelism, there may be no-one left to pastor in the end.

The Apostolic Spirit[i]

The apostolic church started with only 120 people in Jerusalem. Many were women, some were uneducated people and most had never traveled outside Palestine. Yet, within a few decades, the gospel was preached throughout the Roman Empire. What underpinned this extraordinary growth? In a nutshell, it was passion in responding to the Lord Jesus’ command.

More specifically, there were several salient growth factors.

Everyone Preached

The apostles preached, the deacons preached and the believers preached wherever they went. They preached to the masses; to their family members; to their friends; in fact, they preached to just about anyone who was willing to listen. They preached in good times, they preached when they were persecuted, they preached when they were in prison. Evangelism was the very essence of the apostolic spirit; almost as if they lived to preach!

It was no different for the early True Jesus Church.

The Holy Spirit worked mightily[1]

After the first downpour of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the church grew from 120 to 3000 members; and then from 3000 to more than 5000. Miracles abounded—the shadow of Peter could heal the sick; a mere handkerchief from Paul could cast out demons!

Today, wonders and miracles continue to occur but, compared to the early church, they are far fewer. This is correlated to the reduced frequency of our preaching.

Miracles are a sign for unbelievers so if we do not preach, why would God perform a miracle? The apostolic church understood this; so BEFORE they asked God to perform miracles, they first prayed for boldness to speak the Word (Acts 4:29–30). The direction of causality is clear. We do not wait for God to first perform miracles before going out to preach. The apostolic church preached, and then God performed miracles. Similarly, the early True Jesus Church workers preached, and then God performed miracles. In short, God works miracles only when we preach.

Consistency between believers’ lives and their faith

There are many aspects we can learn from the apostolic church but one stands out as "uniquely TJC".

              “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” (Acts 2:46).

Such a depiction of the first church mirrors the early church in Taiwan. The people received the gospel with gladness, led very simple lives and attended services every single day. In fact such a life is itself a powerful witness to the gospel because it shows that we actually practice what we believe.

However, many of us today are worried over many things—we are caught up with our studies, our jobs and the world. Service attendance is relegated to a leisure activity—something to do as and when we are free. How then do we expect others to be convinced when we declare to them that life on earth is transient, and there is an eternal, more precious life to come?

These same three factors were indispensable to the evangelical efforts of the apostolic church. Paul confirms this:

              “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake” (1 Thess 1:5).

First is the ‘Word’. We must open our mouths to preach. Second is the ‘power of the Holy Spirit’ because it is not our eloquence that moves the hearts of men toward God. Third, the ‘kind of man we were amongst you for your sake’. The preacher's conduct must match his faith. All three factors were present in the apostolic church as well as the early True Jesus Church.

II. The Spirit of Evangelism Present

The next important question is "Where are we now?" Every church has an 'evangelistic temperature', which is the sum of our individual evangelistic temperatures. Are we hot, cold, or somewhere in between? Check your temperature against Chart 1[ii]. Being hot means that our thoughts are always about our Father’s business of saving lives. On the other hand, being cold means that we are too busy with our own personal business. We do not feel any urgency to preach. Many of us invest considerable time in a variety of divine work, but check ourselves:

          Do we spend an hour each week preaching to our friends?

          Do we spend just half an hour each week, thinking about whom to preach to, when to preach and how to preach to?

          If we do not do the above, do we feel guilty?

Obstacles to Evangelism

Why do we lag behind the apostolic church and early TJC in evangelistic fervor? Let us focus on two key reasons.

lost impact ON us: resurrection of Christ and the Holy Spirit

The apostolic church’s evangelistic zeal was fuelled by two factors—one external, and the other, internal. The external factor is the tremendous miracle of Christ’s resurrection. Today, we have heard this fact repeated so often—Christ is resurrected from the dead—that we have been inured to its great significance. But in the apostolic church, Jesus’ resurrection was a very powerful push factor. This fact showed that He was God in the flesh.

The deaths of globally renowned names such as Steve Jobs or Michael Jackson make the news for days if not weeks. People who first heard it could not wait to put the information on Twitter, Facebook etc. Many who did not even know them personally left condolence messages—“R.I.P., Steve or Michael”. Such behavior gives us a glimpse of how impactful the resurrection was to the apostolic believers, and an understanding of what motivated them to run around to their family and friends, crying, “He lives! He lives!” The disciples never expected Him to rise so when He did and reappeared to them, it was so life-changing that they just had to tell everyone the message.

The second powerful and internal push factor is the Holy Spirit. When they were filled with the Holy Spirit, they were compelled to preach. Peter told the Sanhedrin, “We cannot but speak of the things we have seen and heard.” Rightly, we have no choice but to speak. But unfortunately, today many of us long-time believers choose not to speak.

New converts, on the other hand, are often very zealous about preaching the gospel. Asked why, their answer is simple—because the gospel saves. This is yet another message that has become trite to us. But to someone who has just been convicted of the gospel, it is everything in the world. They are like the man who had just discovered a pearl in the field. Overjoyed, he sold everything to buy that field.

It is therefore critical for us to realign our priorities in our lives. If we have lost that love of preaching, we must return to our first love—to that very moment when we first came into contact with the gospel; or the time when we first received the Holy Spirit; or even the time when we first came into contact with God. Without these two push factors, evangelistic fervor cannot be sustained.

Fear of failure

Undeniably, the rate of successful conversion is extremely low. The amount of time invested and the response obtained frequently do not commensurate. Our ideal scenario is that people quickly accept whatever we proclaim and believe the message we preach. We want to be like Peter at Pentecost—one single sermon pierces the people’s hearts so that they crowd around, eager to know, "What is this that is happening?" Occasionally, this happens but it is rare.

Oftentimes, in order to convert anyone, we have to work very hard to convince them to change their worldview. Doing this takes a very long time but we need to learn from Paul at the school of Tyrannus. He reasoned daily with the people who were there.

Besides the first two, these are three other groups of people we shall meet when we preach.

          Athenians: They will talk, reason and engage with you as if they are very interested in the gospel, but they are actually more interested in the debate itself.

          Jewish multitudes: They are indifferent to whatever you say; they cannot be bothered (Luke 7:32).

          Hardcore Jews: They take time and effort to tear down your arguments; and to put every obstacle in the way of your preaching.

Different countries will have varying proportions of these five types of people. But for many of us living in developed urban societies, an additional drawback is that the pace of life is too fast and everyone is busy. Not only are we too busy to preach to our friends, many of our friends are too busy to listen to us. But this fact is no reason to stop preaching; we just need to work harder than others. Paul felt that he had to work harder than the rest of the other apostles because he had to make up for all the time in the past that he had wasted on persecuting Christians.

Some people blame everything and everyone else for the lack they suffer. But there are others—like Paul—who just work harder to overcome their disadvantage. How will we respond to the difficulty of evangelism? Do we excuse ourselves with, "That is why I don't preach, they do not believe."? Or do we resolve "I must work harder to preach, to try to make them believe."?

Do not worry; there will always be people for us to convert. Jesus clearly told us to "make disciples". By inference, there must be disciples for us to make. So let us hold on to the implicit promise in the Lord’s command and persist in preaching.

III. The Spirit of Evangelism FUTURE

What are the key areas to work on for the future?

Personal Evangelism

From the Bible we see that the scope of God's plan moves like a ripple outwards, i.e. always from near to far. This means that we should first preach to our family members, then to friends, then to strangers. For this reason Jesus told a formerly demon-possessed man, "Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you" (Mk 5:19).

These close and loved ones should have priority in our evangelistic efforts. Otherwise, why would God have placed them in our midst? Preaching to the nearest and dearest is both easy and difficult. It is easy because we already have a connection with them, unlike a stranger whom we are meeting for the first time. The latter does not need to listen to us.

Notwithstanding, personal evangelism can also be very difficult because those who are close to us have seen us at our worst. This is a timely reminder that our behavior among friends and relatives is crucial to personal evangelism.

Door-to-door Evangelism

Personal evangelism is our priority, and door-to-door is a bonus. It allows us to expand the scope of our networks. Having our more mature-aged members participate in door-to-door preaching can be an advantage: people generally respond more politely to them and are more prepared to listen. We need not know reams of Scripture. Just be prepared with one or two personal testimonies that we can share with the homeowners.

Befrienders

Many of us enjoy catching up with brethren after service. Happily chatting away in our own groups before or after services, we fail to notice that truth-seekers are left alone to find their way around church, or to just sit quietly in a pew waiting for service to start. Little wonder then that some stop coming because they lack a sense of warmth and belonging.

We need more people to join this group to look out for truth-seekers who are alone, befriend them, talk to them after service, and make them feel at home. Befrienders should also keep a lookout for truth-seekers who have stopped coming. Give them a call just to see how they are. All these contribute to that sense of familial warmth so prevalent in the apostolic and early church.

Prayer Group

Sometimes, truth-seekers may fall seriously ill or face huge problems. At such times, not only do we need to just tell them to pray, we should actually go as a group to their homes to pray for and with them. Such prayer groups can also bring back long-lost sheep to God’s fold because we help to build bridges between them and God through prayer.

LET GOD’S LOVE INSPIRE YOU

Evangelism is a command of Christ and so we have no choice but to preach. Yet even more importantly, evangelism reflects the very nature of God—love. We preach because we reflect the very nature of God, best captured in John 3:16:

              “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”.

This is the precious central message of the gospel. But have we grown dull to it? Are we just happy that we are saved, unconcerned that millions of people have not yet heard of the deep love of Christ? Believers of the apostolic church and the early True Jesus Church may not have had all our advantages of education and access to knowledge. But this they knew—God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. God so loved them. So they urgently sought to tell their friends and relatives of this wonderful love. What about the True Jesus Church today?



[1] Hence the book of Acts of the Apostles is also known the Acts of the Holy Spirit.



[i] In the Apostolic Pattern: The Early True Jesus Church

Personal evangelism: In China, the early workers traveled thousands of miles on foot or by ship. Occasionally, they went without food and/or shelter. Yet wherever they went, they would preach, baptize, and then quickly set up a new church. Church growth was phenomenal. In 1920, within a mere nine months, these workers had set up forty-two new churches; an average of five churches per month! Moreover, these new believers would then take the gospel back to their hometowns, sharing with even more friends and family.

Holy Spirit: The evangelistic services were simple but effective. Believers went out to the streets, sounding gongs to attract public attention. They distributed pamphlets that boldly declared: "The lame walk, the blind see, and the dumb speak". Many miracles were performed, many received the Holy Spirit, and many were baptized.

On one occasion, at the end of a spiritual and evangelistic meeting where they had discussed doctrines and prayed for the Holy Spirit, almost the entire congregation of a Presbyterian church believed in the doctrines of the true church. So all they needed to do was to return to their chapel and change the signboard of the Presbyterian church to the True Jesus Church!

 

[ii] Chart 1: The Evangelistic Thermometer—Are You Hot or Cold?

HOT: Busy about the Father’s business

          Frequently pray for others

          Take note of lost or straying sheep

          Take time to connect with people

COLD: Busy about my own business

          Do not spend time to tell others about our faith.

          When opportunities for preaching arise, we tell ourselves, “next time”.


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