The Local Church and Evangelism: An Overview

I. Why do we “do outreach?”

The church carries the mandate to take the message of the gospel to the entire world (Matt 28:19-20). In fact, the impetus to be involved in outreach comes directly from the pages of Scripture. It is clear from scripture that a church cannot be faithful to the Lord apart from reaching out to the lost with the message of the Gospel. God’s basic plan for evangelism is that it be done through the life of the church (Eph 3:10). The corporate testimony of the local church that comes through intentional evangelism and holy living is a key component of God’s plan for gospel growth (Phil 2:14-6). This means that the church must be involved in outreach within its own community in order to be faithful to God’s plan.

The church’s motivations for being involved in outreach must also be carefully evaluated based upon the word of God. The bible reveals at least 5 basic motivations for outreach ministry:
Obedience to God (Matt 28:19-20)
The joy of revealing God’s glory (2 Cor 4:7)
A love for the lost (Lk 10:27)
The desire to do good to all people (Gal 6:10; Heb 13:16)
The privilege of being used in the growth of God’s kingdom (Acts 18:0)

These are the motivations that should be driving the church’s outreach ministry. Any other motivations or goals run the risk of being unbiblical and may even lead to an adulteration of the gospel message (2 Cor 4:1-4).

II. Where do we “do outreach?”

The mandate to take the message of the gospel to the entire world requires that the church be involved in evangelism to those around the world through “missions” (The issue of missions is dealt with in the “Philosophy of Missions” document.), and to those in the local community surrounding the church through “outreach” (Acts 1:8). Locally, God has providentially placed each church and each believer within that church in a strategic place for sharing the gospel. Each church and each individual has a sphere of influence that God has not given to any others. The church and the individual believers within the church must identify and use their sphere of influence for the purpose of evangelism. Just as the apostle Paul used his “everyday marketplace” as an evangelistic opportunity (Acts 17:17) we too must intentionally use our everyday lives as evangelistic opportunities. Separation from sinful lifestyles and influences does not require isolationism with respect to unbelievers (1 Cor 5:9-10). We must take the initiative to build relationships with unbelievers for the purpose of evangelism and spiritual influence (i.e. Discipleship).

III. How do we “do evangelism?”

The mandate to take the message of the gospel to the entire world must be fulfilled in a manner consistent with the principles found in the word of God and the doctrines affirmed by the church. “More effective outreach” must never be used as an excuse for theological compromises (2 Cor 4:1-6). God only blesses ministry that is done his way. It must always be remembered that the Bible is is proven and effective for the work of gospel ministry (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Based on the teaching of scripture it is clear that the mandate to share the gospel has been given to the entire community of believers. We must seek out relationships by which we can have a spiritual influence on another person (i.e. discipleship), and we must always be ready to share the truths of the gospel (1 Pt 3:15). It is the church’s job to train, encourage, and support individuals in this effort (Eph 4:12).

Corporately, the church may hold occasional meeting for the purpose of sharing the gospel with unbelievers. However, while the Lord’s Day should be focused on the gospel, the primary purpose of the corporate gathering of believers is worship and edification rather than evangelism.

“Mercy” or “helping” ministries should always be seen as an opportunity to share the gospel rather than as an end unto themselves (Mk 8:36), and should always seek to address physical needs with biblical solutions. Assistance with food, clothing, housing, transportation, housing, employment, etc. should be addressed by the church as individual believers take the initiative to meet a need that God has laid upon their hearts. In the instances when financial assistance is needed from the church, members of the church must always be given priority.

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Free for what?

With all the conversation going on about Christian living, particularly with reference to alcohol, I thought it would be helpful to think through the issue here on the blog. Before we commence there are a few ground rules:

1) this is primarily for my own benefit as I think through the issue of how to use my Christian Liberties as a pastor;

2) this posts is about the issue of Christian Liberty not about how the conversation has been handled by others;

4) I want to deal with principles not specifics (Not because that is the only way to do. I just want to develop principles I can live by without being distracted by other conversations.).

Before I go any further I also want to share my personal philosophy on Christian Liberty as a pastor. Simply put, if it could hinder my ability to minister to someone in my congregation I don’t do it. I know you are already poking holes in that philosophy, but hey, that is why I am working through the issue now!

All that being said, here are the questions I ask of myself when I am trying to work through a specific issue:

Does it directly violate God’s law? (1 Cor 10:23a)

Can I honor God if I do it? (1 Cor 10:31)

Can I honor God if I don’t do it? (1 Cor 10:31)

Does it violate my conscience? (Rom 14:22-23)

Am I concerned for God’s glory or my own rules? (Rom 14:10-13)

Does this promote or hinder peace and edification in the body? (Rom 14:19-20)

Would this cause confusion or offense for other Christians? (Rom 14:1-9, 21; 1 Cor 10:32)

Would this hurt my Christian witness? (1 Cor 10:31)

Am I willing to unselfishly and lovingly forfeit my freedom? (Rom 14:7-8, 20; 1 Cor 10:23, etc.)

[For leaders: What excess could those under me make out of this freedom? (James 3:1)]

Christian Liberty: Does it matter when & where?

Th topic of Christian Liberties has been the hot topic on the web ever since MacArthur spoke to the issue of beer and ministry. The responses have been manifold and specific to this topic of alcohol. I do not want to join that conversation. However, I do think that it would be helpful to think through the principles of how to excercise our Christian Liberties. It seems to me that the biblical principles are being lost in the shuffle of specifics, personalities, and hyperlinks. In particular I think there is ine principle in particular that has been almost completely neglected. That is what I would like to address, and as I do so I assure you that I am simply working through the issues myself and trying to live out all the truths scripture presents on this issue.

The principle I am referring to is this: At certain times in the life, maturation, and locaction of a church there are certain Christian Liberties that are especially sensitive and should simply be avoided.

To see this principle in scripture we need to look no further than the council of Acts 15. Here the early church leaders, including apostles, decided unequivocally that the Gospel was for all cultures and that all cultures should be embraced by the church. The only thing that the leaders requested was that the Gentiles “abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.”

Ok. I understand the sexual immorality, but what is up with the other three? Surely it was not a sin to eat the meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 10:25). Additionally, the meat previously outlawed had been cleared for consumption (Acts 10:9-16). All three of these apparent prohibitions should have been ok, right? Why abstain from what they were free to do?

Well, even though it was not a sin to eat the meat, the leaders in Jerusalem were wise enough to recognize that at that point in the life of the church it would have been detrimental to the church for the Gentiles to exercise their freedoms on these matters. In fact, apparently it would have been just as detrimental as the Gentiles participating in sexual immorality.

What we see here by way of example is explicitly confirmed by Paul in 1 Cor 10:23:

“All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful.”

It seems pretty clear, to me at least, that at certain times in the life, maturation, and locaction of a church there are certain Christian Liberties that are especially sensitive and should simply be avoided. I think this is further supported by the fact that in the years following this original letter from Jerusalem the apostle Paul opened the door to cautious/sensitive use of some of these very liberties (1 Cor 10:23-35). Paul was not contradicting his fellow apostles, he simply understood that in different times and in different places how we exercise our liberties needs to change.

By the way, as church history progressed so did the principle that at certain times in the life, maturation, and locaction of a church there are certain Christian Liberties that are especially sensitive and should simply be avoided. For instance, in Calvin’s day he became the target of intense opposition because of his stance against playing cards. This sounds ridiculous to us. But at that time and in that place playing cards were almost exclusively associated with laziness, gambling, and in some cases pornography. Calvin simply felt that even though there was not a passage in the bible that prohibited the use of cards, it was better to abstain completely than to try to figure out how to use them in a safe way.

Did he make the wisest choice? I don’t know. But, I do think his decision on this issue illustrates my point. Whether he lived it out properly or not, Calvin understood that at certain times in the life, maturation, and locaction of a church there are certain Christian Liberties that are especially sensitive and should simply be avoided.

I could continue with examples (Edwards publicly censuring boys for looking at pictures in a medical handbook, Spurgeon on those pesky organs, etc.), but I think the examples above will suffice for now (that statement might come back to bight me). The question that we need to honestly ask ourselves is what are the sensitives issues of our day? Are there liberties that we should just avoid? Are there issues that we should be more cautious with? Honestly, how are we thinking through these issues today? Do we believe, or even think about the fact, that at certain times in the life, maturation, and locaction of a church there are certain Christian Liberties that are especially sensitive and should simply be avoided.

I think that this is a good starting place for thinking through the use of Christian Liberties, but I don’t think it is enough. So, next time I hope to post some specific questions we can use as we determine how to use our liberties.

The Praying Church

Prayer is a vital component for the health and effectiveness of the local church.  The local church simply must be given to prayer.  As Thomas Watson put, “Prayer is a glorious ordinance, it is the soul’s trading with heaven.  God comes down to us by His Spirit, and we go up to Him in prayer.”  This is true on an individual level, and it is equally true on a corporate level.

The New Testament commands that the church be given to prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).  Throughout the New Testament prayer is an essential characteristic of the local Church life (Acts 2:42).  A church that is not committed to collectively sharing the burden of ministry through prayer is a church that is out of sync with the New Testament.

This commitment to prayer should manifest itself in several specific ways

 

I.      The church must be committed to praying for the growth of the kingdom

God is the One who grows His kingdom and victoriously builds His Church (Matthew 16:18).  The church must depend upon God through prayer to accomplish this work.  Dependent prayer for God to bless the work of the ministry is consistently modeled throughout the New Testament.  When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, one of the first request he instructed them to pray for was the work of the kingdom (Matthew 6:10).  Later, during his last hours, Jesus prayer for the church and its future work on earth (John 17).  In the apostolic age, Paul models persistent and powerful prayer on behalf of local churches.

The church must be committed to following the clear New Testament pattern of praying for the growth of the kingdom through the work of the local church.  This means that the individuals of the church must habitually pray for the lost, the strength of the church, the spread of the gospel, the purity of the church’s teaching, the leaders of the church, and the work of the kingdom being done worldwide.  Such a commitment must begin with the leadership of the church (Acts 6:4), and continue to every member of the church (Hebrews 13:7.

II.      The church must be committed to praying together in gathered worship.

Prayer is a necessary element of the gathered worship of the church.  As the church gathers together to corporately praise God and hear from His word, the submissive attitude manifested through prayer must be evident.  In the corporate context this must be modeled for the church from the pulpit through substantive pastoral prayers.  These prayers should regularly include:

  • Prayers of corporate confession of sin to stimulate humble worship, and it highlights the grace of God.
  • Prayers of thanksgiving for the grace already received, as well as the grace anticipated from the worship service.
  • Prayers of petition and intercession on behalf of the needs of the body.
  • Prayers of adoration in response to teachings of God’s word, and the revelation of God’s character through the word.

III.      The church must be committed to praying as individuals for one another

Individuals within the church have the distinct responsibility and privilege of bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).  Since prayer is the preeminent way for God’s people to deal with their burdens (Psalm 55:22), Christians must be committed to praying for one another.  Believers must habitually make supplications for all the saints (Ephesians 6:18).  Furthermore, Christians also must be willing to be prayed for.  This requires that that we share our needs, our weakness, our concerns, our fears, and our sins with other Christians so that we can be supported in prayer.  As God’s people we must recognize not only our dependence upon one another, but also our God-ordained dependence on one another.  Both truths work together to spurn God’s people on to prayer.

 

IV.      The church must be committed to praying through conflict

Conflict will arise in the church.  Doctrinal conflict will arise threatening the message of the church; conflict over purity will arise threatening the integrity of the church; and personal conflict will arise threatening the unity of the church.  In each instance, when conflict arises, the people of the church must be committed to “praying through the conflict.”  Whether it be false teachers, unchecked sin, or personal grievances the first priority for the church in the midst of conflict must be to seek God’s wisdom and help through prayer.  This must be especially emphasized in cases where personal conflict threatens the unity of the church.  Personal conflict among believers within the church is frequently the subtlest method used by Satan to attack the church, and it is usually the most effective!  When God’s people fail to pray in the midst of personal conflicts “fighting and quarreling” will ensue as unchecked lusts and desires grow (James 4:1-3).