Thoughts on the Local Church and Evangelism
“Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – Jesus
Ed Stetzer recently wrote that “the church does not have a mission– it joins Jesus on His mission. It is better to say that the mission has a church!” I agree, and would argue that the mission is simple, ‘to glorify God by proclaiming the gospel and reflecting the kingdom of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.’ This is why the church exists. Alvin Reid writes that “both as an institution and a movement, the local church has been and will continue to be God’s primary plan of ministry.” I think both of these quotes highlight the importance of evangelism in the context of the local church.
Lesslie Newbigin once described the local church as the “hermeneutic of the gospel.” He meant that the local church, in many ways, “examples” the gospel to those around them. The local church is the fountainhead of gospel proclamation. I think the authors of Total Church are right when they argue that “evangelism is best done out of the context of gospel community whose corporate life demonstrates the reality of the word that gave her life.”
‘The gospel word’ and ‘the gospel community’ (local church) are closely connected. It is through the ‘gospel word’ that the local church is created and nourished. But in the local church the gospel should also be embodied and proclaimed. In many ways, a gospel centered community authenticates the gospel word to the skeptics. In his classic book Evangelism in the Early Church, Michael Green describes the lure of the early church as follows;
“They made the grace of God credible by a society of love and mutual care which astonished the pagans and was recognized as something entirely new. It lent persuasiveness to their claim that the new age had dawned in Christ.”
I think we can develop some helpful teaching implications based off of these thoughts.
First, I think we need to train our people to see the church as a ‘network of relationships’ rather than ‘an event one attends’ or ‘building one enters.’ It seems to me that many missiologists are arguing that ‘skeptical people are often attracted to the Christian community before they are attracted to the Christian message.” This seems obvious and inevitable when the gospel message is enshrined in the life of the church, and is it’s source of power for growth. This is where the gospel becomes fascinating for the non-believer. What do I mean?
I think this dynamic is explained well in the book Total Church, “our commitment to one another despite our differences and our grace toward one another’s failures are more eloquent testimony to the gospel than any pretense at perfection.” Simply put, true gospel fellowship within the local body transcends the barriers of race, sex, class, and education, creating a community bound by the gospel alone. With this in mind, ‘introducing people into the community’ becomes an important facet of our evangelism strategy.
Secondly, we need to teach our people that evangelism is more of a lifestyle rather than a ‘specific activity’. We need our churches to be Christian communities who scatter and saturate ‘all of life’ with the gospel. I think we can learn from Green’s study of evangelism in the early church on this point also. When it came to evangelism;
“They went everywhere gossiping the gospel; they did it naturally, enthusiastically, and with the conviction of those who are not paid to say that sort of thing. Consequently, they were taken seriously, and the movement spread, notably among the lower classes…“There was no distinction in the early church between full time ministers and laymen in this responsibility to spread the gospel by every means possible, there was equally no distinction between the sexes in the matter. It was axiomatic that every Christian was called to be a witness to Christ, not only by life but lip.”
We need to instill in our people that evangelism is the prerogative and duty of every church member. Evangelism invades every area of life. Evangelism demands every resource of the church, namely, each member. Lewis Drummond rightly recognizes that “because church members are in the marketplaces of the secular world in their everyday pursuits, they are exactly where they need to be to evangelize effectively.” We need to organize and utilize our people for that very end, to faithfully proclaim the gospel in all contexts of life.