Go, Tell, Teach, and Live the Gospel
At our last Presbytery meeting, I was both deeply saddened and tremendously encouraged by what transpired. The reason for my mixed emotions had to do with the current state of 2 churches within our Presbytery.
The one church, the Presbyterian church in Nashville, formally announced it was closing its doors--for good. With an average Sunday attendance of around 10 people, it could no longer stay open.
The other church, the Presbyterian church in Woodbridge, announced that it was overflowing with people and required permission to seek out a new facility. Woodbridge Presbyterian is currently holding 2 Sunday services and both services are packed.
What is amazing about this contrast between Nashville and its dozen worshippers, and Woodbridge with its 300+ worshippers, is that about 5 years ago these congregations were approximately the same size. While Nashville's numbers gradually declined, the numbers at Woodbridge sky-rocketed. The obvious question that confronts St. Paul's is, "Are we going to go the direction of Nashville or are we going to go the direction of Woodbridge?".
I believe it is possible for St. Paul's to become a large and thriving congregation. I believe this because of the God I read about in chapter 18 in the book of Genesis. In Genesis 18, Abraham and Sarah are wrestling with the promise of God to them--that they would have a child, even in their old age. It was if God had promised them the impossible. Do you remember God's response to them?: "Is anything to hard for the Lord?"(Gen.18:14).
The first thing we need to recognize when we talk about church growth is that God--not man--causes growth. We have responsibilities to be sure--church growth is indeed a partnership between God and man--but at the end of the day, God is the One who causes a church to grow(1Cor.3:7).
It is also important to establish from the outset what kind of growth we are looking for. For this reason, I will be speaking about evangelism and church growth interchangeably--because growth by evangelism is the most legitimate means of growth.
Transferring Christians from one church to another is not what Jesus had in mind when He gave the "Great Commission". Jesus has called us to be "fishers of men"(Mt.4:19), He has not called us to swap fish between aquariums. When new subdivisions are built, we should not be asking "How many Presbyterians are moving in?", we should be asking "How many of these people might potentially respond to the Gospel?". Our focus for church growth should be evangelizing the unchurched, not attracting Christians from other churches.
What do you think of when you hear the term "evangelizing"? Do you think of it as something that should be left to the Billy Graham's of the world? Or do you think of it as something every Christian should take part in?
Allow me to prompt you with another question: Have you ever wondered why God leaves us here on earth, with all of its pain, sorrow, and sin, after we accept Christ? Why doesn't He just zap us immediately to heaven and spare us from all this hardship? After all, we can worship, fellowship, sing, hear God's Word, and even have fun in heaven. In fact, there are only 2 things you can't do in heaven that you can do on earth: sin and witness to non-Christians.
Now which of these 2 things do you think Christ has left us here to do? Evangelism must, therefore, be a primary endeavour of every Christian.
There are many passages we could turn to, to teach us about evangelism, but for our purposes today we will examine Matthew, chapter 9, verses 35 to 38.
We only have to venture 4 words deep into this text before we are forced to take notice: "And Jesus was GOING"(v.35). The first step in evangelism is to GO. Even though Jesus was great at attracting crowds, this did not keep Him from "going" from place to place to proclaim the Gospel.
The implication of "going" for us is that we can't merely attend every Sunday service and expect our church to grow. We must also go out from this place looking for opportunities to witness in our community and in our workplace.
And as Jesus went out, we simply don't go just for the sake of going--we go out armed with a message to TELL--we go out to share the Gospel of Christ.
Forget the cliché that says the 2 things you should never talk about are politics and religion--as Christians we are obligated to talk about our religion--we are called to talk about the Gospel of Christ. For when Jesus went about to "all the cities and villages", He was not merely shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries, He was "teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom"(v.35).
"Proclaiming the gospel" should be the practice of every Christian. No, maybe we are not the "door-to-door" type of evangelist, but surely we can be evangelists when we are with people familiar to us. We can be evangelists to our co-workers, to our neighbours, and even to our family. I am not advocating that you "ram the gospel down their throat", but I am urging you to be courageous and to stop shying away from witnessing to others.
So the first step of evangelism is to GO--go out and find people who are willing to hear the gospel. The second step is to be ready to TELL--know the gospel message and be ready to share it with others. And the third step, which is included in the model Jesus gives us, is to TEACH.
Jesus would likely not be thrilled with much of the "hit and run" evangelism that goes on in some Christian organizations. Jesus was always thorough in His ministry. After witnessing to the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus went and stayed in their city for 2 days which allowed many more to believe in Him(Jn.4:40, 41). When He gave the "Great Commission" to evangelize the nations, Jesus also included the admonition to "teach them to observe ALL that I commanded you"(Mt.28:20 emphasis mine).
Maybe we feel we lack the knowledge to teach others in the Christian walk. It might be a good idea then, to bring them to church or to a bible study for instruction. Yet, even if we feel we are ill-equipped to teach others the Christian faith, this does not absolve us of our responsibility to GO out to others. It does not absolve us of our responsibility to TELL them about Christ, or to fulfill the fourth step of evangelism--which is--to LIVE the gospel.
Jesus had a bold and powerful message to tell. And, quite often, Jesus chose to back His claims up with a miracle. Not only was Jesus "going" from village to village "teaching" and "proclaiming" the gospel, but Matthew also tells us that Jesus was "healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness"(Mt.9:35).
In this extraordinary stage of the kingdom of God, Jesus and His disciples often authenticated their message with extraordinary acts of power. These miracles were their means for living out the gospel--it was the way they backed up what they preached.
As for us, in 1998, we seldom find God giving us this same kind of miraculous healing power. Yet, the principle for evangelism is the same now in 1998 as it was in the first century--we must authenticate what we proclaim by our actions. Like Jesus and His disciples, we must not only teach and proclaim the gospel, we must also live the gospel.
Now that you are armed with the 4 steps of evangelism--go, tell, teach, and live the gospel--you may feel ready to evangelize . . . Not so fast. As important as those 4 steps are to evangelism, there are a couple other elements of evangelism that are of equal, if not greater, importance.
After Matthew describes how Jesus was going, telling, teaching, and living the gospel, he notes in verse 36 that when Jesus saw the multitudes, "He felt compassion for them". Jesus did not evangelize just for the sake of evangelizing. Jesus evangelized because he cared for the people.
As a church, we may desire to grow in numbers. And the means to this growth should be evangelism. However, the primary purpose of our evangelism must never be "to grow". Filling this church is a wonderful result of evangelism, but we do not evangelize for the sole purpose of filling this church. We should be evangelizing because we love the people we are evangelizing to.
Jesus states the obvious in Matthew 9, verse 37: "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few". Not only are we "few" compared to those who represent the unchurched, but what often is the case is that, even among us, there are only a handful who are regularly sharing their faith.
The challenge I put to you this morning is to commit yourself to becoming a "worker" of the "harvest". If you count yourself to already be a worker of the harvest, there is still one more thing to be done. Jesus tells us to "beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest"(v.38). We are commanded to pray for evangelists. For without evangelism, this church will not experience genuine growth.
Do it for the glory of God. Do it for the love of your neighbour. Do it for the sake of this church. Be courageous in your faith --go, tell, teach and live the gospel. Amen.