Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Discipleship and its implications: Evangelism

Thinking more about discipleship also has implications for our evangelism.  In Matthew 28:19 as Jesus tells the Disciples to go in the great commission he calls them to making disciples not winning converts.  He calls them to making life long followers of him who will begin and finish in faith.  Evangelism, sharing the gospel is relational.  You can't help but notice that when you read Luke's gospel - many of Jesus encounters take place over a meal or against the backdrop of an ongoing relationship.

Yet ironically much of what passes for evangelism today is the spiritual equivalent of a hit and run accident - we tell the gospel and challenge people to either accept it or reject it.  But again the New Testament assumes this relational backdrop to discipleship and evangelism.

1 Peter 2:11-12 "Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.  Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us."  Peter calls the believers to live out their discipleship transparently before their pagan neighbours!

1 Peter 3:15-16 makes this same supposition: "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander."

Or Paul in 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10 "You know how we lived among you for your sake.  You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.  And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.  The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it,  for they themselves report what happened when we visited you. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath."  Both Paul and the Thessalonians discipleship is visible to everyone around them and that is the context in which they proclaim the gospel.

We need to be in real relationship with our friends and family who do not yet know Jesus as we know him so that they see the difference Jesus makes, so that they watch discipleship lived out, so that it attracts them and causes them to ask questions.  So that it earns the opportunity to share the great news with them.  And when they ask and we take that opportunity and if God graciously saves them then their coming to faith is only the start of discipling them not the end.

That reality challenges our running of things like mission weeks or even things like a passion for life.  Its fine if they are part of an ongoing living out of discipleship which provokes interest and questions.  But my fear with mission weeks is that they become a place for cold contact evangelism or hit and run evangelism.  The challenge of making disciples ought to make us think about how we can best reach those God has already given us relationships with, who are already seeing our discipleship and may already be intrigued.

It also must effect the way we do follow up.  Courses like Alpha, Christianity Explored, Identity and so on are good, but they are not enough.  The call is to make disciples not for 6 or 8 or however many weeks but life long disciples, who begin well and end well.  This means such things need to be relational at their very core - friends bringing friends, or even better friends working through the bible with their friends with support from church leaders.  How do we set up these courses to facilitate that relationship building.  A course may not suit everyone, a group may not suit everyone and what follow up are we providing for these people.  And how as churches do we follow up the follow up to translate it into ongoing lifelong discipleship?

Evangelism is the declaration of the gospel not to win converts but to make life long followers of Jesus.

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