THE MISSION OF EVANGELISM
The Rt.Rev.B.A.Kwashi, Bishop of Jos
I – INTRODUCTION
Evangelism is the will of God. When Jesus was about to go back to the Father in heaven he left this command:
“`Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have c o m m a n d e d y o u . ‘ “
This is more than a hint, a guide or a suggestion; it is a command, and the apostles took it very seriously because it is the will of the living God. All the things that follow in the wake of evangelism, the social consequences, the spiritual implications, and the theological interpretations, are important but they are not a substitute for the will of God. The apostles, in the face of threats from the authorities, declared:
“`Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God . ‘ ” (Acts 4:19) Our Lord had made it perfectly clear to the disciples that obedience was expected from them. The proof of their love for him would be that they would keep his commandments. He had chosen them and appointed them so that they would “go” and “bear fruit” (John 15:12-17).
We are not at liberty not to preach the gospel of salvation to the whole world. We have been saved and called to live for God and to obey God as a sign that we are children of God. We are commanded to declare the gospel of Jesus Christ. Failure to do this is disobedience not to any church authority but to Jesus Christ himself. For this reason, evangelism and mission must come at the top of our agenda at diocesan level, archdeaconry level, in the parish, the local church, and in our individual lives. Only then can we claim that we are obeying our Lord and Master, and only then can we ourselves hope to enter eternal life. Not to participate in evangelism is to be opposed to God, for God does not desire the death of a sinner; he does not wish the world to be condemned. Therefore he has saved us and called us and sent us to warn the world to turn to God through Jesus Christ. Whoever refuses to participate in evangelism is not only disobedient, but is actually guilty of wishing the world to be condemned. More than that, however, he is an enemy of the will of God.
“Mission is the meaning of the church. The church can exist only insofar as it is in mission, insofar as it participates in the act of Christ, which is mission. The church becomes the mission, the living outreach of God to the world. The church exists only insofar as it carries Christ to the world. The church is only part of the mission, the mission of God sending his Son to the world. Without this mission, there would be no church. The idea of church without mission is an absurdity.”
(V.J.Donovan: Christianity Rediscovered, page 102)
Such mission is a whole life-style. We are not concerned here with a single event, but with an ongoing activity of the church in obedience to Christ. God is the missioner: the mission is his.
We are the carriers or vehicles of that mission. When God calls, we answer; what God says, we do; wherever he sends us we are to go. This is obedience and this is mission: the two are inextricably linked. Jesus himself was the supreme example of such obedience and of such mission. He came to announce the Kingdom of God; he taught about the Kingdom of God; he lived a life in which the Kingdom of God broke through into this world and could be seen by those who had eyes to see.
“My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work, … the fi e l d s a r e a l r e a d y r i p e f o r h a r v e s t . “
II – REACHING OUT
We tend all too easily to think that because Jesus was Son of God as well as Son of Man, everything was easy for him. We forget Gethsemane and the piercing insight which that gives us concerning the cost which Jesus had to pay – even before the crucifixion. The struggle was devastating, before he was at last able to cry “Your will, not mine, be done.”
If it was not easy for the master, it will not be easy for the disciples. The demand and the price are high. However, obedience is the key to mission, and we must obey, even though it will involve going to hazardous places, to difficult places and to oppressed situations. Indeed this is inevitable because those people, situations and places which are outside the gospel cannot know the fullness of peace, justice and compassion until they hear and receive the gospel. No wonder that some denominations, some dioceses, some churches and some individuals will do everything to remove evangelism from the agenda of the church. In such cases, if evangelism is on the agenda at all, it is there just to satisfy the Bishop or whoever is responsible for evangelism, but it will only be discussed as a subject and allowed to fizzle out, to be discussed again later; and so long as it is being discussed it remains purely a subject for discussion.
We must accept that in doing evangelism we will bear the cost. It needs a lot of time in prayer, in preparation, in careful planning and training of individuals and of the church. It also takes a lot of effort to mobilize the people: it demands the total mobilization of the church, not of just a few individuals, because the command is to the church. Leaders must be “fished out”, taught and trained. Christ did not issue a general appeal for disciples; he called them one by one “You … follow me”. He then spent time patiently teaching them, living with them, praying with them. Our theological training today must be of a high quality, and it must also be gearedfor mission. Pure intellectualism is of no use: there must be training for service. We are to teach those who will then go and teach others, who in turn will teach others, who will teach others …. In that way, the word is constantly handed on, each time involving an ever increasing number of people (see 2 Timothy 2:2). This takes time; it takes energy; it needs resources; it must be rooted in prayer; it calls for a total dedication and commitment of one’s life. Some people are tempted to despair and to say that the task is beyond our present capability: if we had hundreds more ordained clergy, then we could begin! Remember that when Jesus Christ began his ministry, and indeed even at Pentecost, his “diocese” was the whole world, and his “staff” 12 men, one of whom betrayed him.
To say that we have insufficient manpower – and worse still, to complain of having no bus or band or film projector – is merely to make excuses and to misunderstand the situation. Money can be helpful; some tools may be of great assistance, but what is needed above all else is that the life of each and every Christian be so transformed by God that we truly live out what we profess to believe. If we do that, we shall be like high powered yeast, changing the world from within. If the gospel is real in our lives, and if what we do is consistent with what we say, people will see the difference and our testimony will bear fruit.
There is always a temptation to look at what we have started and to be content. The joy that accompanies the starting of a project can be so overwhelming that the work stops completely because everyone is admiring the beginning of a laudable programme. Very subtly, other things then choke our minds and the vision is lost. The apostle Paul would give room for none of this (see Philippians ch.3). His detractors could not stop him. Enemies from within and from without could not stop him. His own personal qualifications he put aside. His health, his condition in prison, indeed his life was completely surrendered to the task of the gospel and the mission of the church of God. The goal was set before him. Never at any point would he have thought that having started, he had arrived. In fact, he recognises that it is God who has started and it is God who will finish the task. We are both indebted to God and dependent upon him. When the risen Christ commanded his disciples to go to all nations, to preach, to teach and to baptize, he also promised to be with them, always. If, however, we refuse to obey, we loose his presence with us. Christ goes ahead of us, calling us to follow, but if we sit still where we are, then we are left further and further behind, until his presence is only a dim memory. That is surely one reason why some of the older established churches are now dying. We must learn this lesson before it is too late.
Sometimes the command to “Go” has not been obeyed simply because people have not heard it. If a water pipe is blocked with dirt, the water cannot flow through it. If our lives are blocked, we ourselves cannot hear God and God cannot work through us to reach others.
Four major hindrances which cause our lives to be “blocked” in this way are:
1. Sin. This is the greatest enemy of progress in the life of the believer who desires to “go”. God does not send us out to advertise sin; God is a holy God who has redeemed sinners and sends them to announce the message of redemption to lost sinners. Every weight of sin must be dropped if we are to go forth and have a hearing (Hebrews 12:1).
2. Worldliness. We get caught up with worldliness and settle to “making money”: building empires and concerning ourselves with what people say about us, and so on. These interests do not get us far because they last only for this life (Mark 8:36).
3. Disobedience. Some Christians have hidden under laziness to become disobedient when God is calling us today to “Go forth”. Others are simply deliberately disobedient and become agents of confusion in the church.
4. Distractions. Distractions and diversions will keep us busy but totally ineffective. This is clear right from the time of the early church when, for example, an administrative problem brought complaints and grumbling, and threatened to cause a major division in the fellowship (see Acts 6:1-7). If the apostles had not seen the danger and dealt with it, they would not have been able to preach and to go forth as their Master had commanded.
“Go forth” must imply “be open”: nothing can “go” through a closed door: God’s word cannot “go” through us if we are closed up, and if our lives are blocked in any way. It is a privilege that sinful people like us should be considered to speak on behalf of God. Let us therefore not b e d i s o b e d i e n t , b u t l e t u s h e a r t h e c omma n d t o “G o ” .
When Jesus called the seventy (or seventy-two) he sent them out two by two; this means there were in all about 35-36 pairs. He called them and engaged them in his Father’s business; the task is therefore to be done according to his own specifications.
You too must answer his call, and that means that you yourself must know him (remember Peter’s confession in Luke 9:20); you must be prepared to carry your cross daily (Luke 9:23); and you must have a single purpose, the task of the Kingdom (Luke 9:62).
More hands are needed if the target is to be met. Jesus said: “There is a large harvest, but few are the workers to gather it in. Pray to the owner of the harvest that he would send out workers to gather in the harvest.” (Luke 10:2).
In this verse we see three important things. We see a passion for souls who are ready for the gospel: they are hungry; they must be not only fed, but also brought home. Secondly, we see that the labourers (workers) are in contrast to the Scribes and Pharisees (big men, important religious people) who talk and talk, but do nothing for the salvation of a lost generation.
Thirdly, let us notice that only a sincere prayer that will get you involved can change the situation. If you are not prepared to be involved please do not pray, because you are part of the answer to your own prayer! You can be the problem if you pray but are not willing to be part of the answer to prayer for evangelism.
Our Lord warned the disciples: “Go… I am sending you like lambs among wolves .” (Luke 10:3)
As we have seen, this is an instruction: “Go… I am sending you”. The disciples are to be like lambs: they are to be harmless, gentle and completely dependent on the protection of their owner. These lambs, however, are sent among wolves who are swift, carnivorous and dangerous. That is our task!
It is also interesting to note that the other “sheep” to whom the disciples are sent are said to be in a sick condition and in need of healing; possessed, and in need of deliverance; depraved and in need of salvation (v.9). Does not this describe some of our churches, and indeed our nation!
III – THE UNREACHED
Whenever “the unreached” are mentioned, people think of remote areas. We must realize, however, that while the unreached may be in remote areas there are also unreached people in our own neighbourhood, as well as amongst our immediate family and friends. Just before the Lord Jesus Christ ascended to heaven, he told the disciples that they would bear witness (go forth) first of all in Jerusalem, the place where they already were. “Go forth” does not necessarily mean “leave your home”; rather it means “be outgoing”, that is, be outgoing in your attitude: be open to all people, near as well as far away. In fact, it is often more difficult to behave in this way with those who know us very well, for example our family and close friends, than with distant strangers.
Nonetheless, in reaching the unreached, people generally prefer to evangelize their own tribes.
Therefore one church tends to be of one tribe or race. However, if you evangelize only the members of your own tribe, the result is that when Satan’s demons come they will leave your church and your members alone, but they will enter your unevangelized neighbours’ homes and lives. This means that you will never know peace – precisely because you have not evangelized your neighbour! Your children will marry their children and therefore you will have an ungodly or demonic in-law. Your children and grandchildren will attend the same school as the children of the ungodly. Today we hear stories of cults and satanic activities in secondary schools such as we have never heard before. Is not this because we have not obeyed God by doing evangelism?
When your neighbour does not hear the gospel you will not know peace, and so at prayer meetings you will pray like this: “Protect me from my neighbour”. You have not visited your neighbour; you have not prayed with your neighbour or made friends or shared or shown love. So what do you expect! As a matter of fact, if this state of affairs is allowed to continue it will not be long before the children of the ungodly begin to rule and oppress the church.
By contrast, however, the Bible says “God so loved the world …” (John 3:16) – not one race or one tribe. We are to share the gospel with the whole world. If we do not, we shall not k n o w p e a c e a n y w h e r e i n t h e w o r l d .
The unreached, therefore, are all and any people who have never heard the gospel in such a way as to respond positively or negatively. They may have heard with their ears but not understood. They may be people who have a vague idea about what the Christian gospel is, but they have not been privileged to have the gospel explained to them because of their nationality or because of state restrictions such as exist in muslim countries and communist enclaves. There are also the unreached who have not heard the gospel largely because of the church’s inactivity in reaching out to their particular areas. These types of places exist in Nigeria. There is another group of unreached people who are in the cities and are not evangelized because of the church’s gross assumptions that the unreached are in far away rural places and not in the cities. Here are big mistakes and the church needs to be corrected.
In order to respond positively, the unreached person or people must be sure of your love and good intentions. From experience we know that Satan will try to distort our mission to those we visit. This is even more likely with intercultural and inter-racial evangelism. Such a situation can, however, be countered by “soaking” prayer. As soon as you have identified where God is leading you on mission you must spend a lot of time in prayer for specific matters, such as asking God to remove those hinderances which will lead to misunderstanding and misinformation.
In some parts of Nigeria today we are seeing a rapid growth in the number of churches opening, and in the number of people giving their lives to Christ. We thank God for this, and give him all the glory – but truly, we have scarcely begun! There are still thousands of people in this nation who have not heard the gospel; there are thousands of people who are uncommitted; there are thousands upon thousands of children running around our streets who do not receive any Christian teaching. The people in the towns, the traders, the homeless children, the prostitutes, the poor, the sick, the rich, the rural people, the young people, the old: everybody must be told the good news by word and deed. They must also be discipled and taught to live lives worthy of their call.
A radical change and transformation is required. This means that we must talk to the hearts of people in ways they will understand; we must set before them living examples which they can see and imitate. There must be an uncompromising presentation of the truth of God’s word as it is, in love and full of the Holy Spirit. This calls for dedicated pulpit ministry, a powerful presentation of expository preaching of God’s word in such a way that the listeners will respond to the living God. We must preach not ourselves, but Christ crucified. We must not be conformed to this world, but we must be transformed through the work of the Holy Spirit by the power of the word of God. In this regard we have only just started and, like St.Paul, we must press on.
At the start of his ministry, Jesus set his own agenda in the words of Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me; he has sent me to announce good news to the poor, to proclaim release for prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind; to let the broken victims go free, to proclaim t h e y e a r o f t h e L o r d ‘ s f a v o u r . ” (Luke 4:18-19)
Whether the unreached are in our own yard or on the other side of the world; whether they speak our own language or have a completely different culture, tongue and tradition; these are the “lost” for whose sakes our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world (Luke 19:10). These are the ones whom Christ came to “seek”. These are the ones to whom we are to go now.