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When the Saints Go Marching Out

BY JOSEPH C. ALDRICH

Jesus sent them into the highways and byways (cf. Matthew 22:9).

When the Lord deployed the Seventy to prepare communities for His visitation, He instructed them to stay in the home that extended hospitality. "Stay in that house," He told them. "Do not move around from house to house." Interesting. "If they’ll accept you, they will accept me" (cf. Luke 10:5–16).

If people will not come to church, is the church capable of going to people? It must if it is to impact this generation. The Lord trained His disciples to be "fishers of men." To catch men involves contact with them, often in their own habitat. What do we need to teach to raise up "fishers of men" equipped to evangelize the current generation?

There is no impact without contact. Ours is a hands-on strategy. Jesus could have invited us to heaven to tell us the gospel. Instead, He came as a servant to our world. He walked our streets, ate our food, healed our diseases, stayed in our homes, wept over our plight, shared the good news with us, and died to provide it. When critics would not acknowledge Christ’s deity, He challenged them to believe on the basis of His miracles.

The closest many churches come to an evangelism strategy is fishing in a stained glass aquarium. The pastor prepares the message. The congregation contributes by herding fish. The pastor says, "You invite them to come to church, and I’ll invite them to come to Christ." It works, but in the majority of ministries, the fish caught are few and far between. This is not satisfactory.

NEW TESTAMENT EVANGELISM

The Early Church had no stained glass aquarium. No organ or worship team. No radio programs. I’ve often wondered if the reason the Lord "added daily to their number" was because they "found favor with all the people." They lived the good news.

New Testament evangelism is not so much methods we utilize or programs we develop—it is a way of life. God’s communication strategy is to wrap ideas in people and deploy them out as living epistles read by all. We’re reading material. In its most fundamental sense, evangelism brings our giftedness under the lordship of Christ and then utilizes that giftedness to serve our neighbors and community. Every ability is God given and becomes a spiritual gift when it is brought under the lordship of Christ and produces spiritual results. Evangelism is gift driven.

Paul expressed it this way: "Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a servant to everyone, to win as many as possible" (1 Corinthians 9:19*). No serving—no winning. Effective evangelists are towel wearers and basin bearers. By serving they play the music of the gospel for the unbeliever. Part of our evangelism strategy should be to equip Christians to live hope-filled lives, and when asked why, share the reason. Many have heard the words of the gospel; few have heard the music.

As Jesus carried out His mandate to make His disciples genuine fishers of men, He shared an interesting observation with His frazzled disciples following His conversation with the woman at the well. He told His disciples: "I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work" (John 4:38).

Jesus said that reaping isn’t the hard labor. Any farmer knows that. Jesus suggested that a quality harvest is dependent upon the quality of the labor which preceded it. To reap fruit, someone must do the hard labor. Paul said, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow" (1 Corinthians 3:6).

THREE PHASES OF EVANGELISM

I see evangelism as a three-phase process.

1. Cultivation. An appeal to the heart through relationship building. It involves serving, sharing, and sacrifice.

2. Sowing. An appeal to the mind through revelatory communication. It involves personal testimony, tracts, books, tapes, Bible studies, fellowship, and preaching and teaching.

3. Reaping. An appeal to the will in anticipation of a response. It involves a careful explanation of the gospel.

When these three functions operate in a church family, the unbeliever will be attracted to that church.

Perhaps this has happened to you: After a high-pressure day you check in at the airport, check your luggage, go through security, walk down the long ramp to the airplane, find seat 7C and collapse, hoping no one will take the middle seat 7B. You’re all talked out. You just want to get home. If the middle seat remains empty, you won’t feel obligated to talk with the person on the aisle (7C). When the door finally closes and there are no more passengers coming aboard, you do a high five toward heaven and say to yourself, Yes—7B is empty. Thank You Lord. Then the guilt hits. You feel an obligation to share the good news, but you usually don’t. Are you ashamed of the gospel? A better question might be: Are you a cultivator, a sower, or a reaper?

Most of our instruction about evangelism centers on sharing the gospel with strangers with whom we have no relationship. In these training sessions, we focus on helping the learner say the words of the gospel. Often evangelism becomes what a group does on Tuesday evening rather than a way of living.

Virtually all those who receive Christ arrive at the point of decision through multiple influences. It is the body of Christ that brings people to the foot of the Cross. The reaper has the joy of harvesting fruit, which in some cases has been cultivated for years by those doing the hard labor—a godly grandmother praying every day for the salvation of loved ones; a coach who cared; a roommate who led a Bible study; godly parents; a preacher who faithfully taught the Word; a healthy church body; a concerned camp counselor.

All these people are cultivators and sowers. God uses them to break up the soil, clean out the rocks, cut down the thorns, drive away the birds, and plant the seed. Cultivation is an appeal to the heart through relationship building. It is the hard labor.

I met a man from India who leads a ministry to college students. He is especially effective in reaching Muslims and Hindus. I asked him about his strategy. His reply: "We just introduce them to Jesus." I asked him how he did that. "Every Sunday we have 40–50 of them over for dinner. We just keep loving them until they ask us the reason why." When told Jesus is the reason, they readily respond. This man’s group of workers are cultivators. They make themselves servants to everyone to win as many as possible.

How do you impact strangers? It’s a challenge to play the music of the gospel for the stranger in 7C. He or she knows nothing about you—doesn’t know if you’re trustworthy; can’t be sure you’re not part of a multilevel marketing scheme; doesn’t know your family, your past history, or your reputation. Yet, people do find Christ through this very familiar approach to evangelism. Those who regularly have the joy of seeing the lost find Him are the reapers. Probably 10 percent of the Christian community have this unique gift.

Reapers should realize that those they address as strangers have probably already had several exposures to the gospel through significant others in their lives. Sensitivity to an unbeliever’s readiness is a real challenge for the reaper.

OUR NEIGHBORS

What about our neighbors? We are commanded to love them. To love them is to be a good neighbor. Neighbor comes from a root word which means to draw near. Therefore, a neighbor is one who draws nigh. Our responsibility to our neighbors is to move toward establishing a strong social bond that will ultimately appeal to their hearts. No one will receive Christ through you unless they receive you first. You’re a living epistle, a shining star, a fragrant aroma, salt, light, a prudent cultivator of the soul, a fisherman, a beautiful seed to be sown. You are the message.

You remember the story. If the disciples were rejected by a home or community, they were to do a dust dance in the front yard and move on. If, however, a home was opened to them and they were extended hospitality, the disciples were told to stay in that house and not move around from house to house. Those who are open to friendship are the schooling fish.

If we’re to love our neighbors, what do we do? We cultivate. We sow. We serve. We play the music of the gospel. So deployed, we trust that God will lead our neighbors to seek an explanation for the hope that sustains and motivates us. To discover the living hope is the world’s greatest need.

UNITY

What are people everywhere looking for? Unity. Deep in the heart of every man, woman, and child is the desire and hope of living together in unity—where there is no misunderstanding, no discrimination, no abusive behavior and deceit, but where there is purity, holiness, love, forgiveness, beauty, community, and open communication.

The most beautiful thing in the Garden of Eden was not the splendor of its exquisite plants and animals. Though fearfully and wonderfully made, Adam and Eve were superseded by the beauty of the unity and intimacy they shared with each other and with God. "How beautiful it is," wrote the Psalmist, "when believers dwell together in unity...there God commands His blessing" (cf. Psalm 133:1–3).

The great tragedy of the Fall was the disruption of this precious fellowship, this wonderful intimacy, this unparalleled unity. Before the Fall, God made house calls. The calm of the evening hours was reserved for fellowship with His beloved children. He could drop in day or night, announced or unannounced, and always experience a vibrant, joyous reception. There was nothing to hide, nothing to possess, nothing to fear. God, woman, and man in perfect unity.

When man and woman sinned, nothing was the same. People still long for Eden, the paradise of God. They hope to find unity in marriage, home, family, and career. Men and women seek someone who understands them, who accepts them, and who always tells them the truth. They long for someone who will listen and share from the depths of his or her being. Most couples who stand before a minister and share their vows anticipate a life of unity and oneness. Most never find it, and the dream dies a slow death. Those who do are the greatest emissaries of the gospel.

Elders and deacons are part of God’s evangelistic strategy to penetrate darkness with rays of hope. All in such positions are required to be lovers of hospitality. Their home circle is to be an open circle where seeking people can participate in its routines, actions, and reactions. The phrase lovers of hospitality does not mean to have church folks over. It is a compound Greek word that literally means a lover of strangers. When pre-Christians observe unity within the family, when they sense a spirit of love, when they discern a servant’s heart, their hope detectors begin to flash; and they ask: "Could it be that there is a solution to the disunity that surrounds us? Can broken hearts be repaired? Can families recover? Can churches abandon their self-righteousness? Can believers really become a community of faith?"

The lights come on when your neighbor discovers that at the core of the universe exists a triune God who not only dwells in unity but empowers believers with the ability to live in unity following the pattern of the Trinity. Jesus defined unity when He said, "All that I have is yours, and all that you have is mine" (cf. John 17:10). Sounds like the Early Church got the message (cf. Acts 2:44,45; 4:32).

Within the Trinity there is no competition, no covetousness, no jealousy, no private possessions, no envy, no hoarding. When believers model the Trinitarian unity and get along with each other, such behavior has redemptive power. It is so unique it captures the attention of unbelievers convincing them that God loves them and sent Christ for them. That’s the good news!

Satan, the great enemy of unity, split the angelic ranks, split the first family, split the Davidic kingdom, split the disciples, and has split hundreds of local churches. God is not indiscriminate in the bestowal of His blessing. He blesses those people who dwell together in unity. Being blessed, cultivators cultivate; sowers sow; and reapers reap as God adds daily to their number those who believe.

*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.


Joseph C. Aldrich, Th.D., is president of Multnomah Bible College and Biblical Seminary and author of five books including Lifestyle Evangelism (Multnomah Books, 1993).

STEPS TOWARD EVANGELISM

1. Flip a redemptive switch. Determine to share Christ in accordance with your giftedness.

2. Determine your area of contribution. Are you good with a wrench, a hammer and saw, plumbing, house-keeping, hospitality?

3. Become a lover of strangers.

4. Identify areas of disunity. Seek reconciliation if necessary.

5. Put on the robe and the heart of a servant.

6. Love people until they ask you the reason why.

7. Teach other Christians that reaping is not the hardest labor of evangelism.

8. Teach and preach on the subjects of cultivating, sowing, and reaping.

9. Release people to build redemptive relationships.

—Joe Aldrich

 

AVOID EVIL…NOT EVANGELISM

Here are some general observations and suggested principles for evangelistic effectiveness:

1. We are not capable of fully understanding our own motives, much less those of other believers. Let’s obey Paul and quit judging our brothers and sisters in peripheral areas.

2. We should be sensitive toward weaker brothers and sisters. The Christian community has just as much responsibility to educate as it does to guard against offending them.

3. We must recognize that tension is created when people live the Christian life in a variety of ways. Paul made it clear that "meat eaters" and "nonmeat eaters" are both legitimate members of the body of Christ.

4. We must not sacrifice truth to gain the approval of men and women. In the Early Church, there was a searching community whose understanding of the gospel would have been distorted had Jesus or Paul succumbed to the pressures of conformity.

5. We should be certain to avoid evil. Who we are determines where we are. The more mature we are in Christ, the better prepared we are to minister effectively to non-Christians.

6. The farther we are from effective personal evangelism, the more we are probably involved in criticism. People who object to befriending non-Christians may never have befriended one themselves.

7. Identifying with the world is not the same as being identical with it. As Rebecca Pippert puts it, Christ was effective because of His radical identification and His radical difference.

8. Compromise is inevitable in life. As life moves on, we discover that some of our dearly held axioms must succumb to the ax of maturity and truth. Yet all of us must have absolutes rooted solidly upon God’s inerrant Word that we will not compromise.

—Adapted from Lifestyle Evangelism by Joe Aldrich (Sisters, Ore.: Questar Publishers, 1993) 50–53. Used by permission.