Proclamation is commanded and is effective, but must be done at the proper time. Preparation must precede proclamation as plowing must precede sowing. Without proper preparation, proclamation is limited.
Paul's Method Makes Sense
Notice again Paul's approach in Acts. He claims he has "fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ from Jerusalem to Illyricum" (Rom. 15:19). Had Paul converted everyone? Had Paul finished his work in these regions? Obviously not. Paul's approach was to go to a city, reap those who were prepared, establish them, and move on to another city. Paul's ministry method was to visit cities to establish an initial group of believers. He would perhaps visit them again to encourage them, but he was depending upon them to spread the gospel in their region. Paul did not settle down for long. He was in Corinth 18 months, but only because of God's urging. He met so little success he was ready to move on. He came back to Ephesus and stayed there three years. What one should make of Paul the schoolteacher is uncertain, but one possibility is that proclaiming the gospel in traditionally religious spheres was so ineffective that he turned to the educational arena. Whatever the reason, we know that the strategy worked for he was able to say the gospel had gone into all the world (Col. 1:5,23).
Note that getting substantial results from proclamation presupposes some advance preparation (planting and watering) of the hearers. Are we continuing to proclaim to unprepared people? I have participated in some very successful gospel meetings. In every case, the local preacher had a number of persons prepared, so that a minimum of proclamation coupled with persuasion would reap the harvest.
Evangelism is not only reaping. Evangelism is plowing, sowing, and watering. Evangelism is a process. Premature reaping is disastrous.
We tend to try to emulate Paul, but miss an important element from the picture portrayed in Acts. We think that if we could just get every person on the face of the earth to hear the gospel one time, our job would be done. If we could in fact achieve this worthy goal, our job would only be begun. Churches would be established, spiritual centers from which the gospel could spread would spring up in many places. But what of those who were unprepared when the gospel went forth? When will they hear?
Consider an illustration. How many of your friends are close to the kingdom? What percentage of them would respond to the gospel tomorrow if we simply took it to them? How many would readily submit to Christ? Perhaps your friends are different than mine, but among my friends, only a few are close to the kingdom. Many more need additional preparation.
Good News!--Every Christian Can Have a Part in Sharing the Gospel
Our ineffectiveness in touching the world with the gospel is due in part to our limited view of evangelism. Evangelism is a process, not a singular event.
The good news of this truth is that the average Christian in our churches can enjoy a lifetime of personal fulfillment in the process of evangelism when properly understood. Evangelism must occur naturally; evangelism must not be limited to reaping.
Churches must recognize that swelling is not necessarily healthy growth. In fact, if our physical body begins to swell, we usually consider it a sign of ill health. Increased numbers through membership transfers may be a blessing (or may be a curse), but are not a sign of real growth.
I have frequently asked my audience to consider three questions and have asked for a show of hands. Question #1: How many of you were Christians before you came to this church? Question #2: How many of you became Christians in this church, but grew up in this church, i.e. your parents were members? Question #3: How many of you became Christians in this church and had no previous connection with Christianity? I have never found a church with a significant number of #3s.
We are not reaching our world with the gospel of Christ, but we can, because the gospel is still God's power. The problem is not in the message, but in the lack of communication. In cultural pluralism, the bridges over which the gospel travels are not naturally existing, so they must be built. Communication must be carefully cultivated, always checked. At least 1/2 of the American population does not use Christianity as a basis for their personal philosophy that guides their lives every day. Such may indicate a religious preference for Christianity, but their actual discipleship is minimal.
I am concerned that so much of the world's unreached population is not within the normal evangelistic range of any local congregation. World missions is a pressing concern.
I am equally concerned that so much of our nation's unreached population, although within geographic reach of a local congregation, is not within the evangelistic capacity of any local congregation. Ethnic and social differences can indeed be high barriers, but the greatest barrier we face is the cultural diversity of our day.
May we learn from the example of Acts, and take the gospel into Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth. May we learn from the book of Acts, seeking to insure communication, overcoming discouragement when results are meager, and telling the message again and again, every day, never ceasing, because every day, new souls are prepared, and God will give the increase.
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