Church is a place of nurturing, evangelizing, worshiping, sharing or serving.
I think we would have little disagreement, so our challenge is to define these ideas. Last week--nurturing. What does it mean to nurture the spiritual journey, how does the church do that? The presence of the word in our lives focuses the attention of the church on teaching, reproving, correcting, and instructing. These are reasonable expectations--when one is making a decision about what the church is all about, what the work of the church is, what is worth investing one's life in, this should be a place of nurturing the spiritual disciplines necessary for the journey.
What's Your Purpose in Life?
Josh McDowell tells about an executive "headhunter" who recruits corporate executives for large firms. This headhunter once told McDowell that when he interviews an executive, he likes to disarm him. "I offer him a drink," said the headhunter, "take off my coat, undo my tie, throw up my feet and talk about baseball, football, family, whatever, until he's all relaxed. Then when I think I've got him relaxed, I lean over, look him square in the eye and say, 'What's your purpose in life?' It's amazing how top executives fall apart at that question."
Then he told about interviewing one fellow recently. He had him all disarmed, had his feet up on his desk, talking about football. Then the headhunter leaned over and said, "What's your purpose in life, Bob?" And the executive said, without blinking an eye, "To go to heaven and take as many people with me as I can."
"For the first time in my career," said the headhunter, "I was speechless." No wonder. He had encountered someone who was prepared. He was ready. His purpose, "To go to heaven and take as many people with me as I can." You and I might not express it that way, but do you doubt that this is the essence of the church?
Topic today is evangelism. We have misidentified, misunderstood, misapplied, misdirected our lives. Greeks understood it much better. Evangelism was simply "good news-ing." The verb is simply a form of the noun. We have transliterated it, and somewhere lost a great deal.
I affirm that the church exists for evangelism, to reach out, to teach. I affirm that the church is God's instrument for spreading the good news. You probably agree, but how can we do this? How can we fulfill this purpose of God?
We have failed and are failing miserably in the statistics are to be believed. The churches of Christ continue to dwindle in number of congregation and in number of attendees. The church is not growing, certainly not growing rapidly, and is in fact decreasing. What is God's plan for evangelism? How can we effectively touch the lives of this city? our state? our community? our world?
The word gospel means good news. Evangelism is literally gospeling. But to the average person in our world today, the gospel not even news. That person has already heard it. How many thousands of Bible are there in Oklahoma? How many churches are there is your city? county? state? I am saying it would be rare to find the person in our circles of acquaintance who has not heard something about God, the Bible, Jesus. It is possible there are none. So this message of the gospel is not really news. We invite people to come to church, because we have news, but they have already heard.
A second thing, although gospel means good news, it may not be good. Too many have been hurt in the name of God--living next door to a hypocrite, watching us, prejudice enters. When I speak of evangelism at the beginning of this new millennium, it is not like the first century, when Paul went on missionary journeys to announce the good news for the first time. The gospel is not news to many folks, and it is not good news to many folks.
Are we aware of these facts? What approach shall we use? Here we are dealing with our modern society, youthful but graying, mobile, experience oriented. Our communities continue to grow, our world continues to explode. People continue to move around in our society and world. These are often without roots, from different cultures, and there are many opportunities to influence others. These people will seek a church, but they want a church that is friendly, that meets felt needs, that is comfortable, that is open, and they will go. Many in our world are ripe for the gospel. We have opportunities to address people and their needs.
Another factor is the decrease in denominational loyalty. There is less of the entrenched prejudice. Many do not know what to believe, and so they are seeking. In our universities, religion courses continue to be popular. A recent poll said that 76% of high school students in the US considered religion important to them personally. We are in a world awakening to the realities, meanings, and there is a quest for the importance and meaning of life, and we must see our society as it is.
But a negative we must know--these do not want organized religion. They do not want the party line, they do not want our pet peeves and pet scriptures. They want an open, honest search for the message of God applied in their lives. We will not convert many to preferences. This is not evangelism, but proselyting. The church that presents the gospel of Jesus, that focuses on Jesus, is going to take the day. May that be us! We must learn and grow. We still have our pet ideas, and we want to line people up, and make people right on this point and that point. Doctrine matters, but we have made people right on the points and that person has never been confronted with the Christ. We must do both. In Acts, they preached Christ, people obeyed, and that made the church. We can do the same. We can focus on Christ. What does this person know about Jesus, is what he knows right, how can I help a person meet the Christ?
Look at Acts today. The church is criticized, we are not doing enough evangelism. There is not much evangelism occurring. Look at Acts. Here is the model--evangelism is vibrant, active, changing. We cannot live in the past. The past is not binding law and gospel. The past is past. We may say that people do not have religion today because they won't come to our gospel meeting, but the truth is that people do not have religion today because we have not addressed them with the gospel of Jesus.
I. Survey Acts--1
We must be honest--the key is not in small groups, personal work groups, filmstrips, videos, visitation programs.... They did not convert the whole world in a year. Acts 5:42 is the apostles teaching. Acts 8:4 is not organized evangelism programs. Acts 6-7 are the key to 8. Acts 6-7 is story of divided church, trouble, problems. Eventually led to Jerusalem meeting in Acts 15, and meanwhile Peter had trouble with this concept in Acts 10-11. The Jews were rigid, and the thought of evangelism was far from the mind of the Jews. Philip started a mission work in Acts 8, but that is after 8:4. In Acts 11, they were still only telling Jews. Read Acts. They were still trying to bind Judaism. When you read on down, Acts 20-21, Paul in Jerusalem was in some fashion, it would appear, still observing Judaism. The NT church was not as evangelistic as some would lead us to believe. There are no statistics as we continue through Acts, nor in the epistles. No thought of a 100-year plan, and by Rev. 2-3, severe problems exist. Evangelism is not mentioned, and John does not write about their lack of evangelism, he does not put pressure and guilt trips on their lack of evangelistic fervor.
II. Survey Acts--2
What is the gospel? Good news, 1 Cor. 15:1-4. This is good news. Solution to the problems we face. Not have time to tell you all about this today. Another lesson for another time. But the gospel is what happened to Jesus, and the impact that has on us today. His life makes our life possible. His resurrection is the promise of our resurrection, firstfruits (1 Cor. 15). His death foreshadows our death.
Baptism and the Supper as two sacraments remain from the seven identified by Catholicism in the early centuries of Christianity. Why? Because of their intimate connection with the gospel. Baptism is declaration by imitation; The Supper is declaration and memory.
At the center of the life of the early church was the gospel. What should we in the church that is of Christ be known for? Preaching the gospel.
Now notice the nature of the preaching in Acts:
III. Some Suggestions
I am afraid the church in many places is more interested in tradition, culture, and projects and programs than in saving souls. Let's learn how to reach out and do it. Let's adjust. Let's recommit to telling the good news. Let's make disciples, be personal witnesses of the Christ. In Acts 2:47, there were daily baptisms because they were praising God, and had a good reputation with all the people. Let us praise God, let us build the favor of those around us.
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