Thursday, May 28, 2009

Reaching the lost

As I said several months ago, the mission of our church is to "to make disciples of Jesus Christ who love God and love people, by reaching and teaching everyone."

I have already examined the overarching mission of the church (to make disciples) and have seen what a disciple should be (one who loves God and loves people). Now it's time to consider the process by which a disciple is made.

Matthew 28:19-20 breaks discipleship down into two stages. First, Jesus tells the apostles to preach and evangelize, which culminates in some hearers believing and new converts being "baptized." Second, the apostles were to train these new disciples through a life-long process of "teaching them to obey." This two-step process that Jesus outlined two thousand years ago still continues in His church today. At First Southern Baptist, we call these two steps "reaching and teaching."

For the sake of strategic planning in the church, I've found Peter Bolt's little book Mission Minded (available through Matthias Media) to be extremely helpful. He breaks down evangelism (reaching) and edification (teaching) into several sub categories. Let's look just at the "reaching" phase today.

Bolt observes that most non-Christians naturally progress through four phases in evangelism:

  • Raising Awareness. This is the very first an unbeliever hears about Jesus, the Bible, the gospel, or a particular church. At this point, there's no personal contact. A church may raise awareness in their community by having a church building, church sign, website, door hangers, an ad in the paper, sending out mailers, etc.
  • Initial Contact. For the first time, an unbeliever now meets a real person. He no longer associate Christianity merely with a church building, a book, media reports, or a local advertisement, but with a flesh-and-blood person he has actually met. Churches can facilitate contact by being friendly to their neighbors and co-workers, canvassing a neighborhood with surveys, hosting a booth at a local fair, doing service projects, joining local clubs and organizations, etc.
  • Pre-evangelism. The unbeliever is now getting to know his Christian friend better and a stronger relationship is forming. Deeper issues may start to be discussed like family problems, fears, hopes, dreams, and spiritual beliefs. The Christian may start to drop seeds and respond to some of the common objections or confusing aspects of Christianity. At this point, the Christian is trying to show the love of Christ and "earn the right" to share his faith in a spirit of love and trust.
  • Evangelism. The ultimate goal of steps 1-3 is to get us to the point where the unbeliever actually hears the good news. If this never happens, then the person has never truly been evangelized. All the good deeds and acts of social justice in the world are impotent to rescue a soul from hell. Only the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16-17). Evangelism may happen in one event, or over a series of conversations. But e need to know, explain, and biblically support the basic gospel outline: God is the loving and holy creator of the universe; man has rebelled against God and become separated from Him; Jesus, God's Son became a man to rescue us; He lived perfectly and then died in our place, rising again on the third day; He now calls us to turn from our sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the only proper response, and the only way to eternal life.
Obviously, there's no "formula" to saving the lost. There are times when steps 1-3 happen almost instantaneously, or when steps 2-3 can be bypassed altogether. Most importantly, we recognize that while man plants and waters, only God can give the increase. And so our church humbly uses this ministry model, while praying and relying completely on God to do His miraculous work of changing hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.

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