The Discipline of Evangelism

One of the most challenging chapters in Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life is the chapter “Evangelism…For The Purpose of Godliness.” The idea of evangelism has been thrust into the forefront of my mind for two reasons: 1) I am taking a class called Evangelism and Discipleship, and 2) because I want to plant a church from evangelism.

I was twenty-three years old before I heard of anyone actually setting aside time in their week to go evangelize. I knew Latter Day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses went purposefully, but I had never heard of a faithful Christian person plan to go evangelize. For some of you, planning to go evangelize just does not compute. It did not compute for me either until I began to be influenced in another way. See, evangelism was something the whole church did through events or from living a Christian lifestyle, not personally sharing the good news of Jesus. Evangelism was always guilt driven too. “You needed to be doing it, and you were a bad Christian if you were not evangelizing” (whatever that meant). Evangelism in some cases was simply inviting someone to church. Evangelism, for me, was an ethereal idea that happened unintentionally. I have since changed my perspective.

Evangelism is not some ethereal idea. Evangelism is the communicating of the gospel to another. I explain the connecting between evangelism and discipleship here. As someone who loves the church, we need to rediscover the art of verbal proclamation of the gospel Monday through Saturday.

For some, even reading about evangelism causes an eye-dropping, foot-shuffling anxiety, and the response to click off this post and stop reading. We would rather the idea of personally sharing the good news be left forgotten. However, as Donald Whitney articulates, evangelism is actually needed for our growth in godliness. He says, “I’m convinced that the main reason many of us don’t witness for Christ in ways that would be effective and relatively fear-free is simply because we don’t discipline ourselves to do it.”

We do not discipline ourselves to do it because the only image we have is the guy on the street corner shouting at people about how they are going to hell. At the end of the day, we have not consistently seen very many methods of evangelism. For many years, my excuse was that I had not seen someone effectively do it. I have heard the excuse I do not know enough, or I am not sure what to say. We let our lack of “learning” stop us from doing. Evangelism is always an assignment of faith. The believer is seldom wholly prepared for every tough question or every single encounter.

What’s fascinating is that in Mark 5:1-20 Jesus provides a great blueprint for evangelism.  Jesus takes his disciples to the unclean region across the Sea of Galilee where they encounter a demon possessed man. The disciples most likely knew exactly where they were headed. The demon possessed man could have been heard all across the lake in his chains. Jesus casts out the demon upon reaching the other side and then begins getting back into the boat.

18 As he [Jesus] was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged him earnestly that he might remain with him. 19 Jesus did not let him but told him, “Go home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So he went out and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and they were all amazed.

Simple. No training. No extra time with Jesus. Just go tell others what the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you. Then, the man went and did.

All he knew was the Jesus he encountered and how it transformed his life. Two questions:

  1. How has the Jesus of the Bible impacted your life?
  2. Can you share that story?

If you can share the how Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection has intersected and impacted your life then you can “evangelize.” Recently, I have been challenged the only way to learn is by doing; in conjunction, the only way to do is through discipline. When speaking about discipline people react in funny ways as well. I know I do. Most discipline is drudgery because it has no direction. When the direction is to become more like Christ (Rom 8:29), we cannot honestly pursue Christ-likeness without the discipline of evangelism. Further, when we pursue Christ-likeness it will take effort but ultimately cultivate delight in the Lord.

Disciplined faith is a faith that is likely to survive and lead to faith in others. – Alister E. McGrath

In order for Christianity to reach movement stage (my personal vision for church planting in the Pacific Northwest), pastors have to lead out in personal evangelism and subsequently equipping others for evangelism. Jeff Christopherson says this thought well.

“When churches are planted for evangelism, they often find themselves culturally mismatches and fail to gain an indigenous foothold. When churches are started from evangelism, they seem to instinctively know how to move forward, with great credibility, in a sea of networks and relationships.”

If you would like to see a movement in your city or revival in your church then take up the task of personal evangelism. Will you take a step to discipline yourself to evangelize?

Gaining Clarity

Over the past several years God has been preparing me in differing ways to plant a church. One way has been a refining of my life’s mission–to make disciples.  Throughout the journey from being an ignorant high schooler to Kentucky Christian University to my first ministry to some training at Southeast Christian Church (taught by Dann Spader) and now to Midwestern Seminary, God has molded my perception of evangelism and discipleship. Through each step my working definitions have been refined. I submitted the following blog for class. What follows is a portion of my current understanding of disciple-making.

Our purpose for existence, directly and indirectly, affects our plan of action. A slight shift in purpose can greatly alter our actions and mission. An airplane flying across the country can completely alter its destination by shifting a few degrees from its original flight plan. Although the shift is slight, it has radical implications. In order to rightly define evangelism and discipleship, our purpose and mission must first be defined. At the 2004 Athens Games, Matt Emmons was on pace to win gold. All he had to do was hit the target. Matt fired at the wrong target and was awarded a score of 0.0 on his last shot of the final round. [1]

We will always miss the target we are not aiming at. The principle applies to our life and ministry; they are no different. Our ability to succeed and to measure success is directly tied to a clear and focused understanding of our purpose for existence. We must have great clarity of our purpose–to glorify God. Our purpose has a directional component known as our mission, which provides clarity on how we bring glory to God. Purpose and mission have a nuanced, but important, distinction. A grasp of the nuanced distinction of why God has created us will the first critical step to becoming all He intended for us to collectively be—a movement which cannot be stopped.

For the purpose of this blog, I will focus on mission because it directly affects the definitions of evangelism and discipleship. I will define our mission according to Matthew 28:18-20. Our mission is to make disciples who make disciples. Some may argue our mission is based on Mark 12:28-31 (Love God, Love People). However, I will maintain Mark 12:28-31 provides the motivation for our mission of disciple-making. Finally, some may even suppose passages such as John 20:21, or even Luke 19:10 provide the mission for a Christian. John 20:21 gives the model by which the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit followed. Jesus sends and releases disciples throughout His life and ministry. Several times throughout the Gospels, Jesus sends out his disciples, ultimately in preparation for the final sending upon His ascension. Luke 19:10 outlines the will of God through disciple-making. God’s chosen vehicle for helping believers make disciples is the local church (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 3:10-11). The church exists to help believers fulfill the Great Commission—not do it for them. Unfortunately, many followers of Jesus view the Great Commission as the pastor’s job or the church’s job—someone else’s responsibility. With this perspective, a church will never experience Great Commission health.

Second, the ability to measure our effectiveness is directly linked to how we understand what we want to produce. Again, an airplane flying without a clear destination can end up flying in circles without even realizing it. It can totally miss its destination or end up flying for hours without getting anywhere. The same picture can characterize our life. The measure corresponds with our definition. Jesus clearly knew what He wanted His followers to become—disciple-makers. Not for a moment did He waiver from that effort of reproducing His character and priorities into their lives so that they could multiply it in others.

Unfortunately, in the anti-supernatural movement of 1850, a man by the name of Charles Adam separated “making disciples” into two parts: evangelism and discipleship. The holistic command in Matthew 28:19-20 was split into two terms. Evangelism became the process of bringing people to Christ, or the communication of the gospel by saved people to lost people. [2]

Alvin Reid rightly defines evangelism according to the presumed split as “Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ by word and life in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that unbelievers become followers of Jesus Christ in His church and in the culture.”[3] Discipleship became the process of growing people up in Christ. Whole movements began to prioritize either evangelism or discipleship. Evangelism became the priority and responsibility of parachurch ministries (CRU, Billy Graham, etc.), and discipleship became the priority of the local church.

However, disciples cannot be made unless both evangelism and what became labeled as discipleship are happening. Evangelism and discipleship are the two wings of the disciple-making airplane. Both are equally important and essential to fulfilling the mission of the church. The degree to which we can clearly define what we are trying to produce is the degree to which we can fine-tune our strategy for making disciples. It is also the degree to which we can effectively evaluate whether or not we are accomplishing our objectives. [4]

Improper or a skewed definition of disciple-making will both produce a faulty product and cause ministry to repeat the same patterns with no progression. The Church and the Christian need to know and understand the ideal product and the process which produces the ideal product. By measuring the end product of both evangelism and discipleship, and thus the whole process a correct definition can be reached. The end product of the evangelism process is measured by conversions to Christ. The end product of the nurturing process is reproducing believers who reflect both the character (Gal. 5:22-23) and priorities of Christ. Charles H. Spurgeon describes these priorities as true prayer, obedience, dependence upon God. [5] In addition, a fully-trained disciple is a believer capable of reaching and caring for their peers over the long haul. [6]

Therefore, disciple-making is not the communication of information, but a reproduction of a life which embodies the character and priorities of Christ. We do not teach someone to merely know what we know. Rather, we teach them, to become what we are.

As we multiply believers who are living a disciple-making lifestyle, the Holy Spirit will send out more fully trained disciples to cross-cultural and geographical barrier—proclaiming Christ and establishing healthy Great Commission churches.

 


[1] http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/athens-2004-matt-emmons-fires-wrong-target

[2] Alvin Reid, Evangelism Handbook: Biblical, Spiritual, Intentional, Missional (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2009), Kindle Location 440.

[3] Ibid., Kindle Location 649.

[4] Thought significantly influenced by Dann Spader.

[5] Charles Spurgeon, The Soul Winner (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1995), 31-33.

[6] Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014), 18.

4 Reoccurring Revelations After Stepping Out of Vocational Ministry

Over the past several weeks as Ruth and I have talked at length about future plans and opportunities, we have had several revelations. These revelations have come about through our regular gameplan talks getting ready for the week’s events (Yes, we do call our talks “gameplans”). Usually we will be discussing a plan we are trying to explore or a person we are trying to minister to, always having some presupposition about why that strategy or approach will not work. After talking through some ideas, we have that proverbial “Ah Ha” moment and lo and behold the Holy Spirit shows us something new. Some revelations have been small and some have been smack you in the face with a two by four; some we have needed to realize more than once. Nevertheless, they have all come because we have stepped out of vocational ministry.

We still haven’t taken advantage of this one yet, but we have actual weekends again–like Saturday and Sunday. Let’s face it. Being a Pastor means that you’re working on Saturday and Sunday, while the majority of people are “off.” Even with taking a Sabbath on a Friday or Monday and getting this one day off once a week, there were still very real challenges. Anyone who works a third shift or also works a Saturday or Sunday can agree that not having a traditional work week shortens your time, or so it feels that way. Whether it was the task of relationship building for ministry or simply visiting family, time was short and most likely they were working. Ruth and I were talking about this new found revelation and realized that we can take weekend trips to see my parents, her siblings, or get away without interrupting the mojo of preparing for Sunday. This new reality brought us excitement! However, that old rhythm of life seems to have kept us from taking advantage of trip taking because the options seem limitless. Thinking about taking a weekend trip or visiting family leads into our second revelation.

I am quicker to empathize than chastise. Personally, now when I show up to a Sunday morning worship service and I’m looking to connect with someone, I’ve realized my first thought is finally reverting back from “Why aren’t they here?” to “I wonder if everything is okay?” When I first began ministry my default setting was focused on the relationship building and gracious side of life when working with volunteers and families. Those two questions may not seem like much, but there is a vast difference of tone in my head. The first is of condemnation to their absence. Think, “why aren’t they here?” out of frustration and disrespect. The second has a tone of concern and empathy. While I may never outwardly become vocal about someones absence, judgment leading to condemnation mentally is still sin. I have had to repent and seek forgiveness. My prayer is that “why aren’t they here?” gives way to “I wonder if everything’s okay.” The revelation in probably the most haunting of my time in ministry. So much cynicism and narcissism is rooted in that first question and having this change of perspective challenges me to evaluate when things began to change. While these thoughts never gave way to bitterness, there is so much more God wants to do in and through a person besides showing up to my program. When I began in ministry the latter question was my only question, but that soon gave way to dissatisfaction to someones absence. Maybe it’s the investment in someones’s life or time spent caring about someone’s best interest, but that seems too rational. Using someones attendance at an event is something that I hope God prunes out of my life. I encourage all church people and current ministers to fight for the latter question, and there may even be better question than that. Nevertheless, don’t give in to condemnation and scrutiny. Choose grace. Choose love. Also, if you don’t see someone you wanted to connect with, reach out and let them know you missed them.

The challenge I’ve ushered to reach out has forced me to realize I have the ability to put my “money” where my mouth was. I have always been attempting to live with passion and mission, but I now have a more full opportunity to live out what I taught and attempted to live out while I was leading a ministry with little objection. Living with intention and acting with love cannot be countered by the reasoning “you’re a pastor and that’s what you’re supposed to do” anymore. The expectation has changed, which allows my true motivations to shine through the facade many people think ministers put up. My hope is that time put into love for God and love for people will not be misconstrued as obligation, rather show what God has done in me is the real reason I advocate a faith-filled passionate life. When it comes to an opportunity to serve in church, will I step up as I challenged so many others to do, or conform to my natural selfishness? Just yesterday my ability to lean into God was put to the test. I was asked to do the welcome at a church service and Ruth was asked to serve in the nursery. This was the first Easter in many years we weren’t going to have to take any responsibility; we could actually kick back and enjoy the program! I hate the reasoning. It’s terrible logic. The church is not a program. The church is a family. The worship service is serving worship to God, not watching performers on a stage, yet that’s what I was looking forward to doing. So, Ruth and I were faced essentially with one choice. Serve, or sit. It  is not an easy thing to decide when you know Easter Sunday the worship will sound good, the preacher brings his A game, and the place is packed. Maybe you are faced with this same dilemma every week when you are asked to serve, or even go above and beyond your current role. How do you choose? I won’t tell you what we decided, but putting my “money” where my mouth was prompts that fourth reoccurring revelation.

Regardless of my position, role, or job I’m still in full time gospel ministry. We are all commanded to make disciples. That does not change even when my job does. This commission forces  the “great commission” to be replaced with the “everyday commission.” Same text. Matthew 28:19-20. Same logic. As I go into every church, store, job, building, or home make disciples of all people baptizing them, teaching them to obey, remembering Jesus is with me until I die.  What does this look like? In a practical sequential sense, it means being a friend of sinners so that they repent and believe, building the believer, equipping the worker, and sending the discipler (for a full definition of these terms I encourage you to read 4 Chair Discipling). My new role and difference of location does not excuse me from the work of ministry. While the venue may change, the method and means do not change. I am excited for how this will take shape outside the context of church ministry and in the context of workplace and neighborhood ministry. My gut feeling is that it will look eerily the same. Doing what Jesus did makes disciples like Jesus commanded us to make.

God continues to show me what this looks like as things change and as new relationships form. Regardless, of your position or role wherever you are, my hope and prayer is that you seek to fulfill the everyday commission out of your love for God and love for people. If you’re not sure what making a disciple looks like in your context, then I suggest finding a few Christians, get on the same page with them, and together have a gameplan.

Our Next Step

Friends and Family,

Thank you for your prayers and support during this time of transition in our life! Words cannot describe how encouraging you have been to our family. We have some exciting news to share with you! After much time, patience, prayer, and seeking God’s direction and wise counsel, we have taken a next step in our journey.

I (Kyle) have accepted a position at Kentucky Christian University in the Admissions Department. The role that I have accepted is Church Admission Counselor. The goal of the position is to recruit students to come to KCU while connecting and networking directly with churches and youth ministers. I am very excited about this position: 1) because I deeply care about KCU and its success, 2) it is the best opportunity to sharpen skills outlined in our Stadia growth plan, and 3) this position taps deep into my passion for strategically equipping ministers and churches, while allowing me to create and build something new. For the past several months Ruth and I have asked for your prayers as we considered the next step in our faith journey. God has been faithful during this time, provided for us in many ways; know your prayers on behalf of us have been answered.

After leaving CenterPointe, we transitioned to Grayson, KY and resumed ministry, while seeking out avenues of church planting. We started out with a few options to quickly enter into church planting hoping one of those would easily pan out, which I’ve blogged about here. However, contrary to our call away from Lexington, the clarity of our next step has not gone so smoothly. Therefore we had to relearn a few lessons. Over the past couple months God has opened and closed many doors and possibilities, whether it was Las Vegas, Ashland, San Diego, or Chicago, it seemed none of those opportunities were what God had in mind. When we are able to connect in person I’d love to share more of the detailed story and the emotional ups and downs. Nevertheless, since Ruth and I have been married, we have continually said we will follow God’s direction “wherever and whenever,”attempting to not rule out anything.

Our next stop is KCU and for a period of time that will allow us to develop in areas directly related to church planting. I’ll outline a couple of growth areas below, but let me clarify that we still intend to be faithful and pursue church planting even though I am taking this position at KCU. In giving full credit to God, this was not something that was anticipated or that we could foresee, and we believe that this opportunity only arose because we stepped aside from church ministry to follow God’s leading. We still feel God’s direction long term West and to church planting, but as we continue to seek God, we see this as a step in the larger journey. We are not sure when we will become part of a church plant team or plant a church, however, we feel that this is the next step for us as a family. I just want to thank you again for your prayer and support!

In Christ,
Kyle, Ruth, X, and Mia

For those who have invested in our church plant journey here’s how this opportunity directly connects to our development as a church planting family.

  1. Because I will networking with churches and youth ministers, our relational connections will increase, thus potentially expanding our financial base when we do decide its time to plant.
  2. Ruth and I will continue to grow in our intentional disciple making capacity because of the people God has placed in our lives right here in Grayson.
  3. I will be regularly speaking in front of groups, which will improve my vision casting ability, sharpen my preaching skill, while growing my connecting ability.
  4. I will be attempting to persuade students to come to KCU by connecting with them quickly and passionately. These student may be interested in KCU, may be antagonistic to a bible college, or indifferent. Therefore, I see a direct connection to improving evangelistic skill—sharing the gospel with people who may not be interested, or simply willing to listen.

3 Lessons I’m Relearning

As Ruth and I have continued to prayerfully seek God’s direction, we have had many “what if?” scenarios. It gets exhausting to continually project options and scenarios even in the most positive sense. Even for my analytical brain, comparing and contrasting pros and cons, weighing options and responses causes mental fatigue  If you would like to learn more about our previous step in our “what’s next” journey check out this post.

I am a debater. Anyone who spends any length of time around me knows that I like to argue both sides of any issue. The Meyers-Briggs test agrees with that statement time and time again. However, even with my debate like personality and learner/input mind, I have blind spots. There are areas of growth and sin that I miss and cannot analyze my way to improvement. Because of this, I have to dive deeper and deeper into God dependence to shape the steps I take in order to mold me as a person who thinks and acts like Jesus. Here are three lessons I am relearning during our next step journey.

Be Patient – This is not natural for me. Let’s be honest. I like to make things happen. I like to create. I would say my lifestyle is made up of pushing the right buttons and always pushing for progress. Marked by a desire to succeed and accomplish, the process of patiently waiting seems so inefficient and wasteful. There are things to be done and hills to conquer. While that perception may appear to be true, I’ve noticed those traits are not found in a Spirit-led character in Galatians 5:22-23.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

I love this passage because Paul highlights a pervasive characterer of the Trinity that manifests itself in Jesus and ultimately in us through the Spirit. This character is not natural, rather a product of the supernatural. Patience is not natural. I swear no matter how you slice it. I have a toddler and a newborn. Both are extremely impatient when they want help, food, something to drink, a toy, my attention, etc. Drive,  progress, opportunity, whether motivated by love or not, are still not mentioned; this is tough to swallow. Jesus was patient and did everything in The Father’s timing. He was patient for direction and He was patient with people. He sought the Father’s guidance in prayer. Why would I think my life needed to be much different? I must be patient and self controlled, not ready to rush into a situation or opportunity that may on the surface seem like a good idea and a logical one. Rather, in my dependence entirely on the Spirit, the Word, and prayer resolve myself to direct my eyes on Christ’s example. In following this example, I hope my life to be marked not by qualities that seem to benefit the short term, but character marked by eternity.

Communicate with openness  – Its not easy to be transparent. Sometimes our unwillingness to be open about what is going in our life is a mask for our desire for control. We intentionally hold our cards too close to our chest. Openness is hard. Trust me. There has been overwhelming temptation to hide options when talking with a potential direction God may want us to go. It seems easy enough to leave out other potential options in fear that it may hinder that “option.”

God is great so we don’t have to be in control.

I have had to reaffirm my belief in that statement. At one point or another, if you claim to be a Christian you have subscribed to the belief that God is all powerful, sovereign, or in control (whatever your word of choice is). Yet, often our decision to hide where God is taking us places “self” on the platform that Jesus is supposed to occupy in our life. I would encourage anyone that they need to be open and communicate the reality of the situation with anyone you come into contact with. If you do not share with openness then you cease the believe God is really in control. When we share where God is taking us it can inspire and encourage, while also challenging and convicting. In sharing with a potential endeavor, communicating with openness can also bring to light the true character and direction of an organization/person because how they respond to you sharing where God is taking you, even in the uncertainty. I have found out this can be scary, especially when talking with other adults, because I have relinquished my ability to control the narrative. I must now resolve myself to fall at the feet of God and surrender my control. For clarity, transparent communication explains where God has you and is taking you while countering the fear of uncertainty and judgment. I always appreciate people being transparent about their motivations and reasoning backed up by action. Even though the conversation may be hard it is always worth it because in the long term there has been a better chance of a fruitful relationship.

Be Present – It is easy to get caught up in where you think God is taking you in the best possible future anticipation. But, as you focus on where you are going, often we forget where we are. And if we focus on where we are it tends to be through a negative lens because we are not where we want to be. It is even easy to get caught up in what we should be doing, but what are you doing with where you are right now. I cannot help but think of John 4. Jesus takes the disciples through Samaria on a short term missions trip. They did not want to be there. They did not like Samaria, as much as many Christians do not like Muslims, which is sad, but save that for another debate. They we so focused on getting through Samaria with Jesus, they did not stop to think about the people they were currently around–people who had an opportunity to hear the good news because they were traveling through. They were focused on the destination, not the journey. The destination was important. Jesus was about to make a bold proclamation. But like the disciples, we forget to get our eyes up off ourselves and our journey and look to those around us. Jesus is a great model for us. He was not only the savior for those he was with, but for the Samaritans as well. He was present–fully in tune with the situation and place where he was. Because of this, he was able to stop and engage a woman at the well in a loving and truthful way. The text says he had to go through Samaria, not because there was not another way to travel to Galillee, but because it was his Father’s will. It was also His will to go the Nazareth, but first through Samaria. Even as we have pursued church planting God has continually put John 4 on my heart that Ruth and I are in Grayson for a purpose and we have to be here now, so be here even through the destination may be somewhere else.

“Don’t you say, ‘There are still four more months, then comes the harvest’? Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest.”

– John‬ ‭4:35‬ ‭HCSB

I look forward to sharing more about our journey soon! How is God working in your life? What are your blind spots? What is God teaching you?