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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Paralyzed Discipleship

A couple things have made me that much more excited that we will soon have a Pastor of Outreach at our church. Again, it is not his job to do the outreach for the church, but to coach, encourage and motivate all of us in outreach endeavors. God is so gracious to our Body by giving us this gift!

Why the repeated excitement? Because a couple of things have reminded me of the man-made chasm between discipleship and evangelism.

I was sitting in a meeting the last week with an organization that does a great job emphasizing evangelism in student ministries. They have done a great deal in contributing to the gospel passion of our young people. I sat through a meeting and presentation that I found very encouraging and beneficial. However, one thing the speaker said, bothered me. He suggested that they help us with evangelism and the discipleship is our job. As he said it, it struck me as funny, because this organization has even restructured some to provide discipleship WITH their evangelism training (for they saw it was empty without). But the thought that hit me was, "Why do we not see evangelism as part of the discipleship process?" Sure, we first make disciples by introducing them to the Savior, but we also continue their discipleship by teaching them to share the gospel. A disciple who does not evangelize is not a mature disciple. The two should not be severed.

I also noticed this as I read Dan Kimball's most recent article. I am thrilled that churches emphasize their missional calling, but it is sad that this makes some churches unique. A church being missional should be no more unique than a church being people. One of the signs a church is healthy is that it is concerned about saving souls.

Though I have much room for improvement individually, God has graciously blessed our ministries to have an evangelistic thrust. There are a couple of things I would love to say to people when they come and question the prudence of such a thrust.

1. People are dying and going to hell. Let's not mince words. If you say you love God but don't love people, you lie. If I can rest in my salvation and have no concern over those who do not know the gospel, I should repent before God and pray He breaks my heart. A believer should have a heart for the lost. (Incidently, if you don't, you can pray to God and ask that He break your heart. I would also recommend spending some serious time studying the work of the cross and the resurrection.)
2. It's in there! I am more expositor than evangelist. So I get frustrated when I hear evangelists encourage pastors to present the gospel weekly. Typically, their reason for this challenge is based out of point one. However, I present the gospel weekly for that reason, but also for a reason I consider more vital to my preaching. Isn't the redemption story the scarlet thread running throughout the Word? As a good expositor, isn't it my obligation to present the material in the context of depraived man being offered forgiveness by a righteous, holy, glorious, gracious God? I shouldn't have to read the gospel into the passage, or take a brief timeout to present a secondary message, but the gospel should be articulated as the context of the message.
3. We're not there yet. There has been a real strong correlation for me between those that complain that the gospel is presented too much (by the way, by grace of God, I have not heard this complaint for quite some time! Hallelujah!), and the amount of time they spend in evangelism. Typically, the person who is bothered is the person who is not doing it. Consistently tying evangelism and discipleship together means that I wouldn't move on from evangelism until I see it happening. A piano teach does not move onto the next lesson until the student has grasped the current material. When confronted about this in the past, I would have loved to have explained to the student or parent, "I tell you what, I will quit emphasizing evangelism when I see your student actually doing it." Ironically, once the person starts doing it, they are then encouraged when they hear it happening and don't want it to stop.
4. The message is good. In view of God's mercy...IN VIEW OF GOD'S MERCY...IN VIEW OF GOD'S MERCY. I cannot offer myself as a living sacrifice to God unless I keep the cross in my vision. The gospel is not just a message for conversion, it is a message for the convert. A proper perspective of the gospel will help me grow in grace and truth.

Please don't immobilize discipleship by separating it from evangelism. Your walk, and the world, can afford that mistake.


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