Jesus told us to go and preach the gospel to everyone. That seems simple enough that we should have been able to do that. When I was a brand new believer, I told people my story and shared my faith with people in many contexts. I shared it with prison inmates as a volunteer with the prison chaplain’s office. I shared it with the homeless people we took into our home. I even shared it knocking on doors in both the nice neighborhoods and the most unsavory places. All of these things took place outside of the church building. And one of the first churches I attended after receiving Christ as my Savior was very evangelistic. And I was not the only one doing this sort of work. It was the reason the church was growing so fast.
But then something happened. Our leadership became fixated on having seminars and bringing in speakers and musicians and we were in church almost every night. We got to be too busy to go out and do what we had been doing. It also became increasingly important that we obey our leaders, and in some cases that meant violating our consciences and not doing what was right. This combination was toxic, and we moved on to other places of worship. The trouble was, they all seemed to suffer from different variations of the same obsession with church busy-work and abuse of authority.
When I talk about abuse of authority, I know everyone goes straight to that image of a dictatorial leader who shames everyone into obedience. There are other ways to abuse the authority God has given us to be faithful ministers of His word. Most abuse that I am aware of takes the form of subtle manipulation. It may be as simple as explaining away the clear teaching of the scriptures. Jesus rebuked the professional ministry class of His day, saying,
“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” Mark 7:6-8
Yes, Jesus warned the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, who were the fundamentalists of their day. They were very zealous for the law, but Jesus was “the Word made flesh.” He was the walking, talking Bible, and He was outraged at how the religious leaders lead people away from the commands of God with their petty rules.
The errors of God’s people are not hard to understand, and they are quite repetitive. God gives a command, and man devises a workaround. “You know, this fruit may actually make us wise and be more like God. That would be a good thing, right?” This is not the text of Genesis 3:5, but a very reasonable extrapolation.
So, what was the workaround we devised to keep us from making disciples? First, we fobbed it off to the professional ministry class, even though the Word of God tells us that the evangelist is a gift to the Body of Christ whose job it is to equip the saints (us) to do the work of the ministry.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Ephesians 4:11-14.
Yes, the church was given all these ministry gifts, but it appears that we have rejected some of them because they have “passed away.” Never mind that these gifts were given for building up the Body of Christ until it is unified in the faith, mature, and a whole host of other things that have not yet happened. Instead, most of our churches are one or two-legged stools that do not equip the saints to do the work of evangelizing the community. They don’t do it because they cannot. The pastor of your church, if he has the gift of shepherding, is not the Swiss Army knife of ministry. He doesn’t know everything. God has not made HIM to be the fully functioning Body of Christ. He made us to be that way.
And this is why I am so devoted to the ministry of Child Evangelism Fellowship. This ministry fulfills the role of equipping the saints to reach that largest of all unreached people groups: children. They provide training and have even created a framework for doing that ministry in the form of the Good News Club® and the 5 Day Club®. Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” He didn’t have them warehoused during “big church.”
I will continue on this subject in my next post, because evangelism and making disciples deserves more than this.