The Need for Expositional Preaching (part 1)

james-coleman-tcGU1VaCtDw-unsplash.jpgIt has been said, “There is no genuinely good preaching except exposition.” Such serious words require us to consider what expositional preaching is and why it is so important that preachers commit themselves to this kind of preaching.

In an attempt to answer that question, this is the first in a four-part series on biblical exposition. It is an update from a previous blog series I wrote when I pastored in Indiana. It relates to this week’s sermon on Deuteronomy 4:32–40 and it attempts to show why our church is committed to biblical exposition.

If you have never heard of expositional preaching, I hope this might be a helpful introduction and biblical apologia. If you are already convinced that biblical exposition is the best form of preaching Scripture, I pray this short series might help give you something to share with others who are less persuaded.

Today I will start with defining biblical exposition. In the following days I will make a biblical theological argument for the practice. Along the way, feel free to share your feedback and/or why you are committed (or not) to biblical exposition.

What is Biblical Exposition?

In short, expositional preaching is the kind of preaching that makes the main point of the biblical text the main point of the sermon. Mark Dever defines it this way: “An expositional sermon is a sermon that takes the main point of a passage of Scripture [and] makes it the main point of the sermon, and applies it to life today.” Therefore, he continues, it does not mean that exposition is narrowly focused on one or two verses; expositional preaching can have small, medium, or large sections of Scripture (i.e., one verse or one book). An expositional sermon need not be lifeless, boring, or overly technical. Surely many “expositors” are dull or have preached overly technical messages, but those examples simply illustrate bad exposition, not true exposition.

Expositional preaching demands the preacher know the Word he is preaching and the Word as it was originally intended by the biblical author. Such a method defends the congregation from hearing a small sampling of “hobby horse” sermons, and it enables (and even demands) the pastor and the church to move through the whole counsel of God. In the life of a congregation, only expositional preaching will expose a Christian to all the doctrines of the Bible presented in their original contexts, along with their original applications to life.

Expositional preaching stands in opposition to a number of other popular, but less powerful forms of preaching: topical, (auto)biographical, felt needs, etc. Over time expositional sermons demonstrate how one ought to interpret the Bible; they communicate doctrine with application to life; and they ground the life of the believer in the Word of God, not the personality of the preacher or the most recent psychological fad.

For all these reasons and more, we find a strong reason for committing to biblical exposition. Still, is this the way commended in Scripture? And if so, why has it fallen out of fashion in many pulpits today? What follows will answer the latter question; tomorrow we’ll begin considering where Scripture models biblical exposition. Continue reading

Discipleship and the Church: 12 Quotes from Mark Dever’s Book on Discipling

discDiscipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus by Mark Dever is one of the most practical books on discipling I’ve read on the subject. And the reason why it is so practical is its unrelenting focus on the local church.

While many books on discipleship talk about how Jesus discipled others, or how we can make disciples, Discipling sets discipleship in the context of the local church. More than how-to book for individuals, it persuasively argues that the church is theplace for discipleship. In fact, only as churches disciple will they grow in vitality. And only as discipling takes place in the church will disciples grow in the place designed by the Lord.

Indeed, because this focus on the church is often missed in discussions about discipleship, I would highly commend anyone who cares about the church or the growth of Christians to read this book. This week, our church men’s group will be discussing its contents, and in preparation for that, let me share a dozen or so quotations from Discipling. These quotes highlight the ecclesial nature of discipleship found in Mark Dever’s book, and hopefully they both capture the shape of his argument and whet your appetite to read the book. Continue reading

Theology is Not Just for Theologians

theology

In other words, The­ol­ogy is prac­ti­cal: espe­cially now.
In the old days, when there was less edu­ca­tion and dis­cus­sion,
per­haps it was pos­si­ble to get on with a very few sim­ple ideas about God.
But it is not so now. Everyone reads, everyone hears things discussed.
Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean
that you have no ideas about God [i.e., theology].
It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones —
bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas.
— C.S. Lewis —

Theology rightly understood is not a tangential part of Christian faith; it is the source, strength, and substance of vibrant faith. As A. W. Tozer famously said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (Knowledge of the Holy1). This is the core of theology—thinking God’s thoughts after him. And true theology is thinking biblically-informed thoughts about God. Theology is not an academic discipline consisting of esoteric terms, but sound doctrine that gives life and strength to every child of God made alive in Christ.

Sadly, this way of thinking about theology is often missed. Even among pastors, those called to instruct in sound doctrine, there is a sense in which theology is secondary to the real work of the ministry. Evangelism, discipleship, worship services, and church growth are elevated above “theology,” but only because they assume that each discipline and practice of the church is a-theological. In the short run, such doctrinal inattention may not create observable problems, but in the long run it will.

Paul understood this and that is why he writes in 1 Timothy 4:16: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Faithful shepherds and growing sheep follow Paul’s model and give appropriate emphasis to theology as it informs and energizes spiritual life. In fact, close attention to the New Testament shows that wherever the apostles are giving practical instruction, they are doing so from deeply theological wells.

Mark Dever, in the preface of his book on 1 Corinthians (Twelve Challenges Churches Facemakes this very point. Continue reading

What does the New Testament say about elders?

elders“Elder” (presbuteros) is not a very Baptist word. Or at least, it hasn’t been readily in our vocabulary since the nineteenth century, when the likes of J. L. Reynolds, pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia, wrote, “The permanent officers of a Church are of two kinds: elders (who are also called pastors, teachers, ministers, overseers, or bishops) and deacons” (see his “Church Polity, or the Kingdom of Christ in its Internal and External Development,” in Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Lifeed. Mark Dever).

Nevertheless, “elder” is a term used 76 times in the NT. Nine times it is used to speak of those advanced in age; four times of Israel’s forefathers; twelve times to refer to the heavenly elders in John’s Apocalypse; and the Gospels and Acts apply the word to the religious leaders of Israel twenty-nine times. The remaining uses of the word “elder” (20x) refer to leadership in the local church. (See Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible, p. 54).

While we can’t consider every facet of eldership, let me offer three observations about elders and their function, as found in the New Testament. Continue reading

Preaching Larger Sections of Scripture

bibleIn creation, God put beauty and design into the largest galaxy and the tiniest cell. Accordingly, we have, for centuries, used different instruments to behold the glory of God in creation: the microscope enables us to see God’s miniscule  handiwork; the telescope opens our eyes to heavenly vistas. From both ends of the spectrum, we benefit from considering God’s micro-creation and macro-creation.

Something similar takes place in the Bible. When we read Scripture, we can find gospel truth in a word (propitiation), a phrase (‘it is finished’), a verse (John 3:16), a story (Job’s suffering and restoration), or a series of songs (the Psalter). Indeed, from every angle, we behold God’s wisdom and goodness in his word. Yet, unless we are intentional, it is easy to focus on the smaller parts of the Bible and to miss the larger ones.

There are many reasons for that—lack of time, lack of understanding (what is Revelation about?), lack of interest (why do I need to read the minor prophets?). In our fast-paced world, it is easy to overlook the Bible’s big picture, and often pastors have not helped their people “put the Bible together.” Still, I am convinced that if we are to have minds renewed by the Scriptures, we must not simply have a collection of unrelated memory verses free-floating in our heads; we must also understand the larger framework(s) of the Bible. For that reason, I want to suggest five reasons why I preach larger sections of Scripture. Continue reading

What the Gospel Isn’t: Four Errant ‘Gospels’

In his little book, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, Southern Baptist pastor Mark Dever defines the gospel as follows:

The gospel is the good news is that the one and only God, who is holy, made us in his image to know him. But we sinned and cut ourselves off from him. In his great love, God became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law himself and taking on himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever turn and trust in him. He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us had been exhausted. He now calls us to repent of our sins and to trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, and eternal life with God. (43)

This is the simple and saving message of Jesus Christ. For more than twenty centuries, it has been proclaimed to kings and criminals, housemaid and headhunters (cannibals, that is; not corporate matchmakers). This message is God’s power unto salvation (Rom 1:16), but because it comes in verbal form, it also has been misunderstood, distorted, and caricatured. While upheld by God himself; the gospel, as a message carried by humans, is an endangered species. Continue reading

For Your Edification (5.17.12)

For Your Edification is a bi-weekly set of resources on the subjects of Bible, Theology, Ministry, and Family Life.  Let me know what you think or if you have other resources that growing Christians should be aware.  

BIBLE

Is the Bible Really Living and Active?  Imagine a conversation at the end of Sunday service:

Pastor:  Fred, did you spend time in the word this week?

Fred: Oh, yes.  I spent hours in the word this week.  It was refreshing.  God says that he gives rest to those who ask, and when I was in the word this week, I felt the comfort of resting in the word.

Wilma, Fred’s wife (driving home later): Honey, I didn’t know that you spent so much time in the Word this week.  With your busy schedule, how did you do that?

Husband: Well, what I failed to mention was the fact that I named my Lazy Boy “the word,” so that whether I am watching TV, reading the paper, or reading my Bible, I can “be in the word.”

Wilma: Huh . . . that’s a good idea.  Maybe, I’ll try that.

Of course, no one would really say that.  Right?  But the point is made: The time we spend in the word is as effective as the way we spend it.  Jen Wilkin, mother of four, writes about why so many Christians get so little out of the word.  She nails down the fact that those who read the Bible, need to use effective means of Bible study, or they will just reinforce unbiblical ideas, and remain unchanged.  This is how she begins,

Why, with so many study options available, do many professing Christians remain unschooled and unchanged? Scripture teaches clearly that the living and active Word matures ustransforms usaccomplishes what it intends, increases our wisdom, and bears the fruit of right actions. There is no deficit in the ministry of the Word. If our exposure to it fails to result in transformation, particularly over the course of years, there are surely only two possible reasons why: either our Bible studies lack true converts, or our converts lack true Bible study.

Jen goes on to explain a number of common ways Christians “lack true Bible study.” Read the rest of her helpful article: Why Bible Study Doesn’t Transform Us?

Summer Bible Reading Plan.  Here is a 100 day Bible reading plan that would be great to use this summer if you do not currently have a reading schedule, or you have fallen off the wagon since January.  It is called E100, which stands for Essential 100 Scripture passages, and it designed to help Bible readers get through the whole of the Bible in a manageable amount of time.  It is published by Scripture Union and is designed to help young Bible readers or discouraged Bible readers make their way through the most important parts of the Bible.  The E100 website has more details; here is an easy access print-out.

THEOLOGY

Lessons in Ecclesiology.  Jonathan Leeman answers a couple important questions about the doctrine of the church.  First, he defines what the characteristics of a local church are.  Most importantly, in his article, What Is the Local Church?, he defines the difference between a ‘group of Christians’ and a ‘church’ (Hint: They are not the same thing!)  Then, he follows up by considering church membership.  In his article, What Is Church Membership?, he points out that a church is more than just a ‘voluntary organization.’ For those who want their church reflect the priorities of Christ, these are important questions, and Leeman gives biblical answers.

Additionally, Leeman is finishing his doctoral research on ecclesiology (i. e. the doctrine of the church) and has written a number of helpful resources on the subject, most recently: Church Membership and Church Discipline.  His larger work, The Church and the Surprising Offense of the Love of God: Reintroducing Church Membership and Discipline, goes even deeper into the biblical case for reclaiming a knowledge and practice of church health.

Carl Trueman on John Owen. John Owen has been described as the “Redwood of the Puritans” by J. I. Packer, and indeed his exegetical theology stands tall centuries after he has passed into glory.  Trueman, a church historian and gifted writer, introduces Owen in this ten minute biographical sketch that is worth watching to know better this great pastor-theologian.  For more on Owen, see John Piper’s biographical sermon: The Chief Design of My Life: Mortification and Universal Holiness.

FAMILY, LIFE, & MINISTRY

What Should We Say About Gay Marriage?  A few weeks before President Obama made his public declaration to endorse Gay Marriage, Southern Baptist Pastor, Mark Dever, sat down with seminary president, Albert Mohler, to discuss the subject of marriage according to the Bible and in our culture.  This discussion recorded at Together For the Gospel, will give you a good handle on a number of the key points in the gay marriage debate, and how Christians can defend God’s design in marriage–one man, one woman, united by law, until death.

Don’t Be a Passive Reader.  N. D. Wilson, author of Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl and a handful of other well-regarded fiction books, gives his critical review of The Hunger Games.  His review is spot-on and shows that Christians who enjoy the book/movie are in need of reading the book with much greater sensitivity to the world in which we live.  His review reminds us that when we read, watch, or listen to any sort of entertainment, we are imbibing a worldview (that is probably not inspired by the Holy Spirit) and thus we need to read pro-actively.  Beware of being a passive reader.  It may be more dangerous than the hunger games themselves.


May God use these resources to grow you in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

A Word-Driven Ministry

On Wednesday night, I taught through the book of Nehemiah as a part of our year long journey through the Bible–Via Emmaus: A Christ-Centered Walk Through the Bible.  My aim was to show the redemptive-historical features of the book and patterns of salvation that are extant in the book.  However, the book also provides an excellent portrait of godly leadership and a word-driven ministry.  (For more on that see Mark Dever’s chapter on Nehemiah in The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made).

Ezra and Nehemiah are two books that show the sovereignty of God to reestablish God’s people (Israel) in God’s place (Jerusalem).  They also do a great deal to show how YHWH leads Israel back into covenant with himself, and with that covenant renewal comes a laser beam focus on the power of God’s word. For instance, Nehemiah 8 illustrates the way God’s word can transform a people.  And for God’s covenant people today, it gives an excellent motion picture of what the ministry of the word could and should look like.  Even with the differences that exist between that Old Covenant period of Ezra-Nehemiah and the church today, Ezra’s priestly ministration models a commitment to God’s Word worthy of imitation (cf Heb 13:7).

Here are 6 Marks of a Word-Driven Ministry from Nehemiah 8:

  1. Word-Based: There wasn’t any gimmick, program, or contrived technique to change the people.  From morning to midday, Ezra read the Law (v. 3, 5) and Levites gave the sense (v. 7-8). Ezra displayed incredible faithfulness to the Scriptures, and the sufficiency of God’s Word is seen in the fact that they simply read and explained the text, and hearts were moved.  If only, we would have the same commitment today!
  2. Expositional teaching: The kind of teaching that changes lives in Ezra is the kind that simply reads and explains the ‘Bible’. It aims to understand God’s word and make known the plain sense of the inspired Word; it reads the text in context and applies it to our lives. Ezra and his team of “small group leaders” took the word and helped the people understand it.  The words they read surely came form or were based on Law of Moses, and yet they understood the words as speaking to them (cf Deut 32:47).  The result was a deep sense of contrition and thanksgiving, as well as, a reinstitution of the Feast of Booths, which recalled God’s saving work during the Exodus (8:13ff).
  3. Community: A word-driven ministry gathers around the word  in unity and with regularity (v. 1).  In Nemehiah 8 we see men, women, and children gathering as one man to hear God’s word (v. 1, 3, 8) and to receive instruction (v. 7).  As a result, the entire nation repented and rejoiced as they heard the word (8:9-12).  For more on the centrality of the gathered people around the word, see Christopher Ash’s new book, The Priority of Preaching.  The third chapter explains the necessity of the assembly that gathers to hear God’s word: Powerful!)
  4. Plurality of teachers: As Ezra opened God’s Law, he was surrounded by Israelite leaders whose names are recorded in verses 4 and 7.  While Ezra was the leading teacher (a model that is continued in the NT and in churches today), he was not alone (a pattern also continued in the NT and sorely missing in many churches today).  Because the Word is authoritative, it is appropriate to have a plurality of teachers.  In fact, while a church can begin with a singular teacher, it does better to move towards a plurality of leader-teachers, what the NT calls pastor-teachers, elders, and/or shepherds.
  5. Elevation of the Word: Ezra stood on a platform “made for the purpose” of lifting high the Word of God; the people stood to hear it; hands were raised and audible sounds made indicating that this is God’s word– “Amen!”  The people were not stoic recipients of God’s word, nor were they impatient consumers.  They hungered for God’s word and listened with intensity and receptive participation.
  6. Heartfelt Affection: The appropriate response to God’s word is not only cognitive acquisition, but also heartfelt affection.  Those who heard the word of God, were moved to tears (v. 9); they were encouraged to take heart (v. 10), and they wept away rejoicing because they had understood God’s word (v. 11-12).  True understanding is not simply intellectual, it is emotive and volitional, too.  Thus listening to the Word read or preached is not a passive activity.  It requires earnest prayer and heart preparation to be moved by God’s word.  For preachers, too, it is essential that God’s word grips our hearts as much as our heads.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is instructive. Our churches and our pastors would do well to emulate Ezra (cf. Ezra 7:10).  From a cursory reading of Nehemiah, it is evident that God’s people were radically affected by God’s word, in a way that today’s churches need.  Yet tragically, pastors look back on Ezra as though his method is archaic and outmoded.

Ironically, there is more power today in the preaching of God’s word, than Ezra ever knew.  Ezra’s ministry was under the Old Covenant, and thus did not come with the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.  With Jesus death, resurrection, and ascension, the promised Holy Spirit has been poured out (Acts 2) and today the power of the Word is incomparably greater (Acts 1:8; cf. 1 Thess 1:5).

Today, preachers should have even greater confidence to proclaim God’s unadulterated Word, because the living and active word is not only true, it is accompanied by the Holy Spirit who convicts, converts, comforts, and conforms God’s children into the image of Christ.  The word of God will not return void, and ministries marked by the Word will accomplish exactly what God intends–salvation and judgment (cf Matt 13:10-17).

May we who proclaim the Word, do so unashamedly, trusting that the seed of the Word will establish the kingdom of God.  It may be foolish to the world, but it is the wisdom and power of God.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Committed Church Membership: The Sixth Mark of a Healthy Church Member

To many Christians today, church membership is a non-essential or an enigma.   Be it from the proliferation of extra-church ministries (i.e. Bible camps, collegiate ministries, or other parachurches), the ever-increasing array of Christian teaching diassociated from church membership (i.e. Christian TV, radio, Bible studies, etc), the creation of hybrid-churches (i.e. multi-site, Internet and virutal churches), or the simple neglect to teach this subject in many churches (thankfully, not all), many Christians have little concept of God’s desire for Christian’s to be inseparably united to a local body of believers.  Or at least, that is how it was for me, but I don’t think I am alone.

In my own life, church membership was a truth I had to grow into.  For instance, for the first five years of my Christian life I was not a church member.  I was baptized at age 17, but not a church member until 22.  This was not a conscious rebellion against the church, but an unaddressed, ecclesial ignorance.  Therefore, it my conviction that churches and pastors today must teach on the importance of church membership, if our churches–Baptist, Presbyterian, and otherwise–will be thriving outposts of Christ’s kingdom.  In Thabiti Anyabwile’s book What is a Healthy Church Member?, the sixth mark of health is understanding and embracing this reality.

As an aside, but also as an entry into this week’s applications, let me add personally that as it concerns church membership, I have been much helped by my friends and teachers at IX Marks.  If you are not familiar with this ministry, I encourage you to take an afternoon at your nearest coffee shop or library and peruse their website.  From articles to audio interviews to straight-forward teaching on the subject, let Mark Dever, Matt Schmucker, and their church-loving peers, encourage and challenge you with biblical teaching and practical ways to grow as a committed church member.  (Perhaps, the first thing to do is to listen to Mark Dever’s SBTS 2002 chapel message: Membership Matters).   I remember listening to this sermon while mopping up the children’s building at Woodland Park Baptist Church, and thinking, “I have never heard anything like this before!”  It gave me a whole new love and priority for the local church.

After considering this neglected biblical truth in more detail, you could begin to grow as a committed member through these five points of application:

1. Take a step of obedience in one area of church membership.  Thabiti Anyabwile lists 8 characteristics of a committed church member: (1) Attends Regularly; (2) Seeks Peace; (3) Edifies Others; (4) Warns and Admonishes Others; (5) Pursues Reconciliation; (6) Bears with Others; (7) Prepares for the Ordinances; and (8) Supports the Work of the Ministry (68-70).  Does the members in your church do this?  Can you imagine if they did?  Be a trendsetter in your church: start practicing these corporate spiritual disciplines and encourage others to do the same.  Taking God at his word, and stepping out in Spirit-empowered obedience will have untold impact on you and your local church.

2. Develop a ministry of presence at your church.  Realize that your attendance matters.  In my own life, I started going to church regularly at age 17.  When I did, there was an older gentlemen who greeted me at the door every week.  In addition to the preaching of God’s word, I truly believe that his enthuiastic hospitality was one of the ways that God brought me to himself.  When we go to church, we are not simply going as consumers; we go as those upbuilding and supporting the rest of God’s people.  And when your Christian liberty “enables” you to freely skip church, it may have a negative effect on another brother or sister who is depending on your presence.  The ministry of presence is vital for all believers and should be something that we gladly live out each week.

3. Learn the names of every member of your church and use the church directory to pray for one another.  John 10:3 says that Jesus calls his sheep by name, and that when he speaks, his sheep hear him and follow (10:27).  So too, for Christians, especially church leaders and shepherds, we must be committed to knowing those in our church, calling them by name, and praying for them.  Now, with that said, I realize, some churches are ginormous–which is a technical term for “really big”–and that such feats would tempt some to pride if they learned 7,500 names.  However, within these larger churches, are smaller groups, however they are classified.  The point here is not legalism, but love!  Out of love, you should know the names of those in your flock, and by whatever means you can, learn to pray for your fellow members by names.  You may say, “I don’t know how to pray for those I don’t know.”  Well here are two ways to respond: (1) Get to know them!  Ask their name, their family situation, where they serve in the church, where they work outside the church–simply put, be curious.  This is where number 2 helps number 3.  (2) Pray Paul’s prayers for those people whom you still don’t know.  If they are believers, these are great ways to make concrete petitions for fellow-members to grow in Christ.  D.A. Carson’s book on the subject, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, is an excellent resource to help you here.

4. Inform yourself of church business.  Most churches have regularly scheduled business meetings.  As a committed member, you should know what is going on in your church.   This gives you opportunity to join in prayer with what God is doing in your midst; it gives you time to ask the pastor, elders, or other members about the business at hand; and it protects your church from the wiles of Satan who would love to bring division to your church by uninformed members making hasty, uninformed, and unspiritual comments at the meeting. (By unspiritual, I mean those comments that have not been sanctified by prayer, the Word of God, and even time– James 1:19-25).

5. Study the New Testament to learn what the church is and does.  Perhaps this should actually be the first thing you do, but either way, your commitment to the church is directly related to how important you think the church is, and the only way you can have a proper understanding of the church, is to get God’ Word on it.  One way to do this is to simply use a concordance (online, or in print) to look up every instance of ekklesia / church in the New Testament and see how the Bible uses it.  Is it speaking of a local assembly?  An abstract universal entity?  A heavenly gathering?  Or what?  Then you should ask, what is God’s intention for the church and how should we be participating in that?  Answering these questions will go along way to seeing how vital church membership is.

Overall, growing as a committed member is a process, but one promises lasting joy as union to Christ in his body promises inimitable opportunities to grow up into Christ.  As Ephesians 3:10 tells us, the church reveals the wisdom of God to the world, and is in fact the wisdom of God.  Sadly, most people don’t see it that way.  Consider these steps of application this week, and I trust that you too will see how the events that take place within the local body of assembled believers are more important than the events that occur in the Pentagon, the Kremlin, the halls of congress, or any place else for that matter. 

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

A Biblical Evangelist: The Fifth Mark of a Healthy Church Member

On Sunday night, the church I am interim, Calvary Baptist (Seymour, IN), looked at what it means to be a “Biblical Evangelist” according to Thabiti Anyabwile’s helpful study What is a Healthy Church Member?  During our time together, I suggested five ways to live out a life of intentional evangelism.  In addition to memorizing an evangelistic tract and /or a series verses that outlines the gospel, consider the following steps of towards evangelistic fervency:

1. Community Evangelism.  Pray for a different ‘lost’ family member, friend, co-worker each day of the week.  Then, invite someone to church each week.  Imagine, under God, what your church would look like if every member of your household of faith took seriously these two practices–praying daily and inviting weekly.  Coupled with the faithful preaching and teaching of the gospel at your church, this exercise could bear much, much fruit.

2. Spontaneous Evangelism.  In Colossians 4:3, Paul says, “Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”  Paul not only preached boldly, he prayed dependently and recruited others to pray with him and for him, so that God would open doors for evangelistic witness.  In my own life, earnest prayers like this have regularly been answered with God-ordained encounters to bear witness for Christ.  The problem is not God’s faithfulness to answer such prayers, but my weakness to keep praying for more opportunities.  May we learn to pray unceasinlgy with Paul for open doors to spontaneous evangelism.

3. Lifestyle Evangelism.  The Great Commission instructs us that “as we go” (participle) we are to “make disciples” (imperative).  Put in one word, evangelism should be our “lifestyle.”  There are dozens of ways to do this.  Let me suggest four: (1) live a life that leads to “Why”–as 1 Peter 3:15 suggests, live a life that causes others to ask you about the hope you have in Jesus; (2) get to know people by asking questions that will lead to more informed and more specific applications of the gospel, ask God to give you a heart for people and look for ways to interject Christ into daily conversation; (3) perform ‘strategic’ acts of kindness that will show the love of Christ and that instigate conversations about Jesus; and (4) commit yourself to being a regular and recruiting participant in your church’s evangelistic programs– don’t miss the joy of joining others in your church as they share Christ in your local context.

4. Thoughtful Evangelism.  Growth in anything requires time, persistence, and studied contemplation.  This is true for evangelism.  So, if you are serious about wanting to grow as a biblical evangelist, let me suggest a handful of helpful resources

  • Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism is the first book I would recommend, as it provides an excellent discussion of what the gospel is and how to go about telling others the simple, and yet eternally signficant, message of forgiveness and hope.
  • Robert Colemen, The Master Plan of Evangelism examines the life of Jesus and shows how the best evangelists are disciple-makers.  This book has been formative in my understanding of ministry, especially in the idea of spiritual multiplication.
  • J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God is an excellent theological inquiry into the relationship between God’s sovereignty in salvation and man’s responsibility to share the gospel with all people.

5. Discipled Evangelism.  Finally, there is no better way to grow as a “biblical evangelist” than to “do evangelism!”  And there is no better way to do that then to find a friend or older member in your church and learn from them and with them.  Timothy, Titus, Silas, and others co-labored with the Apostle Paul and learned first hand how to boldly share their faith, so too we should link arms with others in the church to grow in evangelism.  This co-laboring strengthens relations within the body and maximizes the effectiveness of the church’s witness.   If your church does not have such a ministry team, perhaps you, in coordination with your pastor, could help implement such an evangelistic unit.

In truth, evangelism is not something that we can do in the strength of our flesh.  Most of us experience great feelings of defeat whenever we think of evangelism, and yet this is one of God’s clearest instructions for us, to go and make disciples, sharing the good news with all the nations.  In fact, the Holy Spirit has been given to us for just such a ministry (Acts 1:8), and it is only as we join in what the Spirit of Christ is doing in the world that our joy is complete (cf. 1 John 1:1-4).  So, this week, let me encouage you to take hold of one of these action steps and to go forward with boldness and conviction to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.   You won’t be disappointed that you did.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss