As we were reminded last week, studies have shown that about 80% of people who have come to faith in Christ in the last decade or two have done so through a relationship with another Christian. Crusades, gospel rallies, the internet and other less personal approaches are still being blessed by God and He will bring people into His kingdom via whatever vehicles we provide! However, it is abundantly clear that the primary vehicle for bringing people into the kingdom of God is relationships. This should be no surprise to us because the Church is a family, not a club and so relationships are at that heart of all that we are and all that we do. So it makes sense then to be committed to building relationship bridges with people outside the Church, over which the Holy Spirit will, in time, bring the gospel into their hearts. In this teaching series we are going to look at some of the practical nitty gritty of bridge-building and gospel-sharing. However, before we commence that examination, I want to address again something which is foundational to this whole process: discipleship.
It’s assumed and widely accepted that in order to ‘.. go and make disciples …’ we need to be disciples ourselves. That’s so obvious it hardly seems necessary to even mention it. But I’ve learned over the years that we can miss some of the most obvious and simple truths. So I need to stress again the importance of discipleship as an essential prerequisite and foundation to evangelism. You have to be a disciple before you can make disciples. That statement sounds simple but there’s a lot to understand here. We especially need to know the difference between converts and disciples. A convert is someone who has accepted the truth that Jesus is their Lord and Saviour and have accepted His free gift of salvation. Converts are hopefully ‘disciples in the making,’ but they have a personal discipleship journey to embark upon before they become disciple-makers themselves. You can become a Christian with one choice. You become a disciple over time and it involves hundreds of choices.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus waited three years to issue the Great Commission and head home? He could have outlined the essence of the gospel and God’s plans for the kingdom in a couple of weeks. Why did He wait three years? I think I could summarise all of Jesus’ teaching and run you through an ‘Intro to Christianity’ seminar in one day! I guarantee that at the end of that day, you would have all the knowledge you need about being a Christian. So why did Jesus take three years? Why didn’t He issue the Great Commission after two years … or one year .. or six months .. or six weeks? What was He doing all that time? You know the answer. He was turning converts into disciples.
It takes much more than one choice and some knowledge be an equipped disciple of Jesus Christ. It involves time, relationships and hundreds of choices before you are prepared as a disciple and can respond to the Great Commission and start advancing the Kingdom of God. Jesus, the greatest discipleship trainer ever to walk this earth, worked with only twelve people, seven days a week, for three years. He walked with them, talked with them, ate with them, slept with them, laughed and cried with them. Just ponder how many hours that involved. He did all that before those rookies were at a place where they were ready to carry on His mission of disciple-making. They had to go through the training. They had to be ready and willing. They had to learn about submission and obedience and being a servant of God and His people. They had to rub shoulders with Jesus on-the-job long enough for them to embrace His compassion and His attitude to sacrifice and giving. They had to learn to trust His word. They had to be trained by Jesus before they could become disciple-makers.
We need to understand that the most essential prerequisite and foundation for relationship evangelism is a real and personal relationship with Jesus on the part of the disciple-maker. We don’t need those who may have made an intellectual decision to accept the teachings of a dead religious guru from a former time and place – we need those whose have walked with the living, present Jesus, talked with Jesus, laughed and cried with Jesus, tried and failed and tried again and learned some hard lessons and what it takes to advance the Kingdom of God in a hostile world. That’s what discipleship looks like. Embracing the mission of Christ will remain a dream and nothing else for those who refuse to submit to Jesus’ school of discipleship.
Understanding discipleship is to Christians, what understanding the internal combustion engine is to a motor vehicle mechanic! It is basic; foundational; essential; non-negotiable and it never goes out of date and is never irrelevant to every single Christian in this world! As far as it being relevant to our journey here and now, if you examine my teaching over the last few years, you will see that discipleship and evangelism are the final frontier in our equipping journey as we now press on and take hold of all that God is calling us to be and to do. I’ve certainly touched on these things before, especially discipleship. But now we get to apply the teaching and accept that discipleship and evangelism are most probably the key issues facing this Church at the time. In my opinion, nobody can justifiably say that this is not for them at this point in their journey – it is for all of us, right now. Even more than that, I sincerely believe it is God’s Word, God’s timing and God’s equipping program as He prepares us to fulfil our purpose as a Church. We also need to acknowledge that there’s no point having a burden for evangelism if we don’t have a underlying commitment to discipleship and growing in Christ. They go hand in hand. That is why this series has been preceded by several months of discipleship teaching in Growing in Christ.
If you want to be fully prepared to embrace this teaching on evangelism, then I would really encourage you to go back and review the 18 sermons in the last series. That was all intentional preparation for what we will face in the weeks ahead. It’s your choice. In fact, in the final analysis, it all comes down to personal choice based on personal commitment and desire. Are we prepared to embrace the journey of discipleship with determination and conviction, ready to face anything that comes our way, confident that whatever lies before us is under the total control of our Sovereign Lord? Are we prepared to grow and mature in Christ, to digest the real meat of discipleship? Are we ready to follow Him, anywhere and everywhere He leads? If the answer is no, then any talk about evangelism is futile, if not dangerous. If the answer is yes, then let’s take this journey together.
That leads me to my next observation which may be a little confronting. As I began talking about evangelism last week, I wonder how many of you groaned a little deep inside? It’s the same groan that occurs within millions of sincere Christians across the world when anyone dares to talk about their personal responsibility in advancing the Kingdom of God and saving the lost. I don’t believe, for the most part, that this is an indication that people are against evangelism or don’t believe it needs to happen. I think most people agree that evangelism is really important to the Church. However, depending on how it is preached, guilt and a sense of failure can creep over many people and so they don’t really welcome the message and often they are unable to hear what is really being said. Satan is responsible for that guilt and shame – not God. The conviction of God may be heavy at times and very challenging, but it always brings hope and comes with God’s encouragement and a sense of conviction and empowering that God is going to achieve His purpose in us and through us.
So let me just make this one point very clear regarding this and all other sermons I ever preach: if, when I am preaching, you feel a sense of shame or guilt or the feeling that you are not measuring up or don’t quite make the grade, just be very clear about one thing: that is NOT God! God does not use guilt or shame to motivate His people. Those are the tools of the devil and we need to learn to recognise them better and know when to reject those lying thoughts and accusations from Satan! God will never use guilt or shame to motivate us to do anything. All guilt, all shame for all sin, for all time fell on His own dear Son a very long time ago and crushed Him to death, so that we might never have to carry it again. But all too often we choose to carry it and Satan has a party at our expense. We need to let that go.
Now with guilt and shame out of the way, there is still a chance that you will feel a sense of inadequacy when it comes to evangelism. You could have the world’s best preacher teach you about evangelism and it still doesn’t do it for you! It still doesn’t bring desire and conviction. Herein lies a very important observation. Do you remember I stressed at the beginning of this sermon that you have to be a disciple before you can make disciples? Well I want to take that even further and say that you have to be a disciple before you even feel like making disciples! If you were finding it hard to get really excited last week about what’s coming in this teaching series; if your heart didn’t skip a beat with excitement and expectation of what will unfold over the coming months; if you didn’t find the issue of evangelism particularly riveting, then I want to suggest that you dive back into the last series again and don’t come out until a burden for the lost has gripped your heart so hard that you can’t sleep thinking about those around you who do not know Jesus yet.
Let me cut right to the chase. Do you want to know why the vast majority of believers are not connected to or involved in some evangelistic ministry? Do you really want to know? It’s not complicated. They are not engaged in evangelism because they don’t want to be! Argue with me if you like but it will be futile because I know I’m right. Let me say it again just in case you missed it the first time – the reason why the vast majority of believers are not connected to or involved in some evangelistic ministry, is because they don’t want to be. That’s helpful revelation No.1. Now do you want to know why they don’t want to be involved? That’s simple too – they don’t want to be involved because it just isn’t important to them. That’s helpful revelation No. 2. Shall we keep going for the most helpful revelation of all? Why not! The reason why evangelism is just not important to so many people is because their discipleship training has not yet done its job. One of the most obvious characteristics of a genuine, born-again, Spirit-led true disciple of Jesus Christ is they carry with them every day of their lives, a deep burden for the lost.
You cannot manufacture a genuine burden for the lost. You cannot fake it ‘till you make it. Such a burden comes from God as we become disciples and disciple-makers. Just like those first disciples, the more we hang around with Jesus, then the more we share His heart, His passions, His priorities and that includes Jesus’ deep burden for the lost children of God. This burden doesn’t come out of the blue one day in some epiphany. Very few people wake up one morning with a crushing burden for the lost or have it imparted to them in a ministry time. The vast majority of us, we catch that burden, like the early disciples did, by hanging around with Jesus day in and day out, being taught by Him, trained by Him, mentored by Him and released into ministry by Him.
Jesus took three years to do that because He needed three years before the burden of His heart and the passion which drove Him all the way to Calvary was ‘caught by’ or ‘imparted to’ His followers. It doesn’t happen overnight! It comes over time as we face the various tests and trials associated with growth and maturity as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. So if you don’t feel a particular burden for the lost; if you find it hard to get really motivated or excited about evangelism; if you are not sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for the next instalment in the ‘how to reach the lost’ program, then don’t feel bad; don’t feel guilty; don’t beat yourself up and wonder what’s wrong. That would be silly because you already know how to fix that – you just need to hang around Jesus more and be better equipped as His disciple. Like His first disciples, maybe you were sleeping under a tree when Jesus taught about submission. Or you were off chasing a meal when Jesus was talking about servanthood. Perhaps you had another commitment the day He was teaching about compassion. Or you were playing sport when others were hearing about sacrifice. Like it not, a desire and passion to advance the Kingdom of God is not a particular spiritual gift given to some and not to others – this is God’s heart – and we are ALL meant to share it. It’s the very reason this earth keeps spinning in space. It is the whole reason why God has not wound up life as we know it.
Advancing the Kingdom of God, by His grace and for His glory is our very purpose in living. It defines our existence on earth. All the other trimmings of life are just that – trimmings, peripheral to the main purpose we are here. If that purpose does not fan into flame a passion deep in your soul and cause you to re-organise your whole life and priorities around that one goal in life, then I have some great news for you – the best part of your life is yet to come and you are in for a treat! When the Spirit of God grips your heart and lights the same fire in you as He did in Jesus, in Paul, in Martin Luther, in Billy Graham and in the many millions of sold-out-for-Jesus disciples who have lived on this earth, then you will experience life as it was always meant to be and what you are experiencing now, won’t even compare to what is to come. That same passion and drive and sense of purpose and calling can be ours. We just need to re-enrol in Jesus’ discipleship course and stick with it until we are ready for our Lord to look us in the eye, with confidence, as one whom He has personally trained, as we hear Him say, “Now, go and make disciples, teaching them everything that I have taught you.” What has He taught us? He has taught us how to live as His disciple and we can now teach that to others the same way we learned it: on the job, day by day in relationship with Jesus and His other disciples.
So in this teaching series I’ll be giving you some practical tips every Sunday about Relationship Evangelism but during the week I want to encourage you to download the sermon manuscript and grab a pen and spend that week working through it again, asking God to speak directly to you in a way you can understand and embrace personally. If you want this study in Relationship Evangelism to bear any fruit at all, then you need to wrestle with the teaching and find God’s word for you. My hope and prayer is that God will use this series as a tool to connect or re-connect us all with Jesus as He tests us, trains us and confronts with issues we need to deal with in our discipleship journey with Him. If that is your commitment then this teaching can change your life. This teaching can transform your family, your Church, your city and your nation. The same dynamite that exploded under those early disciples and resulted in the gospel spreading like a raging bushfire throughout all of Asia Minor 2,000 years ago is the exact same spiritual dynamite we will encounter in this teaching. However, as is always the case, it’s our choice whether we light that fuse or bury that dynamite and ignore it. I can assure you that if you choose to light the fuse; if you choose to make an effort to submit to the Holy Spirit as He leads us through this teaching, your life will never be the same again; your family will never be the same again; your Church will never be the same again and your community might get to see the transforming river of God’s grace flow through it before leave this planet.
How then shall you live? What choices will you now make today and tomorrow in light of what you have heard? I hope your first choice will be to download this sermon and read it a few more times and discern what God is saying directly to you. Then any other choices you need to make will become clear as God speaks to you and prepares you for the journey ahead. May it be so, Lord!