Jesus used many compelling and vivid metaphors to describe the Church and her intended influence and function in the world:
- A city set on a hill.
- A lamp bringing light even into the darkest of rooms.
- A beautiful bride made ready for her husband.
- Salt to season and preserve.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the early Church presented such a transformative force on its culture that even persecution could not stop it, hinder it, or keep it from changing culture (Acts 2:42-47).
In Christ’s view, the purpose and function of the church was to be the primary agent to advance God’s kingdom here on earth. He would build it, He would cause it to grow, He would look after it, and He would see to its success. What’s more, he said that “even the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matt.16:18). Jesus painted a picture of the church as victorious in transforming the culture from the inside-out. Jesus cast a vision of a gathering of people that would have such an attractive beauty about it that a watching world would be drawn to God as a result of His work in the lives of His people.
However, the reality is that in most corners of the world today the darkness is getting darker. The consequences of sin are wreaking havoc. For just a moment, consider our little corner of the world called the United States of America. In spite of decades of fulfilling the Great Commission, the church’s influence is waning with each successive generation.
According to research presented by Barna in an articled titled Gen Z and Morality: What Teens Believe (So Far), “Though still in a formative stage of life, the leading edge of Gen Z, along with Millennials, appear to hold notably different views about morality than other generations.”
24% of Gen Z strongly agrees that what is morally right and wrong changes over time based on society.
In other research presented in Meet Those Who “Love Jesus But Not The Church, Barna indicates that persons in the West may like Jesus but not His Church. While we want them to identify with Jesus, we cannot neglect the instrument by which he sought to change the world. With few exceptions far and between, the voice and influence of the Church on its surrounding culture has all but gone.
Without hesitation, we should affirm that the church should be leading individuals into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. For decades, churches have presented themselves as either being evangelistic or focused on discipleship. As if this is a biblical distinction. The Great Commission is to make disciples by baptizing and teaching. The church must take as much responsibility for teaching converts as we do in counting converts.
Until the church recovers a biblical model of discipleship, there will not be a biblical culture of evangelism. The reason is that these two components of the Great Commission are inherently linked. Discipleship has been reduced to a buffet of classes, rules and checkboxes from which to choose. Evangelism is one of the choices rather than a biblical fruit in the life of a maturing follower of Jesus.
We have an evangelism crisis because we have a discipleship crisis. Churches who treat evangelism as the problem are treating a symptom rather than the real problem. We choose one over the other. Yet, evangelism divorced from discipleship does not grow out of the Spirit of God. Therefore, it is self-motivated work which is void of the Holy Spirit’s power. Thus, making evangelism a drudgery rather than a delight.
Acts 2:42-47 is a snapshot in the life of the early church. When we read of the work of God’s Holy Spirit in the early church, we see gatherings of Christians who were impacting their communities. People took notice of the life change of these Followers of Jesus. And the result was that God “added to their number daily” (Acts 2:47). The gospel was being shared – so it is very appropriate to train people how to share the gospel. Persons were responding to the gospel – so it is very necessary to call people to respond to the gospel. I believe what today’s church is really longing for is to see the spiritual awakening that was happening in those outside of the church through daily surrender and salvation.
Is there any hope? Are we focusing in the wrong direction? What do we do to see people’s lives changed by the power of the gospel? In the next four posts, I am going to offer a way forward for the Church, through all of her expressions of local churches, to recover a biblical expectation and experience of seeing the life change we are so desperately praying to have happen. In the short, I would suggest the following:
- Pray for God to draw persons to Himself. Before we talk to people about God, let us talk to God about people. “Prayer is the slender never that moves the muscle of omnipotence” (Charles Spurgeon). Let’s give the Almighty space and time to work.
- Point people to Jesus not to programs. Preach and teach the Scriptures with a conviction that God is able and powerful to change lives through the Good News of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ministry programs have their place. My concern is that we remain dependent on the power of God not the structure of a program.
- Recover a culture of worship in the local church. Space does not permit a discussion on worship. My concern is for worship that is motivated to bring glory and honor to God because the people see the greatness of God.
- Teach Christians to practice the spiritual disciplines. Jesus is the source of the power of the gospel. The spiritual disciplines (ie., prayer, Bible reading, worship, etc) are not our power source. Rather, they are the battery cables that keep us connected to the power source, Jesus. Jesus is the power that moves the train forward. Spiritual disciplines are the tracks that keep us moving in the right direction.