As my role begins the process of changing, it has led me to do some extensive and intensive prayer and study in God’s Word, as well as research in areas that I feel the need to press into more deeply. Of course for all of us that claim to follow Christ, we are both equally bound and terrified by the word evangelism. No other word is seemingly so compelling and repulsive at the same time. It falls into that category of our life and faith where we go, “I know I should be doing something but I’m not really sure what to do, so I will put that one on the shelf for later.”
But in thinking of our call to evangelism or outreach, I came across some great insight in writings from John Piper and Robert Coleman. They helped me see that really this concept of outreach is less about us and more about God… go figure. Seems to be a common reversal we make in most areas of life!
In Coleman’s The Master Plan of Discipleship, he shows us something quite remarkable. In the book of Acts, evangelistic strategy seems to focus mainly on people who have been prepared in some way by God to be receptive to receive the Gospel. So God is the great evangelist – He is the one who prepares and persuades. “He awakens sinners (Ephesians 2:5), opens their hearts (Acts 16:14), draws them (John 6:44), empowers the gospel (2 Thessalonians 3:1) and calls the lost (1 Corinthians 1:24).”
So I simply have the privilege to join God in what He is already doing! I just have to be about the process of “outreach”… or as the great commission would put it… “as I’m going” to look for opportunities to make disciples of the ones God is already calling. Does that not seem a relief to anyone else?
Look at how this took place in the book of Acts:
• The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost unleashed the gospel on a host of spiritually sensitive Jews who had come from at least fifteen different nations to worship the God of the Old Testament
• The next big harvest came in Samaria (Acts 8:4-25), where Jesus earlier had laid a foundation by His witness (John 4:4-42)
• The Holy Spirit sent Philip to an Ethiopian eunuch who was reading the scroll of Isaiah and was puzzling over who chapter 53 was talking about (Acts 8:26-39).
• The evangelistic breakthrough with Gentiles outside Jerusalem came with Cornelius, who feared God and gave alms and prayed and had a vision of God’s messenger (Acts 10).
• When Paul launched his missionary career, he followed the pattern of going first to the synagogue in search of some receptive Jews or God-fearing Gentiles (Acts 13:5, 14, 42f; 14:1; 17:1f; 10, 17; 18:4, 7, 19, 26; 19:8)
• On his second missionary journey, Paul’s planning was checked twice by the Lord. The Holy Spirit forbade him (for the moment) to speak the word in Asia (Acts 16:6), and the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go to Bithynia (Acts 16:7). Instead, Paul saw a vision with a man saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). The focus again was on the spiritually receptive.
• In Philippi there was no synagogue. So Paul found a place where women prayed outside the city and joined them, where one was converted (Acts 16:12-14).
There were times when Paul argued in the marketplace or town center, but it wasn’t a pattern like this. Yet the pattern of looking for the receptive or as Coleman says, “to look for those who want to move for Christ. Life is too short to expend excessive time and energy upon apathetic people.”
This has really resonated within my heart. Not that we ever ignore or push any spiritually calloused people away – we are always called to pray for those outside the faith, but to search for those where God’s Spirit is working and calling. God’s purpose and mission remains the same – that the Gospel go to all nations – even to those who would be resistant. Piper says, “We become partners with the Holy Spirit, and we should be alert to those who are beginning to be awakened by His grace.” And Coleman is right when he says, “I am convinced that a few such persons are within the influence of every Christian.”
They are around me. They are around you. By the privilege and duty God has given us, let us relentlessly give our lives to this great calling… that the world may know Christ! As Jesus said of his mission, “To seek and to save the lost.” We have the responsibility to do the seeking… to find those that He is calling and leave the saving up to Him!