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JESUS’MODELOFEVANGELISMASIT APPLIESTO THEMODERN CHURCH

FINAL PAPER SUBMITTED TO DR.MATTHEWGORDLEY

DEPARTMENTOFRELIGIOUSSTUDIES

BY BREANNALEBSACK

VIRGINIA BEACH,VIRGINIA APRIL 2010


We live in a culture where we want everything supersized, new, and immediate. From our houses, to our TVs, to our French fries we indoctrinate ourselves with the belief that bigger is better. It is no surprise that our American way of thinking has infiltrated the current church as well. Pastors and their congregations can easily become obsessed with their five-year building projects, new programs, and bulk mailers that are intended to shockand awe the masses and bring people flooding in the doors.1 So many Christians, whether consciously or not, find themselves believing that the number of souls they win is directly correlated to the grandeur of their productions and programs. Yet, despite all the money and effort that we invest to ensure our trendiness, we are left with a church defined by apathy. We are reputed by a culture shopping for the cheapest grace2, and a dualistic laity that catalogs religion as just another compartment of life.3 All the while, our brothers and sisters in the religiously persecuted countries around the world, with no church buildings or fancy audiovisuals, burn with such passion that they voluntarily risk everything for the cause of their faith. So what makes the difference? Perhaps bigger isn’t better.4 Perhaps our Western method for evangelism has been backwards all along. Perhaps it would be wiser, to instead of basing our perspectives on church growth to a culture that has left us empty to go back to the Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, (Zondervan, 2006), 319. Dietrich Bonheoffer, a renowned theologian, warns the church against the dangers of “cheap grace” and teaches about what it means to be a disciple of Christ in his book “The Cost of Discipleship”. 3 Brian J. Walsh and Richard Middleton, The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview, (Intervarsity Press, 1984), 95. 4 Recent studies reveal that the larger the congregation the less proportionately likely they are to give to people. (Determinants of Religious Giving in Urban Presbyterian Congregations Peter A. Zaleski, Charles E. Zech and R. Hoge Vol. 36, No. 2, Special Issue: Patterns of Financial Contributions to Churches (Dec., 1994) pp.197-206) 1 2

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beginning, to the One who started it all. John states in 1 John 2:6 that whoever claims to be a Christian must “walk as Jesus did.” We are called to follow His example. The vitality and growth of the church is directly dependent upon emulating Christ’s model of evangelism. In order to better understand the model in which we are mirroring, it is imperative that we understand the structure of His evangelism during his lifetime, our commission to disciple, and the dynamics of growth in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus’ Ministry: Less is More It is not easy to grasp the concept of a God who created the Universe, but chose to be born in a manger, a God who owns the wealth of the world yet chose to spend his earthly existence with the poorest of poor, a God who choose to speak through a prostitute, adulterer, and a donkey, and whose only earthly crown was a crown of thorns.5 As we look at the portrait of Jesus’ ministry in scripture, we see that He is a God of little things: a baby refugee, a homeless rabbi, and a friend of fishermen, women and beggars.6 He was a simple carpenter by trade who never traveled further than two hundred miles from where He was born. He never wrote a best-selling novel; he simply taught to those around him. He only spent three years in ministry before he was crucified for his message. Yet it is this man who has become the most influential man in history, inspiring billions of followers and radically changing lives thousands of years later.7 So the belief that we can “sell” a Christ, who taught that “the first shall be last and Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, (Zondervan, 2006), 321. Ibid. 7 Why Jesus? , DVD, Blue Fish, 2010. 5 6

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the last shall be first” (Matthew 20:16), that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the humble (Matthew 5:2), and that the greatest is he who “humbles himself as a little child” (Matthew 18:4), through grandeur is not only contradictory, but unbiblical. Jesus never took a step out of worldly ambition, but what He did do was love those around him with all he had, and it was that love that ultimately changed the course of human history (John 3:16). Perhaps Mother Teresa summed up the nature of Jesus’ ministry the best when she said, “we can do not great things, only small things with great love. It is not how much you do, but how much love you put into doing it.” Imagine what would happen if the church worked with the realization that the effectiveness of our ministry is directly paralleled to the amount of love poured into each individual. George Barna, the founder of The Barna Group (a market research firm dedicated to the study of American’s the religious beliefs and behavior), writes, “Ministry is not about programs. Ministry is about people. Jesus did not minister through programs…. Rather, the example of Jesus, the lifestyle and writings of the apostles, the entirety of Scripture – all call us to make people the focus of our ministry by developing meaningful relationships.”8 Jesus shows His focus on a relationship-based ministry through his interaction with the disciples. Jesus understood that it is more effective to give a great amount of yourself to a small group of people than a small amount of yourself to a great crowd of people. He did not come to teach the crowds, but to train the disciples, and the time that He spent with the disciples compared to the crowds exemplifies this. Parables that perplexed the masses were explained later in to the disciples in private (Matt. 13:10-

George Barna, User Friendly Churches: What Christians Need to Know About the Churches People Love to Go To (Ventura: Regal Books, 1991), 42-43. 8

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51). When asked by the disciples why He speaks to the people in parables, He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of Heaven has been given to you, but not to them…” (Matt. 13:10-11). “In three years He started a movement that would reach the whole world and last forever. To accomplish His task, He began by training leaders.”9 Jesus understood that the effectiveness of His message hinged on discipleship.

The Great Commission: A Call to Discipleship Jesus’ final command (Matthew 28:16-20), before his ascension, is the mandate to “go and make disciples of all nations” (28:19). Christians often interpret this passage as a decree to go and make converts to the Christian faith; however, such an interpretation neglects the central words of the passage, to “make disciples”. Evangelism is not the end of the journey, but the beginning.10 The heart of Jesus from the beginning was train the Apostles that he may “send” them out.11 Mark 3:14 ASV records, “…he appointed the twelve, that they might be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach.” His plan was to, in effect, mirror what His Father had done with Him.12 In john 20:21 commissions the disciples telling them, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” “He too would send [the disciples] out and by the process of spiritual reproduction could evangelize the world.”13 Stephen R. Smith, A Biblical Perspective on People and the Attending Implications For Their Development in the Local Church Setting (Virginia Beach, VA: Regent University, 2006). 10 Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2001), 397. 11 The word translated “send” in Mark 6:7 is apostello in Greek and gives us our English word apostle. 12 Stephen R. Smith, A Biblical Perspective on People and the Attending Implications For Their Development in the Local Church Setting (Virginia Beach, VA: Regent University, 2006), 100. 13 W. MacDonald and A. Farstad, Believer’s Bilbe Commentary: Old and New Testaments, n.p., 1995. CDROM: Libronix Digital Library System 2.1b. 2000-2004. 9

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In the same way that Christ sent out his disciples, they were called to send out Disciples of Christ, who are called to send out disciples. The apostle Paul writes to the young pastor Timothy in 2 Tim 2:2 stating, “I communicated to you the body of truth I received by revelation, and with it I built truth into your life. Now I’m charging you to take that same truth and deposit it into the lives of other reliable individuals, teaching them in such a way that they’ll be equipped to teach others… who’ll teach others… who’ll teach others.”14 So we see here a model of discipleship in which all are called, and through which all are involved. That some in the fellowship might be excused from service was not an option. All saw themselves as workers together with Christ in reconciling the world to God. It was the mobilization of this growing force of apostolic laborers that made the early Christian church such a successful outreach.15 Just as Christ was sent from His father to represent His will and love for people on earth, Christ sent the Apostles as His representation to the world. With this perspective we see the central purpose of evangelism, it is not to fill another pew in the church, but to literally teach and train people to be an envoy for Christ, exemplifying His message and lifestyle with their own. From a scriptural perspective, it is obvious, that evangelism is not an event (conversion), but a lengthy process. It is not a call to decisions, but discipleship.16

The Kingdom of God: A Contagion of Weeds Howard Hendricks, Teaching to Change Lives (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah Publisher, 1987). Stephen R. Smith, A Biblical Perspective on People and the Attending Implications For Their Development in the Local Church Setting (Virginia Beach, VA: Regent University, 2006), 78. 16 Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2001), 397. 14 15

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Many Christians seem to be expecting that God’s power will come in triumphal greatness, expanding his territory by shock-and awing the masses. But that’s the exact temptation that Jesus was faced with in the desert, before he started his ministry. The devil tempted him to do spectacular things like fling himself from a building, “to shock the masses with his miracles or awe them with His power. And yet he resists”17 “The church has always faced the same temptation, from the time of Constantine’s sword to now. We are tempted to do great things like rappel from the rafters in the newest church gym or throw the best pizza party so that kids might bow before the alter.”18 But Christ’s vision for the growth of His kingdom is quite contradictory to any of our large plans. We can see God’s plan for the growth of His kingdom very clearly in Jesus’ parable. Jesus often refers to the growth of this kingdom metaphorically, using agricultural imagery (John 4:35-39; 1 Corinthians 3:6-9). Such scriptures portray the idea that the growth of the Church is a process, just as plants take on-going work and patience to come to their ripening, so we must also realize that people take time to grow and mature spiritually, and we must be prepared to be used as God’s tools to lovingly guide God’s people in the process of becoming disciples of Jesus (spiritual formations). For Paul says in 1 Corinthians “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).19

Jesus further explains the dynamics of his kingdom (Matt. 13:31-35) when he Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2006), 319. Ibid. 19 Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2001). 17 18

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parallels the kingdom of God to that of a mustard seed, a wild bush that was very familiar to first-century Jews. Jews valued order and had very strict rules about how to keep a tidy garden, and one of the secrets was to keep out mustard. Jewish law even forbade the planting of mustard in the garden (M. Kil’ay’m 3:2; t. Kil’ay’m 2:8). It was notorious for invading the well-trimmed plants and for quickly taking over the entire garden, until they were left with only mustard.20

Jesus’ comparison of God’s kingdom to this infamous plant was likely to have gotten some brash reactions. Jews were well acquainted with the prophet’s wellknown “cedars of Lebanon” imagery, but Jesus’ metaphor ridiculed this triumphal expectation. After all, even the largest mustard plant stands only a few feet tall.21 Minucius, a lawyer who was persecuting early Christians, cursed Christ’s followers as a “profane conspiracy” that was spreading all over the world “just like a rank growth of weeds.” He wrote that the mustard seed movement should be ripped up from the roots.22 Sure enough, years later, Minucius was caught up in the infectious nature of God’s kingdom, and became a follower of the very movement he was trying to destroy.23 “The Jesus revolution is not a frontal attack on the empires of this world. It is a Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2006), 334-338. Ibid. 22 Minucius’ conversion is a great example of how contagiously God’s kingdom can grow. Before his conversion in AD 200, Minucius wrote this about Christians: “They despise temples as if they were tombs. They despise titles of honor and the purple robe of high government office though hardly able themselves to cover their nakedness…. They practice a cult of lust, calling one another brother and sister indiscriminately.” Here’s what he wrote after his conversion: “Why do they have no altars, no temples, no images?... What temple shall I build him [God] when the whole world, the work of his hands, cannot contain him? Should we not rather make a sanctuary for him in our souls?... What a beautiful sight it is for God when a Christian mocks the clatter of the tools of death and the horror of the executioner; when he defends and upholds his liberty in the face of kings and princes, obeying God alone to whom he belongs. Among us, boys and frail women laugh to scorn torture and the gallows cross and all the other horrors of execution” (Eberhard Arnold, ed., The Early Christians: In Their Own Words [Farmington, PA: Plough, 1998]). 23 Paul is another example of a Christian persecutor who was caught by the torrent of God’s love. 20 21

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subtle contagion, spreading on little life, one little hospitality house, at a time.”24 The power of mustard comes not from crushing others by force, but from being crushed and dying to our selfish ways25. The harder people try to eradicate it the faster it spreads.

Conclusion Jesus’ life was marked by simplicity and humility. He did not focus his evangelism on large crowds, as many churches do today, but rather on a small group of twelve men. He prepared these twelve men to continue His message after His ascension, because He knew that it was more effective to have a small group of people that truly knew Him than a large crowd that some what knew Him. When Jesus gave His disciples the Great Commission, He was simply calling the Apostles to mirror Him, he had spent three years teaching and training them in truth, and now it was their turn to do the same. The great commission is not an order to make converts, but disciples. It is an order to train up leaders whose lives exemplify Christ until his return, so that the world may see his message through our lives. This vision, empowers everyone, and does not leave room for an apathetic laity. As such, “biblical evangelism is a lifestyle to be lived, not a lesson to be learned; it is a process more than a program.”26 When we fulfill Christ’s model of discipleship, we begin a process of becoming like Christ and transformation occurs in all areas of our life. When such transformation takes place, “a person can no longer compartmentalize their faith because Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2006) 340. Mustard must be ground for its pungency to be released. Also see John 12:24 26 Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2001), 396. 24 25

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the Holy Spirit shows up in every compartment.”27 In effect, successful discipleship will result in biblical truth penetrating all of culture. Jesus illustrated this truth through his parable of the mustard seed. Christ’s example of discipleship contradicts the fast-paced, showy, independent, nature of the American mindset. Christ’s example of discipleship requires patience, humility, and faith, but it is also the most successful and rewarding model of evangelism. Discipleship is the key for the church to stop being influenced by culture, and to start influencing culture. Instead of using worldly methods to try to change people for Jesus, let us use Jesus’ methods and watch it change the world.

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Ric Guerra, "Tired of the Status Quo?," Foursquare Southwest District, Febuary 2010: 1.

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WORKS CITED Barna, George. A Fish Out of Water: 9 Strategies to Maximize your God-Given Leadership Potential. Nashville: Integrity, 2002. Boa, Kenneth. Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2001. Claiborne, Shane. The Irresistible Revolution. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2006. Eberhard Arnold, ed., The Early Christians: In Their Own Words [Farmington, PA: Plough, 1998]. W. MacDonald and A. Farstad, Believer’s Bilbe Commentary: Old and New Testaments, n.p., 1995. CD-ROM: Libronix Digital Library System 2.1b. 2000-2004. Middleton, Brian J. Walsh Richard. The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview. Intervarsity Press, 1984. Guerra, Ric. "Tired of the Status Quo?" Foursquare Southwest District, Febuary 2010: 1. Hendricks, Howard. Teaching to Change Lives. Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah Publisher, 1987. Hoge, Peter A Zaleski Charles E. Zech R. "Determinants of Religious Giving in Urban Presbyterian Congregations." Special Issue: Patterns of Financial Contributions to Churches 36, no. 2 (December 1994): 197-206. Why Jesus?. DVD. Performed by David Nasser. Blue Fish, 2010.

Smith, Stephen R. A Biblical Perspective on People and the Attending Implications For Their Development in the Local Church Setting. Virginia Beach, VA: Regent University, 2006.

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JESUS’ MODEL OF EVANGELISM AS IT APPLIES TO THE MODERN CHURCH