Ever since books like Robert Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism, there has been an emphasis in the Evangelical church on individual discipleship. Other materials related to this subject like Dawson Trotman’s Born to Reproduce have greatly impacted my life and ministry, as I have made personal mentoring and discipleship the foundation of all I do.
However, books like Coleman’s use the gospels as the main reference point for discipleship instead of the epistles and the book of Acts. This can lead to a huge philosophical shift away from Jesus’ real discipleship method: the local church.
Most of the epistles were written before the gospels to show the context of the story of Christ. But Jesus’ method of pouring into 12 men was only a precursor to His grand scheme for evangelism; His 12 were only a means to an end. That end was to give birth to His extended household, His family of families called the church.
When we separate the gospels from the epistles we arrive at a fragmented, individualistic approach to discipleship in which any individual can disciple another individual, forming a small cluster of people that hang around and pray, live, and work together. But this picture is not complete because the book of Acts, which is a continuation of all that Jesus began to say and do (Acts 1:1), is the fullest picture of Jesus’ master plan for evangelism.
Jesus prepared His disciples for over three years for the birth of the church, and even told them that when He went away the Holy Spirit would bring to their remembrance all things that He taught them (John 14:26). As in other words, the apostles and their work with the church would be the continuation of all that He did and said in the gospels. This means that the planting of local congregations and all its fullness, as shown in the epistles of the apostles, is the only way we can biblically evangelize and mature people in the faith. To think that we can disciple individuals without the context of relationships, ministry, and purpose, as a family of families in a congregational context is ludicrous and only leads to people having Bible knowledge without the ability to really put their faith into practice in a dynamic that can meet the needs of people from the cradle to the grave.
The book of Ephesians is very clear that the central purpose of God has always been the local church, which is the great mystery hidden from ages past, in which there is neither Jew nor Gentile, and is the entity in which even the principalities and powers in heavenly places learn the wisdom of God (read Ephesians 1:9-11; 2:11-22; 3:8-10)!
Furthermore, based on my observations and from what I have heard from many different sources, planting local congregations is the most effective way to evangelize. We may see thousands make so-called “decisions for Christ” at a crusade, but only a small percentage will ever truly continue in the faith. Only those who are plugged into a local church will ever truly make it as Christ-followers.
Our challenge is this: How we can get churches to become kerygmatic communities (kerygma is the Greek word for proclamation; it is the term the early church used to describe the proclamation of the gospel) that live and breathe evangelism and discipleship. This is instead of the present consumerist church model in which people look for a church to meet their needs. This consumerist model waters down the purpose and mission of the church and results in pastors preaching to fill seats and bring in more money rather than preaching, teaching and implementing systems that will produce mature, committed Christ-followers.
Further exacerbating this issue is that, because many local congregations have lost their sense of mission, we have created many parachurch ministries that specialize in missions. This gives evangelism and world missions an individualistic and institutional approach rather than something that organically comes out of a missional church. I believe strongly that the local church is the hope of the world and that parachurch organizations that attempt to disciple people without connecting their methods with and through the life of the local church are doomed to fail in the long run, and will only be able to raise money based on inflating the importance of the thousands of people who “make decisions for Christ” through their ministries. However, truth be told, if they had to raise funds based on how many of those people actually became committed Christ followers (if they were outcome based) they would have a hard time raising funds and would be forced to connect their mission, operations, and even organizational leadership organically through networks of local churches.
In closing, unless our missiology is connected to a biblical (book of Acts and epistles driven) ecclesiology, then our success in evangelism will be greatly limited!
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