As Christians and as a Church, the Lord has given us a commission, the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20. Our commission is to make disciples by going into all the world, by leading people to Christ and then baptizing them, and then by teaching them to obey the Lord. This means we need to reach out to non-Christians with the message of the Gospel, but the very mention of that causes us to experience a parade of fears. The fear of what it might cost us, the fear of rejection, the fear of being thought odd, the fear of what to say, the fear of questions we can’t answer, the fear of how to present the Gospel, the fear of alienating someone, and on the list goes.
We know we need to go forward with the message of the Savior and we want to, but the question is how? How do we go forward effectively so more and more people who have trusted Christ as Savior become anchored in the Word and then become reproducers themselves in a way that is continuous, contagious, and compelling?
Most churches and Christians really want to see people come to Christ and grow, but the problem comes when we try to translate this into specific plans, plans that work on a continuing basis. What can we as churches or individuals really do that is significant? Do we put together an evangelistic committee? Do we start a visitation night so we can go from door to door and hit people cold turkey? Do we call in specialists for an exciting life-changing witnessing clinic or conference to teach us how to witness? What do we do?
Is there a biblical method and pattern that we can follow that will help us? I think there is. It is an approach that is not new though it has been gravely neglected in favor of other approaches that are far less effective and harder to execute. It is a process not a method. It is natural to the way society functions and operates and has for centuries. It is a process that builds on the natural “webs” of relationships which exist in every church. It is a process that has been called, “The Master’s Plan.”147
The Master’s Plan is an application of New Testament principles which, by the way, coincide with insights of modern research by both church growth specialists and contemporary anthropologists concerning the way we are able to most effectively influence others. People are influenced the most by three universal units of societies’ social systems. These are (a) common kinship, (b) common community, and (c) common interests. As we study the New Testament, we find that the apostolic church used the interlocking social systems of common kinship, community, and interest as the vehicle for reaching the world with the Gospel.
The basic thrust of evangelism in the New Testament was not individual evangelism, it was not mass evangelism, and it was definitely not child evangelism. Then what was it? It was what has been called Oikos Evangelism.148
Before we define and describe what oikos evangelism is and how and why it works, let’s be reminded about the spiritual dimensions of evangelism and ministry lest we put too much emphasis on the plan of evangelism rather the spiritual principles by which men are reached for the Lord.
As the Bible uses analogies to teach spiritual truth, so it also uses analogies to portray the process of reaching men for the Lord. These include pictures taken from the harvest—the seed, the sower, the soil, and reaping the harvest. The soil is the human heart, the seed is the Word of God, the sower is the believer with the seed of the Word, and the reaping is when a person comes to Christ by faith. Based on this analogy, there are four things involved in the process:
The soil of the human heart must be prepared. This is done through:
(2) Praying for four things: (a) for laborers for the harvest (Luke 10:2); (b) for open doors or opportunities (another analogy) for the Word (Col. 4:3); (c) for courage to share the Gospel at the right time (Eph. 6:18; 4:29); and (d) for clarity: the ability to make the Gospel clear (Col. 4:4)
Simply put, the problem is this: You can’t give away what you don’t have. If we as Christians lead lives of frustration, neurosis, moral lapse or failure, strife and division, we cannot expect to be too effective at convincing others of the truth of the Christian faith. (Cf. Col. 4:5-6; 1 Pet. 3:15-17.)
We have the responsibility to share the message, to communicate the truth of Scripture in accord with specific needs knowing and believing that the Word is alive and powerful and will do the work God has sent it to do (Isa. 55:8-11). While a good testimony is essential and is often used by God to give an open door for the Gospel, no one can be saved without hearing the Gospel message. (Cf. Mk. 4:1-20, 26-29; John 4:35-42.)
The harvest is people receiving Christ by personal faith. Evangelism is a process that brings a person to a decision to trust in Jesus Christ, but evangelism is not just a decision. In our work with people, we become a part of the process of preparing, sowing, watering, or reaping, but we can’t hurry the process. We must learn to care about people just as did the Lord. Then, when the right time comes, as led by the Spirit, begin to tell them about the person and work of the Savior. We must remember that, in the final analysis, God uses the Word and the transformed life, but it is the Spirit of God alone who can break through the barriers of the blindness and hardness of the human heart to bring a person to faith in Christ. (Cf. John 4:35-42.)
What is oikos evangelism? Oikos is the Greek word most often translated house or household in the New Testament. But let’s be careful and not assume we know what that means. In the culture of New Testament times, oikos described not only the immediate family, but it included servants, servants’ families, friends, and even business associates. One’s oikos was one’s sphere of influence, his/her social system composed of those related to each other through common kinship ties, common tasks, and common territory.149 The New Testament oikos included members of the nuclear family, but extended to dependents, slaves and employees. The oikos was the basic social unit by which the church grew.
An oikos was the fundamental and natural unit of society, and consisted of one’s sphere of influence—his family, friends and associates. And equally important, the early church spread through oikos—circles of influence and association. With only a moment of reflection, we begin to realize a significant difference of thrust, tone, and tenor between much contemporary evangelism and early church outreach.150
As we turn to the New Testament, Scripture focuses us on the household (family, friends, and associates) in the spread of the Gospel to mankind. The Gospels, Acts, and Epistles illustrate that the link of communication from person to person was the oikos. Here was the bridge used regularly as a natural means for spreading the message of Jesus Christ.
The following passages are illustrations of Oikos evangelism
Following Christ’s resurrection and ascension, it was this same pattern of the Gospel moving through the oikos which caused the early church to explode. Noted church historian Kenneth Scott Latourette has observed that, “the primary change agents in the spread of faith … were the men and women who earned their livelihood in some purely secular manner, and spoke of their faith to those whom they met in this natural fashion.”151
It seems that Oikos evangelism is the God-given and God-ordained means and key for naturally sharing our supernatural message. This is the way the early church spread and it is the way the Gospel is most naturally shared today. Research and statistics back up this claim.
Before we look at these statistics, remember that the Great Commission is not simply evangelism, but making disciples; reaching people, pulling them into the church, and building them up in Christ to become reproductive believers.
(1) Campus Crusade
Research conducted by The Institute for American Church Growth shows that of the hundreds of thousands of so called “decisions” from the Here’s Life emphasis, 97 out of every 100 were never incorporated into a church. Somewhere they were lost by the wayside.152
(2) Billy Graham Crusade
Statistics taken in connection with the Billy Graham Crusade in Seattle back in 1976 are also very enlightening. Some 434,100 persons passed through the gate to attend the crusade and 18,136 walked down the aisle. Of the 18,136, 53.7% went forward for rededication, not salvation. 30.6% went forward for conversion, and 15.7% was unknown as to the purpose. Only 7% of those who went forward for conversion, had become associated with a church when the research was done several years later.
(3) Institute for American Church Growth
Research from a questionnaire taken by The Institute for American Church Growth showed that when over 4000 people in 35 states and three countries were asked why they became part of a local church, 75% to 90% responded that friends and relatives were the “door of entrance.”
The conclusion is clear … churches encouraging and equipping their members to reach the existing webs of friends and relatives, and then building them into the fellowship of the local church will experience the greatest results for their time and effort.153
We are not saying that we should limit our concerns just to our oikos. The Great Commission says “go.” We start in Jerusalem—our home base—then branch out. We begin with our oikos, but then we need to expand our oikos by loving concern so as to begin and grow new relationships. How can we begin new relationships to expand our web? Here are some ideas from Common Ground.154
Relationships begin with common ground (such as summer soccer league) but they are built on communication and shared experience.
Perhaps the most important aspect of communication is conversation. You can develop good conversational skills by understanding these three levels of conversation.
Level One: General— Be in touch. You can usually begin a conversation with anyone on this level. Such things as current events, sports, or the weather are natural and easy ways to begin a conversation. It can be as simple as Bill’s comment about Sally’s good soccer play.
The key to being a good conversationalist on this level is to be in touch with your community. The way to be in touch is to read, listen, and watch. A local news paper or radio station is an excellent source of information on what is happening in the community.
Level Two: Personal— Be Interested. The key in this area is to be interested. Listen for clues as to what is important to the person to whom you are talking. Janet discovered that Arlene opted not to work outside the home until the children were in school. This says something about what is important to Arlene and Ron. When you are in someone’s home take notice of the surroundings. If you are in their office, what sort of plaques or curios do you see. Again this will indicate what is important to this person. What is important to them is something that is easy to talk with them about.
Level Three: Crucial needs— Be Informed. Crucial needs deal with the critical issues in a person’s life. The key to having an eternal impact in a non-Christian’s life is to be informed. Everyone has a world view that shapes and directs their every attitude and action. Most people are not willing to reveal themselves on this level. however, when a relationship begins to build it is not uncommon for there to be opportunities to explore spiritual issues.
If we were just using and developing our oikos, our growth would be phenomenal through the laws of multiplication.
The following statistics conducted by the Institute of American Church Growth of Pasadena, California illustrate why people come to Christ and get involved in a Church. The research shows that “Webs of common kinship (friends and neighbors) and common associates (special interests, work relationships, and recreation) are still the paths most people follow in becoming Christians today.”155
Over 14,000 lay people have been asked the question: “What or who was responsible for you coming to Christ and your church?” One of eight responses were given, but the key issue is what percentage of people came to Christ and the church through each category listed. Here are the results.
The conclusion is clear. The great majority of people in these studies can trace their “spiritual roots” directly to a friend or a relative as the major reason they are in Christ and their church. Let me ask you a question. How about you? How many of you came to know Christ and got involved in your church or both through the oikos principle?
There seems to be no question where we should be placing our emphasis and focus. The real question is, are we? Regardless of what method we say we believe in, it is meaningless unless we are using it and using it under the motivation and power of the Spirit of God. We must be using the harvest principles we briefly mentioned at the beginning of this study.
Just why and what makes the Oikos principle so effective?
In The Master’s Plan for Making Disciples, the Arns discuss a number of principles which they describe as the cornerstone of disciple-making for the local church. I have summarized several of these in what follows.156
Principle Number One: Disciple-making is most effective when it is an intentional response by the local church to the Great Commission.
As it pertains to the things that direct and shape our lives, there are two things that tend to characterize the church today and both are often true at the same time. Rather than purposefully following the Lord and resting in His provision, we tend to be a driven people, driven by the wrong forces. Remember, the Lord does not drive. He leads. If you feel driven, you can bet it’s not the Lord, but some conscious or unconscious faulty force that’s driving you. We are driven by the desire to succeed but usually for the wrong reasons. We want to impress, to get ahead, to be accepted, to be important, to out-do someone or to play “king of the mountain” be it spiritual, material, or whatever.
But second, while driven, we also tend to go with the flow of the world and its values and objectives. Like small sticks in the midst of a swollen and raging stream, we are swept along without well-defined biblical, personal goals. Intentional, purposeful living with a view to reaching people for Christ is a key component in our availability to fulfill the Great Commission. Living intentionally with a view to making disciples is a response to our Lord’s command. It is an act of obedience which acknowledges His lordship.
To be effective and mature servants, those who take the Great Commission seriously, (a) we must know who we are, (b) we must have an identity derived from God and His standards, and (c) we must know why we are here. We must have a sense of God’s destiny and purpose for our lives, i.e., we must serve with a view to doing God’s will no matter what, and fortified by a view to heavenly treasures and rewards, not those based on earthly goals (1 Cor. 4:1-5; 2 Cor. 4:18; 5:9; Matt. 6:19-21).
Principle Number Two: Intentionality in evangelism is most effective when focused on the oikos (natural networks) of existing Christians.
As we have seen, our webs of common ground: common kinship, common friendship, and common associates are the means by which most people become Christians. This forms the solid foundation which allows God’s love and salvation to flow naturally and intentionally.
Here are eight important reasons why identifying and using natural networks of relationships should be the foundation for the outreach strategy of every church:
1. It is the natural way churches grow;
2. It is the most cost effective way to reach new people;
3. It is the most fruitful way to win new people;
4. It provides a constantly enlarging source of new contacts;
5. It brings the greatest satisfaction to participating members;
6. It results in the most effective assimilation of new members;
7. It tends to win entire families;
8. It uses existing relationships.157
Principle Number Three: Disciple-making is most effective when based on and permeated with love and caring.
It is more effective because when we are motivated by love we are going to put forth more effort to reach out to people. It is also more effective because it produces the kind of tangible, specific actions that have a greater impact on those we love and care about. When our efforts are based on genuine love rather than legalistic motives or peer pressure, we see people and treat them as people with needs. They are no longer just a notch in our evangelistic belt. Loving or caring for people means building relationships and spending time with people.
Principle Number Four: Disciple-making through the oikos method is most effective because each Christian has a part in responding to the Great Commission.
Anyone can do it! Any church member who can identify an unchurched friend, relative, neighbor, or associate can be a disciple-maker. The average church member has between seven and nine friends and relatives outside of Christ and the Church. Newer Christians and members of newer churches average twelve. Older Christians and members of older churches can list an average of four unchurched friends and relatives.158
This kind of participation has a lot of side benefits. It contributes to the overall spiritual health and vitality of each person involved. It gives a sense of purpose and meaning. It causes believers to have to rely more on the Lord and to seek His power and work in their lives and in the lives of those they are seeking to reach.
Participation in the process of disciple-making may be as worthy for its role in the maturity of the Christian as it is in reaching the non-Christian. A Christian remains spiritually immature if he/she is not actively involved in the greatest task the Master called us to do. … Christlikeness can hardly be an achievable goal if there is no participation in the basic reason for Christ’s mission.159
Principle Number Five: Disciple-making, as with all aspects of ministry, is most effective when it is a “team effort.”
One or a few simply cannot have the outreach or do what a team of people committed to outreach can do. All the believers in any local church have a far greater outreach potential than just a few.
Perhaps the most important reason the “team effort” works through the oikos principle is the friendship factor. Research indicates that in most cases, new Christians who soon “drop out” of active church involvement never made new friends in that church. Evangelism based on the oikos concept and that works through the church as a team brings people to Christ and into the church through the “friendship factor.”
Principle Number Six: Disciple-making is most effective when unique needs and individual differences are recognized and cared about.
One of the things that hinders our outreach and effectiveness with people is our failure to treat them as individuals. We must realize people have different needs and come to Christ in different ways and for different reasons (see Paul’s commitment to get involved with people where they were in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Yes, everyone needs Christ and all must put their faith in the person and work of Christ, but the process to this varies dramatically according to various needs and the circumstances of people.
Here are some important questions and factors that are helpful in reaching people for the Lord.
A study of the Gospels reveal that Christ Himself was a powerful demonstration of meeting people where they were. He addressed the unique needs of each person and presented the Gospel in a relevant and meaningful way. When he was with the woman at the well, he talked about living water; when he was with fishermen, he talked about catching fish; when he was with people familiar with the agricultural world, he talked about sowing seed. He often began with the hurts and needs and interests of people. He found and used common ground to perk their interest.
Compared to a total stranger, church members involved in reaching their web are better able to understand the individuality of each person, the needs he/she may have, and the appropriate ways to introduce how Jesus Christ can bring them into a relationship with the living God who alone can meet their needs (cf. 1 Cor. 9:22, “To the weak I became weak in order to gain the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some).
Principle Number Seven: Disciple-making through the oikos principle is most effective because it builds on a natural and continuing process.
Continuous disciple-making requires prudent stewardship of church members’ time and energy. It requires an evangelistic process that renews rather than exhausts laity. It requires a process that is a natural part of life, rather than a contrived event. It requires a process that is not dependent on volunteers, but occurs because people have a vision of their purpose and can use it in the normal process of life.
When does disciple-making become a natural part of the Christian’s life?
(a) When it builds on natural human relationships. A natural survey asked the question: “What do you enjoy doing most in your spare time?” The answer, from seventy-four percent of the people surveyed, was “spending time with family and friends.”160
God made people to enjoy other people. He made the family and the relationships that result. The family is the basic organizational structure and God uses this natural human network of family and friends to most effectively spread the Good News.
(b) When it builds on the need to love and be loved. Both Christians and non-Christians need caring and love. The oikos method responds to this need in the lives of both church members and the people in their web of influence. In the disciple-making process, Christians learn how to strengthen relationship with non-Christians and communicate God’s caring through their own caring.
(c) When it becomes part of the entire organizational structure. Effective, continuous disciple-making does not translate into a program to be adopted, organized, and carried out by a few select members of an evangelism committee or calling team. It becomes a process which becomes a natural part of each organization in the church body.
(d) When it is self-perpetuating. Effective disciple-making can’t help but be self-perpetuating. Indeed, not only does it continue, but the process naturally enlarges. It happens when one person (in a member’s web) comes to Christ, and then that new member has his/her own web of relationships of friends and relatives outside of Christ. It is a natural process of multiplication.
Each day most people come in contact with people with whom they have an on-going relationship that has been established, many of whom are unreached with the Gospel or, if saved, they are not growing in the things of Christ. These people make up our oikos, our network of friends and family. This becomes our extended family and we have a responsibility to them. Read through the New Testament and you will quickly discover that the Gospel spread through relationships. When Andrew heard about the Savior he first went and found his brother Simon Peter. Philip immediately contacted his friend, Nathaniel. Matthew held supper for his friends, other tax collectors. And what did the woman at the well do? She immediately went back into the city and told her friends. It seems obvious that the most effective method of evangelism is to go to those with whom we already have something in common.
How can we go about reaching them? The Arns suggest seven steps for reaching these people with the Gospel which I have also drawn from their excellent book, The Master’s Plan for Making Disciples.
1. Identify Your Extended Family, Your Network.
Analyze the regular contacts you have with people in your day-to day life. Consider the people in each of the following groups: common kinship, common friendship, and common associates.
Those people who are related biologically or through marriage constitute the common kinship area of your Extended Family. One person’s immediate family may be composed of a spouse and children. For another, it may include parents, brothers, or sisters. Other family members, such as cousins, aunts, uncles, in-laws, nieces, nephews, and grandparents may be part of an Extended Family
Close friends are also part of your Extended Family. Through common friendship, you can identify people with whom you share plans and experiences, joys and sorrows. These are friends with whom you regularly communicate in person or by phone. … Those you invite over for a backyard barbecue or social event, those you look forward to being with, are all part of the common friendship segment of your Extended Family.161
Obviously, there are other categories of people with whom we come in contact in the course of our everyday life, people with whom we share family news, or discuss current events, or sports, or cooking, or gardening. All of these are a part of our Extended Family. Our need then is to identify and make a list of a number of these people (6-10) and recognize that this comprises our network, our Extended Family.
2. Develop a Personal Profile of Each Extended Family Member.
Franklin D. Roosevelt made it a point to become a personal friend to every dignitary he met. Before the foreign leader came to visit, the President would study the person’s hobbies, special interests, and areas of personal concern. When the diplomat and the President met, they first talked on an official, political level. But then the conversation often changed. The President would praise the diplomat for any special achievements he had made, direct the discussion to the diplomat’s own hobbies or interests, and listen attentively as the person spoke. Through expressions of genuine interest, Roosevelt built friendships that endured a lifetime.
Knowing a person on a level beyond biographical details of age, marital status and occupation is part of effective disciple-making.162
From a heart of love, this is simply a matter of developing common ground as a bridge for caring for people and developing a relationship through getting to truly know them in their concerns, burdens, and interests. In the process of this, we also learn something about their spiritual life and beliefs. Are they interested in spiritual things? What do they understand about the Bible, about Jesus Christ, and the Christian life? Do they understand who Jesus really is as declared in the Bible? Have they trusted in Christ as their personal Savior according to the Scripture? If they are not a believer in Christ, a point of information important to your profile of them is why are they not a believer?
You may not know the answer to all these questions. If not, this is an important place to begin the disciple-making process—simply getting to know the person in a more meaningful way.163
3. Focus Your Efforts.
As you review the list of names in your Extended Family, you may want to identify several people with whom you have a natural, warm relationship. They are people with whom you get along well. You enjoy doing things together and have a variety of common interests. … These people should be ones you feel to be potentially receptive to the Gospel and who could easily find a home in your congregation.
The number of people you can focus on may differ according to the amount of time you give to consciously sharing God’s love. A busy executive, for example, may have time to work effectively with only one or two people at a time, whereas a retired person could easily focus on six or more non-Christians in their Extended Family.164
The issue is to prayerfully study your Extended Family and begin with those with whom you might naturally have the greatest rapport much as Andrew first sought out his own brother, Simon Peter (John 1:40-41). Generally, with others, we need time to build friendships, to demonstrate Christ’s love, and to develop their trust. Of course, sometimes God opens the door of a person’s heart without such a process, and we need to be open and receptive to such opportunities, but by-in-large, it is our Extended Family that becomes the most receptive since they best have a chance to see God’s love and character at work in our lives.
4. Develop a Disciple-Making Plan.
Scripture’s admonition to plan carefully is particularly applicable to making disciples: “Any enterprise that is built by wise planning, becomes strong through common sense, and profits wonderfully by keeping abreast of the facts” (Pr. 24:3-4, Living Bible). Introducing non-Christian friends and relatives to Christ, and directing their attention to the opportunity of new life, demands our best efforts. Yet often we tend to run ahead in our evangelistic methods without first considering insights that might increase our effectiveness.
Our disciple-making plans need to begin with meeting people at their point of need. Paul said, “I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). Effective plans for communicating the Gospel need to recognize the unique ways hearers perceive and personally relate the Good News to their lives and needs.
Christ’s approach to introducing the Kingdom to people was highly individualistic. It was often based on events with which the listener could readily identify. He met people on their own ground. He respected them as individuals with unique interests and needs. He asked the woman at the well for a drink of water. He told stories about sowing and harvesting to people who understood such things.165
As we build bridges, develop a profile of the person(s), and put together a plan for reaching them, we need always to bear in mind that in the final analysis, reaching a person for Christ, or motivating someone to move forward in their walk with Christ, is dependent on the ministry of the Spirit of God. Our basic trust needs to be in Him, not in our plans.
5. Work the Disciple-Making Plan.
As you begin to implement the steps of your disciple-making plan (Step 4), be sensitive and aware of the events in your Extended Family member’s life. There could be a right time and a wrong time, a right way and a wrong way to communicate Christ’s love.
Here are some suggestions for developing skills in effective communication with Extended Family members:
A. Attentive Listening. A prominent theologian once said “The first duty of love is to listen.”166 Almost everyone is born with a capacity to hear. However, the ability to listen must be deliberately learned and cultivated through practice …
What is “attentive listening”? It is concentrating on what the other person is saying rather than letting our mind race ahead to what should be said next. Attentive listening is putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes. It’s seeing things from their perspective rather than our own. Attentive listening is empathetic, comprehending, and non-judgmental.
Another element of attentive listening is your body language—eye contact, an encouraging nod, and understanding smile. A study in communication effectiveness showed that words alone carry only about seven percent of the communication message. The tone of delivery contributes thirty-three percent. Yet the non-verbal aspects—the body language—comprises fifty-five percent of the communication process.167
Attentive listening has no “hidden agenda.” Listening is not geared toward turning the conversation to spiritual matters at the first opportunity. Rather, attentive listening seeks to understand the non-Christian friend’s dreams and ambitions; to discover his needs and his problems; and to develop a level of understanding that builds a mutual respect and personal empathy.
B. Relating to Needs. God’s love is the greatest need-meeting resource on earth. Be alert to the unique areas of need in your Extended Family members. A close and meaningful relationship includes mutual sharing of experiences … happiness, sadness, success, failure, irritation, disappointment. It is around the personal experiences of life that the importance of faith and fellowship in the church often become apparent. Points of need in your own life, or the lives of your Extended Family members, provide a natural point for demonstrating your Christian faith, relating your experiences to theirs, and discussing the solution Christ has provided you. “I will tell of the faithful acts of the Lord, of the Lord’s praiseworthy deeds. I will tell about all the Lord did for us…” (Isa. 63:7, KJV).
C. Identifying Receptive Periods. God’s love and caring is especially appropriate during significant changes in lifestyle (such as marriage, birth of a child, new job, retirement, etc.), or incidents of stress in our Extended Family members’ lives (death of a spouse, divorce, family crisis, injury, etc.). These times are called “periods of transition.” A period of transition is a span of time in which a person’s or family’s normal, everyday behavior patterns are disrupted by some event that puts them into an unfamiliar situation. The more recent the transition-producing event in the person’s life, the more receptive he or she will be to a new lifestyle which includes Christ and the church.168
Consequently, it is important to stay in close touch with your Extended Family members and respond immediately in a time of transition. Being aware of these periods of transition in our non-Christian friends, and responding by showing them the caring love of Christ and the Church, can be an important step in seeing them become new Christian disciples.
The antithesis of this receptivity principle is also a factor in your disciple-making activities. That is, Extended Family members in a personally stable situation, with few complications or unusual interruptions in their life, are generally not as open to becoming disciples. Often the only way to reach an Extended Family member not presently open to the Christian faith is to be alert to a “period of transition” when their receptivity will increase, then respond in love by sharing Christ’s love.
D. Appropriate Timing. A fourth important point in effectively responding to your Extended Family member is that of timing. When you communicate God’s love and the Christian experience can be as important as what you communicate. The most effective witness is at the appropriate moment. For example, when Fred explained his difficulty with their daughter to Chuck in the gym, it was an appropriate moment for Chuck to relate how his faith guided him in similar circumstances. The timing was ideal for Chuck to communicate the church’s support and suggest a Christian alternative to Fred for an important question he was facing.
E. Understandable Language. Sharing the realities and benefits of Christ in everyday language, in the context of our everyday experience, gives a credibility and relevance to the Christian faith that is uniquely important to an Extended Family member. As you mention your faith, and the difference in your life because of it, speak in words and phrases the person will understand. Sharing your own experience helps your non-Christian friend sense that your relationship with Christ has an important influence on your attitudes and actions in everyday circumstances. Paul told the Christians at Colossae: “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunities. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyon.” (Col. 4:5-6).
Each of the areas mentioned above will help you understand and respond more effectively to the unique concerns of your Extended Family member.
6. Pray Regularly and Specifically for Each Extended Family Member.
“The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness” (Jam. 5:16).
Prayer must be at the very heart of the disciple-making process. The importance of regular prayer for specific members of your Extended Family cannot be overemphasized. It is a crucial part in the process of making disciples. If this vital step is overlooked, the chances of ever seeing your Extended Family member come to Christ and the church are slim.
After you have identified each person in your Extended Family by name, as part of your daily prayer life, pray for each of them specifically and for their needs. Ask God for the opportunity to let His love for them be experienced through you.
Do you remember the definition of “caring”? “Allowing God’s love to flow through you to people, especially those in your network of relationships.”
Through prayer, we express our specific concerns for each person in our Extended Family. We should pray according to their unique needs, attitudes, and situations. It may well be that the person in our Extended Family has never before been held up to God in prayer. What a thrill to be the first one to have that privilege! And it is impossible to talk daily with the Lord about a person and not become genuinely concerned about them and aware of caring/sharing opportunities you have with them.
One of the most important activities of a church organizationally committed to helping members disciple their Extended Family is regular prayer offered by Christians for each other’s Extended Family members. Rev. Wayne McDill, a pastor in Portland, Oregon, has correctly observed that “greater strength can be brought to bear in your prayers as you involve others in praying for your friend.”169 Jesus provided a promise at this very point “Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth agree about whatever you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you” (Matt. 18:19).
Each lay person involved in making disciples should pray not only for the non-Christians in his/her own web, but for specific people in other members’ Extended Families. Sharing prayer concerns, asking God for a sense of awareness to opportunities that arise, and thanking Him for answered prayer are important parts of each person’s role in making disciples.
7. Accept Your Accountability to Others and to God.
A final major step in the disciple-making process is to meet regularly with other Christians similarly involved in the process. As you discuss goals and individual experiences in regular meetings, you will find an important sense of support, fellowship, and accountability.
No member’s caring relationships with Extended Family members will be quite identical. Thus, sharing individual successes and failures can provide rich learning experiences for every church member involved. One person’s insights sharpen another’s understanding. And the probability of each member continuing as an active disciple-maker is vastly increased when he/she is part of such a regular group.
In these meetings, members share their prayer concerns for each person in their Extended Family. These concerns become the subject of intercessory prayer for the entire group. Likewise, experiences of answered prayer are shared with the group and expressed in praise and thanks to the Lord.
Praying for fellow church members is an encouraging and enabling aspect of these times together. Thanking God for the opportunity to demonstrate His love and Word through a caring witness helps members keep their disciple-making ministry at the forefront of their Christian lives. As Christians ask God for guidance, wisdom, insight, and sensitivity, they build a confidence and self-worth in being ambassadors of God’s love. These times of prayer together are a mutual expression of dependence, anticipation, and assurance of God’s ability to direct His people.
Church members may want to become prayer partners with one another. Each agrees to pray for his/her partner and the people in his/her Extended Family. The disciple-making process is strengthened immeasurably as each Extended Family member is daily held up by others before the Lord in prayer.
Your Opportunity …
A denominational leader has observed, “If you and I are to enjoy our disciple-making opportunities, we need to take our witness out from behind the walls of our church building and into our neighborhood. … Life’s greatest satisfactions are found as we witness to what Christ is doing in our lives while we engage in the normal activities of the day.”170
Is it possible to see the lives of friends, relatives, and associates really change as they encounter the miraculous love of Christ? Can you, as an “ordinary layman,” have a meaningful and purposeful role in reaching these people with Christ’s love? The answer is a resounding, affirmative “YES.” You can do it! In fact, you are probably the best person able to show these Extended Family members the burden-lifting power of Jesus Christ.171
I will do little more than mention each of these for most of them pretty much speak for themselves. Again, I am indebted to the Arns and their book, The Master’s Plan for Making Disciples.172
Nothing we do will have a greater witness and impact like showing the love of Christ, really caring for the Extended Family. But what do people usually think of as the most vital ingredients to a powerful witness? Usually high on the list are things like being articulate, a debater, and a very outgoing kind of personality. God’s call is to become a channel of His love to others.
How do we strengthen relationships with people? By getting involved in their lives through common ground experiences. Think of how much the Lord impacted people while sitting with them around the dinner table or other relational experiences. We need to look for opportunities to do those things that are in keeping with our Christian standards that will allow us to strengthen relationships. This includes sports, garden clubs, backyard barbecues, lunch, coffee breaks, helping a neighbor with a project like building a fence, planting a garden, and a host of other opportunities.
A helpful research study173 identified two hundred forty (240) new Christians presently active and involved in their churches. In addition, a second group of 240 people were identified who could be classified as “drop-outs” (they had made a recent decision but had since lapsed into inactivity). A third group of 240 people were identified who had been presented with the Gospel message, but had chosen not to make a positive decision. In individual interviews with these 720 people, each was asked to classify the person who had presented the Gospel into one of three categories: “Friend,” “Salesman,” “Teacher.”
The results of the study provided some startling conclusions: The people who saw the church member as a “friend” were almost all now Christians and active in their churches (94%). On the other hand, those people who saw the church member who presented the Gospel as a “salesman” often made an initial decision, but soon dropped out in large numbers (71% later dropped). Finally, those who saw the church member as a “teacher” generally tended to not respond at all (84% said “no thanks”). The implications are clear. The non-Christian person who perceives your relationship as one of a “friend” is far more likely to eventually respond to Christ’s love than the person who sees you either as a “teacher”—instructing on doctrine, sin, and morality; or as “salesman”—manipulating them toward an eventual decision.
Your greatest resource in developing a meaningful and caring friendship is in simply being yourself—natural and unmasked. The phrase “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” reflects a healthy attitude in recognizing the shortcomings each person has …174
The Christian life is a teamwork enterprise and requires the input and help of the body of Christ with its varied and gifted members.
One important resource for disciple-making found in your church is other church members, particularly your close friends. Encouraging and building personal relationships between your Extended Family members and other Christian friends in your church is a highly effective way to introducing your non-Christian friends to the variety of ways Christ works in the lives of people.175
How do you help such relationships flourish between your Extended Family members and others in the congregation? Informal social gatherings at your home, or group outings to special events can include both Christian and non-Christian friends …176
Paul told the Colossians to season their witness as with salt (Col. 4:5-6).
Jesus, in teaching His disciples to be fishers of men, used many different models. From Nicodemus, the religious ruler who was told he needed to be “born from above” (John 3:3), to the woman of Samaria who was offered water of eternal life (John 4:14), to the thief on the cross who asked only to be remembered when Christ came into His kingdom (Luke 23:42). Each situation presents different needs, portrays different relationships, uses different words, brings a different response. Each situation was unique.177
While our approach should vary with individuals and circumstances, certain elements need to be present in our witness, especially as it pertains to the message of the Gospel. The following provide some of the common denominators that need to be present.
(2) God’s Solution: God’s solution for man’s predicament is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is the focal point. The goal is to bring people to see their need to put their trust in Jesus Christ who died in their place and was raised to authenticate His person and work (John 3:16-18, 36; Phil. 3:8-9; Rom. 3:23-26; 1:4; 4:25-5:1).
(3) The Starting Point: The models of evangelism in the New Testament were different because they began with the various personal needs of individuals even though the ultimate needs were the same—turning from self-trust to Christ in personal faith. The Lord ultimately pointed people to Himself as the solution to their need, but He started with whatever their problem was and used that as a beachhead to show His love and to point them to Himself as “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
(4) The Instrument God Uses—People: God could reach people by many means, but He has chosen to use human beings (mere earthen vessels) to be the instruments of His light (2 Cor. 4:5-7). Conversions do not take place in a vacuum. Philip was there to interpret the Scripture for the Ethiopian. Peter was there to help Cornelius. Paul was there to help Lydia. When people in the New Testament came to faith, they came through the influence and help of others.178
(5) The Message: If we do not get the message right according to the Scripture, we end up preaching a false gospel which is not really a gospel at all. The Apostle Paul was deeply concerned that we know and preach the true message and not distort the Gospel of Christ (see Gal. 1:6-10). The message is the message of grace, the message of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone. The next lesson will be devoted to this very issue.
We need patience and dependence on the Spirit of God in seeking to bring people to a point of decision about faith in Christ. In our sales-oriented society where people are taught the need to close the sale, we should not take it upon ourselves to force a decision. Understanding the Gospel and coming to faith in Christ is a work that can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:14; 1 Cor. 3:6-7; 2 Thess. 2:13-14).
Scripture describes believers as partners with the Lord and with one another. We share together in His life, but we are also to share together in His enterprise here on earth. We are His representatives who are to share His love and plan of salvation from sin’s penalty and power with a lost and dying world. But for this to occur, we must truly share in His life and have His vision. We must see what He sees and as He sees.
John 4 and the story of the Lord’s encounter with the woman at the well in Samaria is a classic passage on evangelism, not only for the model it gives us of one of the ways the Lord shared His life with others, but because it also challenges us to grasp His vision in this passage, He told the disciples, “look up and see that the fields are already white for harvest!” It is a call for us to see as Jesus sees. In this passage the Lord will illustrate and model the four important factors of evangelism and outreach discussed in this study.
The first necessity was passing through Samaria (John 4:1-26). Christ was controlled by the Spirit (our Means).
(1) Wearied At The Well
God uses our humanness as opportunities (John 4:1-6). Jesus found and used common ground that rose out of His own humanity and what He had in common with the woman. He used His thirst as a bridge for crossing the gap that existed between Himself and this Samaritan women. What exactly is common ground?
Common ground consists of shared areas of interest, background, or concerns—anything that people might hold in common that will serve as the basis for developing a relationship that will form a basis for earning credibility to share the Savior. Common ground is the key to beginning and growing relationships. But we often do not see the common ground opportunities because we just aren’t looking, we lack vision, or because we are blinded by our own prejudice as were the disciples who marveled that Jesus was speaking with this woman (4:27).179
Verses 1-4. Since it was not yet time for the cross, the Lord withdrew from Jerusalem to avoid unnecessary confrontation with the Pharisees. His objective was Galilee. He had two routes open to Him. He could go straight up through Samaria to Galilee or He could go around Samaria through Perea east of the Jordan.
But the text tells us (vs. 4) “But he had to pass through Samaria.” “Had” is the Greek word dei, an impersonal verb meaning, “it is necessary, one must.” It reflects a sense of determining constraint exerted by the will of God. It carries the idea of both a logical and a spiritual necessity arising from the Father’s purpose for Jesus. He must pass through Samaria. The question is why since this was not the normal course for a Jew who went out of his way to avoid going through Samaria. Let me suggest two reasons.
First of all it was necessary because He was driven and directed by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit had been preparing a village for the Gospel of Christ. The Holy Spirit was the agent and power behind all that Jesus did (Matt. 4:1; 12:18-21, 28) and throughout the New Testament. He is likewise the agent and power behind all effective evangelism (Acts 1:8). Note the following illustrations:
If we are going to be a people involved effectively in evangelism, we must be a Spirit-controlled, Spirit-led people.
Second, the Lord had to go through Samaria because of the prevalent attitude of prejudice toward Samaria and Samaritans found in the Jewish community of which the disciples were obviously a part. This needed to be corrected. Christ came for all the world, for the despised and outcasts. If His disciples were to carry on His ministry after He departed, they must have His vision and purpose. So the Lord went through Samaria to both reach this village with the Gospel and to teach the disciples some important lessons.
Verses 5-6. Being wearied from travel, hot and thirsty, the Lord pulled in at Jacob’s well for water and for rest. He was there for human reasons, but it was precisely this humanness that became a common ground, the bridge or avenue for contact with others and a means of reaching out to people in need of His life.
We need to capture this. We have many things in common with people all around us and each of these can become contact points if we will just become caring and sensitive to them as people; if we will just open our eyes and see the fields white unto harvest.
(2) Witnessing at the Well
To demonstrate Jesus’ varied approaches in evangelism, His approach with the woman at the well is often contrasted with His encounter with Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a cultured, powerful, and righteous Jew. This woman was an unknown and immoral Samaritan peasant. But the Lord cared for and led both to know Himself as the water of life.
Verse 7. His request for water. Note how He broke with cultural and religious convention and prejudice and used the common ground of their need of water to capture her attention and stimulate her curiosity so He could establish a base for reaching this woman with the message of who He was and what He could do for her.
Verse 8. The absence of His disciples. They were absent at this point, but this would become a training aid on their arrival.
Verse 9. Her response. She was startled at His request. He was breaking with Jewish prejudice. Edwin Blum writes:
The NIV margin gives an alternate translation to the Greek sentence with the word synchrontai (“associate” or “use together”): the Jews “do not use dishes Samaritans have used.” This rendering may well be correct. A Rabbinic law of A.D. 66 stated that Samaritan women were considered as continually menstruating and thus unclean. Therefore a Jew who drank from a Samaritan woman’s vessel would become ceremonially unclean.180
Verse 10. The Lord’s Reply—His answer was somewhat an enigmatic saying to cause her to further think.
It was as if He had said, “Your shock would be infinitely greater if you really knew who I am. You-not I-would be asking!” Three things would have provoked her thinking: (1) Who is He? (2) What is the gift of God? (3) What is living water? “Living water” in one sense is running water, but in another sense it is the Holy Spirit (Jer. 2:13; Zech. 14:8; John 7:38-39).181
Time and my purpose in this study will not allow me to pursue it, but this passage is loaded with principles of personal evangelism. Our purpose and one of the emphases of the passage, if not the primary one, is one of catching the vision of our Lord—seeing as Jesus sees. People who need Christ are all around us. We rub shoulders with them nearly everywhere we go, but somehow we become blind to them as objects of God’s love and blind to the fact God wants to win them to the Savior through us—you and me (John 17:18).
Christ’s purpose in the world is to become our purpose, the all-consuming and driving force of our lives. But for this to occur, we must have His vision, we must see as He sees, care as He cares, and become devoted to that which He is devoted. Jesus was wholly concerned with God, and because of that, He was wholly concerned with people.
So, being led by the Spirit of God, the Lord used this event to pass on a vision to help the disciples and us see as He sees. He wants to heal our eyesight and give us a 20/20 vision for the world that begins with us in our everyday encounters. We tend to be far sighted. We can see the need for missionaries in Africa (the far picture), but when it comes to our oikos, our neighbors, work buddies, the kids on the block, or the runaways downtown, we have blurred vision. We just see blobs moving about. We don’t see them as hurting people in desperate need of the Savior and His love.
In a men’s discipleship training class that I was teaching a number of years ago, one of our men asked for prayer regarding his job which had become very difficult because his supervisor had become very overbearing and hard to work for. The prayer request was for the elimination of the irritation. But I suggested that the change in his supervisor’s behavior could have been because he was hurting and that maybe God wanted to use him to minister in this hurting man’s life. I suggested that, in dependence on the Lord, he might look for an opportunity to ask his supervisor if he was okay. He might tell him that he hadn’t seemed like himself lately and ask if there was anything he could do. That night we all prayed for the supervisor and my friend tried this very approach during the next week and came back to class the following week excited because it not only changed the working conditions, but it opened up a great opportunity to share Christ with his supervisor. I was simply seeking to impart the vision of fields that were white unto harvest.
The second necessity is passing on a vision (John 4:27-38).
(1) The Disciples’ Astonishment
In this encounter with the Samaritan woman, the Lord was breaking with convention and going against both Jewish and Samaritan prejudice. Note the woman’s response in John 4:9. The Greek text is emphatic. “How can you—a Jew—ask me, a Samaritan woman, for water to drink?” “You” and “me” are emphatic by word order and immediately sets Christ off from her both as a woman and as a Samaritan woman. Her words were words of surprise and scorn. Lightfoot quotes a rabbinical precept, “Let no one talk with a woman in the street, no, not with his own wife.”
But we might ask how did she know Jesus was a Jew and how did the disciples know she was a Samaritan? Edersheim, the great Jewish historian, points out that “the fringes of the Tallith of the Samaritans are blue, while those worn by Jews are white.”182 Perhaps also by facial features and by accent.
The point is, Christ, whom the disciples viewed as a rabbi, a teacher of the Law, was talking with a woman in public and one who was a Samaritan at that! This astonished them, yet because of their respect for the Lord, no one questioned him about this.
What they saw as madness, He saw as ministry. So what does this teach us about ourselves? It reminds us how our culture and personal prejudices against others because of dress, character, color of skin, cultural differences, or personal differences whatever they might be, can literally blind us to their needs and to our responsibilities as ambassadors of the Gospel. Such people have become invisible to us.
Concerning the problem of seeing those who have become invisible to us, Frank Tillapaugh has the following to say:
One of our Lord’s constant frustrations was that his followers did not see what He saw. All they saw in Zacchaeus was a despicable little tax collector. But Jesus saw someone who needed a friend and, more than that, someone who needed deliverance from his sin.
At Jacob’s well one day, Jesus’ followers saw a Samaritan woman who looked as though she had been through the mill. But He saw a precious, hurting human being who could be the key to spreading the gospel in Samaria. Over and over again He saw what was invisible to those around Him. …
A major task for the local church body then is to help one another see hitherto invisible segments of our society. Thousand of refugees, for example, can melt into a major city and hardly be noticed. Even though they still receive mention occasionally in the media, most people, including those in our churches, scarcely know they exist.
We need to condition ourselves to see what Jesus saw. It doesn’t come naturally, even for the believer. We need to ask ourselves as we move about the city, Who are these people? What is their contact point with the gospel? Is there something God would have me do?
One possible means of making ourselves aware of the needs of the city is to take “seeing-as He-saw” field trips. For example, go sit in the emergency room of the publicly financed hospital in your community, preferably between 11:00 P.M. and 5:00 A.M. Watch as people come in with gunshot wounds, knife wounds, drug overdoses or battered bodies. Listen as they grope to give their addresses or the name of their next of kin. Sometimes they don’t even know their own names. Then, remember that their names are a part of the “whosoever” in John 3:16.183
(2) The Invitation of the Woman
Having met the Savior and having become confident of who He was, the woman left her water pot and rushed into the city to spread the news (John 4:28-30). Isn’t this the kind of response to knowing Christ that we should all experience?
Many people are convinced that Christianity is true and that Jesus is the Savior, but somehow it doesn’t have the binding consequences on their lives that it should. Because of poor spiritual pediatrics or spiritual help and growth, it’s simply business as usual. Note verse 10. If we really know the gift that God gives us in Christ and who He is, the Lord and Savior, if we are really abiding in Him daily, how can it continue to be business as usual? How can we continue to live without dramatic and binding life-changing consequences? If we are not experiencing life-changing consequences it is either because we haven’t truly come to know the Savior, or we are not abiding in Him and experiencing His life through the control of the Spirit.
This provided a wonderful example of instruction for the disciples and for us.
(3) The Instruction of the Savior
In John 4:31-38 we see Christ’s declaration about purposes and values (vss. 31-34).
Verse 31. Eating is a normal necessity of life and one that provides pleasure and enjoyment by God’s own creative blessing for mankind. Because we enjoy it, most of us make sure we don’t miss a meal. But in the process of this, and because of our carnal bent, we tend to become preoccupied not only with eating and its pleasures, but with all the details of life. As our Lord warned in Matthew 6:31, we tend to be anxious over what shall we eat, or what shall we drink, or with what we shall clothe ourselves.
Verse 32. The Lord’s answer did not mean that He did not need food or enjoy food from the standpoint of His humanity. He did. What it means is that there were other forces and aspirations that were His greatest motivations and that guided His life.
God has “provides us with all things for our enjoyment,” the Apostle Paul tells us (1 Tim. 6:17). These things, however, are not to consume us or possess us or distract us or bind us or blind us to God’s vision and purpose for our lives (cf. 2 Pet. 1:8-9).
Verse 33. In this verse we see both the misunderstanding and perplexity of the disciples. They completely missed His point. They thought He was talking about physical food when in essence He was referring to spiritual concepts and objectives.
Verse 34. By the words “my food” the Lord was saying that which nourished His soul, which sustained Him, which kept Him going, and which turned Him on, was doing the will of God and accomplishing the Father’s purposes for His life. Do you see what He is saying to us? Ministry to this woman had fed His own soul because He was doing that for which He had been sent into the world. Pursuits that have as their objective the world’s pot of gold, whether wealth or health, or power or success, cannot satisfy. Life must consist in more than the things we possess (Luke 12:15, 23).
(4) His Exhortation
In verses 35-38 we have Christ’s exhortation about seeing, having vision.
Negative: “Don't you say …” This probably represents a rural proverb used in connection with planting and the harvesting. First you plant (prepare the soil and sow the seed), and then four months later, you reap. The process of waiting four months is true in cultivation and harvesting of grain, but it is not true in relation to bringing people into the kingdom of God. God’s plan of harvesting souls involves an entirely different plan of action. It involves a different spiritual process that means people are ripe for the harvest now.
What God’s people need is vision and spiritual perception. If God’s people would look around, they would see people with spiritual hunger. Some have thought the Samaritans in their white garments coming from the village (vs. 30) may have visually suggested a wheat field ripe for harvest.
Why did the Lord make this statement to the disciples? Because this represents our tendency. We tend to treat the harvest of souls into the kingdom of God like the farmer treats the sowing and reaping of his harvest. We tend to put off God’s present purposes for our lives and to live a schizophrenic life. We may see the needs, but we make excuses and say, “They are not ready for the Gospel.” We may have an attitude that is so typical for much of the church today. It’s the perspective: We are saved from sin’s penalty and confident of the future kingdom, being in glory with the Lord, but in the meantime, we are working hard for a piece of the rock and our part in fat city.
The effect of this is distraction and blindness as to our real purpose in life and the place God’s purpose should occupy in our lives. In his book, Why Settle for More and Miss the Best, Tom Sine has a chapter entitled, “Discerning Half Truths and False Visions.” If we are going to avoid the rat race of the world that puts us on a course that causes us to miss God’s purpose and the very best, we need the right perspective.
So note our Lord’s next words and counsel.
Positive: “I tell you, look up and see” In other words, learn to see as Jesus sees, develop God’s vision to guide you.
Without God’s perspective, His vision to sift out the false visions of the world that place people on a gerbil wheel of fruitlessness (without the right values and purposes for life) we become blind and insensitive to the needs of people all around us. We develop tunnel vision which limits the potential of ministry opportunities that surround us.
So, what happens without God’s viewpoint? It results in spiritual dullness, personal unhappiness, unfulfilled lives, and numerical stagnation. It results in a people who become occupied with themselves, who become complainers in the church, and in general, nit pickers. Or, it results in the religious cushion syndrome.184 (Compare Heb. 10:24-25 with Tit. 2:14; 3:1, 14.)
What exactly is our problem today? False visions that lead men and women to feverishly work to climb to the top of a mountain that cannot satisfy. And in the struggle up this mountain for the goodies of this world, we not only hurt ourselves, our health and spiritual lives, but we stay oblivious to those around us in need as we climb this barren mountain.
(5) His Explanation
In verses 36-38 we have Christ’s explanation.
People usually make contact with God in the same way we screw a light bulb into an electrical socket … step-by-step and stage-by-stage. We turn the bulb a little at a time, until contact is made and the light goes on. People are normally prompted to turn their attention toward God in the same gradual manner. They are nudged and prodded by God and circumstances, again and again, until contact is made and Christ’s forgiveness and love light up their lives.185
The important principle in reaching men and women for the Savior is a process that is going on at all times. It is a process that involves soil preparation, sowing, watering, and reaping, but the fields are always white to harvest. There are those out there, sometimes the most unlikely, that are ready for reaping like the woman at the well and this Samaritan village.
We need to relax about this through understanding our responsibility. Certainly, the ultimate goal is to lead people to the Savior, but we must recognize this involves a process and never see people simply as an evangelism project. Our job is to love people as people, to reach out to them, and as we have opportunity share the riches of Christ. We are to sow, water, and reap, but in the final analysis whether we are sowing, watering, or reaping, only God can lead them to Himself. The fields are white. Some are ready for harvesting and some are not, but as Christians, God wants us all to be involved in the process.
In a world portrayed by Scripture as dark and full of people described as blind and walking in darkness (John 3:19; 12:35; Rom. 13:12; 2 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 5:8; 6:12; Col. 1:13), in a day that is described as evil and full of demonic powers dedicated to man’s deception (Eph. 5:16; 6:10-13; Rom. 16:18; Eph. 5:6; 2 Thess. 2:3), it is so easy to lose our way, become deceived, disoriented, and lost in the many delusions of our times.
Thus, the Bible has much to say about light and sight (or vision). God’s people are challenged to walk in the light and to watch carefully how and where they are walking. This certainly includes the need to understand and live in the light of our purpose and mission as the people of God. We need to sharpen our focus, or as the Lord put it in Matthew 6:22-23, we need clear vision, a single eye for the kingdom of God and God’s purposes, or our lives will be full of darkness. In John 12:35 the Lord said, “The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.”
The point is that both members and church leaders can lose sight of their mission, their calling and purpose in the world as disciple-makers and change agents. As Richard Lovelace put it:
… Pastors gradually settle down and lose interest in being change agents in the church. An unconscious conspiracy arises between their flesh and that of their congregations. It becomes tacitly understood that the laity will give pastors special honor in the exercise of their gifts, if the pastors will agree to leave their congregations’ pre-Christian lifestyles undisturbed and do not call for the mobilization of lay gifts for the work of the kingdom. Pastors are permitted to become ministerial superstars. Their pride is fed and their congregations are permitted to remain herds of sheep in which each has cheerfully turned to his own way.186
So what happens? Churches lose the elementary principles of faith and vision that stimulate and motivate God’s people to qualitative and quantitative church growth and outreach.
The goal of this part of Understanding Our Method, is for us to get a glimpse of the vitality of the church in Acts in some of its early chapters, hopefully, as a motivation to examine our life together as a part of God’s people. As a preparation, let’s first take a look at the theme, purpose, and place of Acts in the Bible, and then look at patterns of early church life from some of the key verses in these chapters.
The theme of Acts is given for us in 1:8. As a historian, Luke summarized his first work on the life of Jesus Christ in Acts 1:1-3, but then sets forth the theme of his second volume through the words of the Lord in 1:8. But while 1:8 is the theme, we must not forget that 1:1 is both a reminder and a warning that the ministry of the Spirit is to be viewed as continuing the ministry of the Lord Himself through His people.
In effect, 1:8 is the outline of the book showing the spread of Christianity as a work of the Lord through a Spirit-empowered church. These are like concentric circles:
This gives us a clear picture of the place and emphasis of Acts. The facts of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, which constitute the Gospel, need to be propagated, proclaimed, and spread to the ends of the earth.
(1) Acts 2:41-47
Verse 41. Numerical Growth: In keeping with the theme of the book of Acts, we have in the center of this section an emphasis on the adding of souls to the body of Christ. This is a result of the events of Pentecost and the preaching of Peter (2:1-36). But contrary to what our Pentecostal brethren teach, Pentecost would be recorded for us as Luke has done, but it would not be repeated. Speaking with other tongues—actual languages unknown to the speakers but understood by the hearers—would occur until the cessation of that gift before 70 A.D. in keeping with its purpose as a special sign to the Jews (1 Cor. 14:20-22), but without all the phenomena of Pentecost (1 Cor. 13:8).
The question naturally arises, how will the church continue to have a dynamic witness to the world? Through the Spirit, of course. But what are the essential characteristics and ingredients for maintaining a Spirit empowered or controlled church?
Verse 42. The Pattern of Early Church Life: It is not by accident that Luke immediately takes us to the pattern of worship and life in the early church. He seems to make a connection between numerical church growth and its spiritual growth. If there was to be real spiritual growth and the continuation of numerical growth, a certain pattern of life was essential. So, Luke begins to describe the early church by telling us that the believers in it were distinguished by their devotion to the Apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, and to worship in the form of observing the Lord’s table and prayer.
The words “continually devoting” are from the Greek word proskartereo which denotes a steadfast and single-minded fidelity to a certain course of action (cf. 1:20 and 6:4). In this word we see the earnestness, commitment, zeal, and faithfulness of the early church to assemble and fellowship together around the things of Christ. They were deeply involved in the things of Christ. But what is involvement? Someone has said that idealism increases in direct proportion to one’s distance from the problem. The church must get involved with God and with others if it is to truly impact the world.
There are four areas of involvement: (a) with God, (b) with family, (c) with other Christians, and (d) with non-Christians. Involvement includes: love, faith, spontaneity, vulnerability, and accountability.
I know of no more potent killer than isolation. There is no more destructive influence on physical and mental health than the isolation of you from me and us from them. It has been shown to be a central agent in the etiology of depression, paranoia, schizophrenia, rape, suicide, mass murder, and a wide variety of disease states.187
In Webster’s dictionary, we find that being involved means “to draw in as a participant, to relate closely, to connect, to include.” It means fellowship, being partners together in an enterprise. Their fellowship was the reality of the unity of faith and love and joy that so characterized these early believers.
Verses 43-47. The Pattern of Daily Lifestyles and Values: Note an important connection: Within the community of believers there was a spirit of unity in commitment and rejoicing and generosity. Outside, they enjoyed good will or favor from the people with the Lord adding to the church daily.
Verse 43. “Everyone” may well refer to more than the Christian community and is contrasted to “all those who believed” in vs. 44. It thus calls attention to the impact the early Christians were having on their community because of the authenticity of their walk with the Lord and the way it was changing their lives.
Verses 44-45. First, we see involvement: as believers, they were together (lit. unto the same place). In this we see a new commitment for fellowship with believers. Second, they possessed a new value system. This was all voluntary and based on their love for each other, their love for the Lord, and the single-minded perspective of heavenly treasure. This new value system not only led to generosity, but to new priorities in the use of their time with each other in the pursuit of spiritual things.
Verse 46. We find the favorite meeting place of the early believers was in the temple at the eastern edge of the outer court called Solomon’s Colonnade. There, they met formally and carried on their worship, teaching, discussions, and praise. Then, they took their meals in their own homes (lit. “by households” or “in various houses”). They met formally to study and worship together in the temple and then they would meet together in various homes for food and closer fellowship.
We also see they met daily or day by day. This text does not command every day meetings. They may have alternated between the temple and their homes, but the point is they were consistent and they joyfully assembled together for worship, encouragement, and fellowship. All of this was to a large degree the product of their sincerity of heart. Above reference was made to their single-minded perspective. This is evident in the “common consent” of verse 46 and in this phrase, “humble hearts.” “Sincerity” is aphelotes, “without a stone, even, smooth.” It means sincerity, singleness, without that which causes one to stumble as perhaps in Hebrews 12:1 and Matthew 6:19-22.
Verse 47. “Praising God” is a further matter of perspective and singleness of mind. They were a church that exalted the Lord by praise. Indeed, they lived by praise because their trust and hope was in the Lord and not in the details of life—fame and fortune, and power and pleasure. I am reminded of Psalm 34:1-4.
A further outcome of all of this is found in the rest of Acts 2:47, favor with all people and the numerical growth of the church by the work of God.
(2) Acts 3:1-26
In this chapter we have recorded the miracle of the man lame from his mother’s womb which is followed by another message by Peter. This is a message to Jewish people, but it would be well to note verse 26. In this we see the nature and character of the true blessing of God, to turn us from our wicked ways.
But what are wicked ways? Too often we have a distorted view of this. We tend to unconsciously see the wicked or sinful as people who sin differently from us. We often think of drunkenness, murder, drugs, fraud, lying, stealing, pornography, and maybe even gossip and criticism. But what about spiritual apathy, false values, pursuits, and priorities that keep us from fellowship, praying together, from the study of the Word, and ministry?
(3) Acts 4:1-12
Persecution began to break out because of the jealousy of the religious leaders who had rejected the Lord. But the church thrived in the midst of persecution while today the church is, for the most part, dying in the midst of luxurious living. Our preoccupation with comfort, pleasure, and independence is killing our witness in the world. Either our pursuits keep us from seeking the kingdom of God or they blind us to those in need of our ministry.
Regardless of the persecution, Peter boldly proclaimed the Lord as the sole source of salvation (Acts 4:12).
(4) Acts 4:13-14
What kind of men did the Lord use in the early church who literally turned the world upside down? While literacy was high among Jews of the first century, theological disputations required rabbinical training. Since the Apostles had no such training, they were thought incapable of having the ability to carry on theological discussion. But here were Peter and John, whom the council observed to be “unschooled, ordinary men,” speaking fearlessly and confidently before the Jewish supreme court and senate. Their judges could not but wonder at these ordinary men having such a mastery of biblical argumentation. So, they had to fall back on the only possible explanation—“these men had been with Jesus.” Nothing speaks louder than authenticity!
(5) Acts 4:23-31
The church’s response to the release of the Apostles was a spontaneous outburst of praise, practical application of truth, and petition.
Most significant is the fact that these early Christians were not praying for relief from oppression or judgment on their oppressors but for enablement “to speak your message with great courage” amid oppression, and for God Himself to act in mighty power “through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” The concern was for God’s Word to go forth and for Christ’s name to be glorified, while they rested their circumstances in God’s hands. What a pattern and an example for us!
Verse 31 gives us the effect: As an evidence of the sure answer of God to their prayer, the place was shaken. This does not seem to be an earthquake. Whatever it was, it may picture the shaking up of our lives that we all need through the work of God in our hearts—new concerns, new priorities, new values, new commitment, and new sources of trust versus our old strategies for living. They were all filled with the Spirit. Note the “all.” They were given boldness to speak and represent the Lord.
(6) Acts 4:32-37
Going back to the theme of 2:42-47, Luke again illustrates the nature and character of the life of the early church. He gives examples of that which made it so effective in its mission to the lost, the single-minded generosity, the unity of mind and heart, and commitment of the people as a whole, with Barnabas as a specific example.
Verse 32. “Of one heart and mind” is the root of what was happening here—Unity. But what does that mean? One happy family? No! We might compare two oxen at work pulling a plow. They may be the best of buddies, but if one is lazy or does not have his mind on his purpose, there is no unity nor the ability to do what they were designed to do.
“And no one said …” is the fruit. Again, this is not calling for Christian socialism as chapter 5 verses 1 and following clearly shows. It simply demonstrates the single-minded devotion and values of the early church. They were not divided in their allegiance.
Right in the midst of this description, as though to emphasize that meeting the physical needs of the group was not the primary consideration, attention is called to the public witness borne by the Apostles to “the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” Above all, this was a witnessing community, and for this reason it enjoyed “abundant grace” from the Lord.
(7) Acts 5:1-11
In these verses Luke gives an example of the kind of thing which could and would kill the impact of the church in its calling and mission, the greed and deceit of Ananias and Sapphira.
Verses 1-2. “Now a man named Ananias” (His name means “God is gracious”). Luke uses the verb nosphizo, “kept back, purloined, put aside for oneself.” In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX) it is used in Joshua 7:1 of Achan’s sin. Perhaps Luke meant to draw a parallel between the sin of Achan as Israel began their conquest of Canaan as the people of God (they too had a mission to the nations as a priesthood nation [see Ex. 19:4-6; Deut. 4:6-7]) and the sin of Ananias and Sapphira as the church began its mission to the nations (Acts 1:8).
“Satan” (Greek, ho Satanas; Hebrew, ha satan) was originally a common noun meaning “adversary” (1 Kings 11:14; Ps. 109:6), but later it became a personal designation for the angel who accuses and opposes God and His people (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7), and tempts man to evil (1 Chron. 21:1).
We see four things in Ananias and his wife that pose a warning to us, things that are devastating to not only our walk with the Lord, but to our witness and mission in the world. (a) We see greed or covetousness, caused by (b) a false hope or trust—trusting in the uncertainty of riches, a form of idolatry, (c) hypocrisy, a false front, wanting to appear more generous than they were, and (d) a false source of significance, seeking the praise of men for their self-worth and impact rather than resting in their new acceptance in the Lord.
As we reflect on these verses, isn’t there a call here for an evaluation of our personal values, our sources of trust, our priorities, and pursuits? Don’t we need to ask ourselves, what am I seeking from life, from my career, from my ministry, from my family, from my church?
Am I looking to any of the four deadly desires of the heart for my security and significance, the desires of fame, fortune, power, and pleasure and all that these are supposed to supply? Each of these are like heavy weights or entangling vines that cripple our capacity and ability to run the race that has been set before us (Heb. 12:1-2).
Has Satan been successful in deluding us to seek from such futile things what only God can give? Are they keeping us from the pattern of fellowship and gathering together we see in the early church?
147 See Win and Charles Arn’s excellent book, The Master’s Plan for Making Disciples, Church Growth Press, Pasadena, CA, 1982.
148 Arn, p. 37f.
149 Arn, p. 37.
150 Tom Wolf, “Church Growth America,” Jan/Feb. 1978, p. 13.
151 Arn, p. 39.
152 Statistics from Campus Crusade’s “Here’s Life America” conducted in the late 1970s.
153 Wolf, “Church Growth America,” p. 7.
154 “Common Ground,” September, 1990, produced by Search Ministries, 101 W. Ridgely Rd. St. 5-A, Lutherville, MD 21093 (301-252-1246).
155 Arn, p. 43.
156 Arn, pp. 58-79.
157 Arn, p. 60.
158 Arn. p. 62.
159 Arn, p. 64.
160 According to Syndicated News Report KFWB, Los Angeles, June 4, 1981.
161 Arn, p. 83.
162 Arn, pp. 84-85.
163 Ibid., p. 85.
165 Arn, p. 87.
166 Paul Tillich, The Friendship Factor, Augsburg, p. 109.
167Albert Mehrabian, “Communicating Without Words,” Psychology Today, September 1978, p. 53.
168 W. Charles Arn, “How to Find Receptive People,” The Pastor’s Church Growth Handbook, Pasadena Church Growth Press, Pasadena, CA, 1979, p. 43.
169Wayne McDill, Making Friends for Christ, Broadman, Nashville, 1979, p. 96.
170 Roland E. Griswold, By Hook and Crook, Advent Christian General Conference of America, Charlotte, NC, 1981, p. 97.
171 Arn, Master’s Plan, pp. 87-95.
172Ibid., pp. 98-123.
173Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr., “Research for the Growing Church,” Church Growth America, January/February 1981, p. 10.
174 Arn, Master’s Plan, pp. 104-105.
175 Ibid., p. 107.
176Ibid., p. 108.
177 Ibid., p. 110.
178 Ibid., pp. 111-112.
179 For excellent insights on common ground ideas, contact “Common Ground,” a division of Search Ministries, 101 W. Ridgely Rd. Suite 5-A, Lutherville, MD 21093 (301-252-1246). They have bulletin inserts with great ideas for motivating and helping Christians grasp the vision for common ground.
180 Edwin A. Blum, “John,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, the New Testament Edition, Editors, John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Victor Books, Wheaton, 1983, p. 285.
182 Hershel H. Hobbs, An Exposition of the Four Gospels, Vol. 4: The Gospel of John, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 1968, p. 98.
183Frank R. Tillapaugh, The Church Unleashed, Regal Books, Ventura, CA, 1982, pp. 48-49.
184 C. John Miller, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1986, p. 20.
185Don Posterski, Why Am I Afraid to Tell You I Am a Christian? pp. 54-55.
186John Miller, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, p. 19 quoting Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal, InterVarsity, Downers Grove, IL, 1979, p. 207.
187Charles Swindoll, Strengthening Your Grip, Word Books, Waco, TX, 1982, p. 29.