I want to offer a few principles for shifting to a more effective disciple-making movement in our time. It’s really not profound; it’s just not the situation most of us see in churches today. Here’s the goal: growing followers of Christ who intentionally live to bring the joy of God through the church to those we influence by our words and deeds out of the lives God has given to us.
That’s a mouthful, so I will unpack it in five propositions. Here’s the first:
Rehearse the gospel of Jesus every day until it consumes your affections, informs your perspective and guides your decisions.
Why are so many Christians living in fear? We have forgotten the greatness of the good news in Jesus and how it affects not only our church lives, but every aspect of our lives.
Look at Acts 8:4-5: “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there.”
How did the early church react to suddenly extremely adverse conditions? They mobilized to elect a leader who would put up a wall to protect them. OK, they didn’t get a vote. But neither did they live for either protection or comfort. Go back and read Acts 4:23-31 where they prayed to God in the face of persecution. They didn’t ask God to take away their oppression, but to give them boldness to proclaim Christ. Guess what? Not only in chapter 4 but also here in chapter 8, God did that. Verse 4 says all believers scattered and shared Christ, and then Philip offers a specific example of this.
The difference between the early church and the current church is they only had hope in Christ, while we have hope in Christ, and our bank account, and our culture (either to like us or leave us alone), and our circumstances. We live divided lives that create weakened convictions about both the providence of God and the call of God to make disciples no matter the society’s perspective on the gospel. Too many of us talk more each week about our sports team than our Savior and fret more over our financial portfolio than the lost around us.
The situation in the church must change from a “give me comfort, give me protection” perspective to an “I lay down my life for the sake of the gospel” view.
We can understand the gospel in at least a couple of ways. One is the essence of the gospel: the announcement of the good news of Jesus Christ made possible through His death and resurrection. The gospel is never less than this. And yet it is more. The gospel also can be seen as a great epic: the grand narrative of redemption seen from Genesis to Revelation, the Story that makes sense of all stories. In his wonderful book Fool’s Talk, Os Guinness reminds us the gospel is both truth and a beautiful story. We need to recapture the wonder of the gospel story while affirming its truth. Or as the early church father Ignatius observed: “Christianity consists not merely of persuading people of ideas, but also inviting them to share in the greatness of Christ.”
In the great awakenings people recaptured a wonder for the glory of God. Dramatic movements of evangelism, church planting and social justice erupted from these works of God. But central to these movements was a renewed vision of the gospel. Great awakening preachers did not preach “how to have revival” sermons; they preached the gospel. We don’t talk about Jesus with our lost friends because we don’t talk about Him enough in our churches!
I cannot emphasize this enough. Feed your flock the Word, and give them Jesus. Show them how the gospel affects their everyday life whether they are a doctor, lawyer, preacher, teacher or a butcher, baker or candlestick maker. People imitate what we celebrate, and there is nothing more glorious than our rescuing Savior.