Tuesday, May 1, 2012

We've Been Doing it All Wrong

Paul Washer on The Great Commission

 "The Great Commission is not limited to the making of individual disciples, but involves bringing each believer into an interdependent relationship with others in the context of a local church." --Paul Washer

I just got my copy of HeartCry Missionary Society's Magazine for this quarter and Paul Washer has an excellent article on The Great Commission.   This quote may be one of the most significant things Washer says in the article, although it is all very good.

Some of my street evangelist friends may chafe a bit when they read a quote like this.  We have been taught that we need to evangelize everyone we meet and leave the results to the Lord.  We carry gospel tracts with us everywhere we go and we have been trained to engage complete strangers in order to share the gospel with them.  Some of my friends travel the world presenting the gospel over and over again to strangers in open-air preaching, one-to-one and mass tract distribution.  Living Waters reported recently that in a period of 12 or 13 years they have had a part in distributing 150 million gospel tracts.  Other tract ministries could report numbers in the millions as well. 

I love street evangelism.  I believe it is a primary way of spreading the gospel that many believers ignore today.  I believe that a resurgence in this methodology, if rooted in sound theology and in reality with the Lord of the harvest, could result in revival in the church and a large ingathering of souls into the Kingdom.  I believe so much in this methodology that I have written and edited several tracts that have a fairly wide distribution.  I wrote a book making the Biblical case for street evangelism.  I still stand by what I wrote there. 

Methodological Error

But let's shoot straight for a moment.  Where are the large numbers of people being added into existing local churches?  Where are the church plants that have come from these efforts? 

Our methodology is off.  We have no Biblical warrant in the context of the entire New Testament to simply proclaim the gospel with no concern for the planting or strengthening of churches as a result.  We have no Biblical warrant for the ministry of traveling evangelists who go into a city, proclaim the gospel widely, and do nothing to teach them to observe all that Jesus commanded (Mt. 28:18-20). We have no basis to organize large scale street outreaches in cities or at events where we have no plans on referring believers to good local churches.  Entire ministries have been built on this erroneous concept.  While they have served an important role of bringing the gospel to many, we are not called to bring the gospel to someone and then leave them there. If I am wrong, show me from the pattern we have in Acts that I am wrong. 

Furthermore, we cannot call it missionary work when traveling street evangelists exclusively visit other ministries who are already doing evangelism in a city.  This kind of thing can be encouraging once in awhile, but to make this a pattern of ministry is Biblically unwarranted.  Paul traveled and visited churches he established in order to train and encourage them.   The best thing most traveling street evangelists could do would be to settle in a sound local church or become a part of a church planting team and use their talents there. 

When we reject the Biblical model for what is happening right now based on the fact that, after all, people are hearing the gospel we are being pragmatists.  God knows better than we do how to do evangelism and He has ordained only one organization for its propagation: the local church.  Is God able to use the local church to reach those same people that you have reached without using a methodology which is contradictory to revealed truth?

Let's be clear: I am not advocating an abandonment of street evangelism.  I am advocating doing evangelism prolifically in the area where your local church is. And I am advocating your deep involvement with that local church beyond evangelism.

What We Need is Not What We Want

You need to have friends who do not evangelize but who are prayer warriors.

You need to have friends who do not evangelize but who are passionate students and teachers of the Word.

You need to have friends who love to serve the poor and destitute.

You need to have friends who scrub toilets at church and wash dishes after fellowship dinners.

You need to have friends who love to sing praises to God.

You need to have these friends with the intent of not only pushing your evangelism agenda, but listening to their agendas as well.  You don't know everything.  And evangelism is not the sum total of Christian existence.  You need to learn to love the pre-schoolers in your church.  Maybe you need to change some diapers in a nursery or go to a school concert to support a teenager in your church.  You need an avenue to love the brethren, including those who do not do evangelism.  You need a place to live and die with the family of God.  You need to live out the commands of Scripture that are attached to the "one anothers" of the epistles.  If you only beat the drum of evangelism and don't live out the commands we have for the community of believers, your obedience is half hearted.

I am afraid many of us, myself most definitely included, need to get over ourselves.  Evangelism will not die with us when we die.  It will live on in the local church.  Bury yourself there and be content to never be heard from again just so long as Jesus is famous and the local church is strong. 


Michael Coughlin said...

Amen, bro. This is why I disagree with the "let them forget our name" philosophy. Let's make disciples!

I believe this also is the main factor in a trend I've noticed: fervent, doctrinally sound, bold evangelists ... who themselves are not living lives of holiness. I praise God for you, bro!

Tony Miano said...

Well said, Jon. Well said.

Michael: Some of us use the adage "let them forget our name" in the context of "let them forget our name and, instead, may they remember Christ." The adage is used this way to encourage street evangelists to never lose sight of the fact that it is Him we proclaim (Colossians 1:28) and not ourselves.


Marv Plementosh - One Million Tracts said...

Well said - well said - and well written. It is amazing to look over the the last 8 years and see how we have all changed and matured... Hopefully that trend continues...

Washington DC Evangelists said...

Every Christian, if they really are a Christian, and also active in evangelism needs to be in a local Church, or they are not Christian at all.

Steve Bauer said...

Hey Jon,

Great article. I agree with what you are saying. We don't support people with our ministry unless they are part of a sound, Biblical church. And as Mr. Miano has made the argument in the past, the idea of being a "rogue evangelist" without any submission to a local church body is (and should be) verboten.

However, there are those out there who are going all over the country and preaching everywhere they go (Mike Stockwell, Robert Gray are just a couple of examples). They remind me of Phillip when he witnessed from the Scriptures to the Ethiopian. I know their heart, zeal and that God does in fact, use these men. Does your article imply that they are wrong for doing so? Not trying to be argumentative with you. :) Just seeking clarification.

David J. Dunbar said...

Agreed. Although there is certainly a place for the proclamation of the gospel in an area where you will never be again, how much better to do it locally under the authority of your local church, so that saints will be trained and encouraged, and so that the lost will indeed have somewhere to go (a biblical church) after they've been converted.

There are many false teachers out there, many so-called churches that don't teach the gospel. Why would we leave a new-born babe to fend for himself? The "God will take care of him" is a poor excuse, because God could have taken him the gospel without your help, too, but He has ordained evangelism and shepherding to be a part of the local church.

Dave Dunbar www.GBCallen.org

Grace Abounds said...

Jon, very good blog post. Totally agree. I know when I was out there on the streets, I thought it was the end-all of being a Christian. God, has since, taught me otherwise!

Whoa there Washington! I think we should be careful with our observations. I am in bed sick and have called on many churches to come visit (cuz I can't make it to church), yet none come. We need to be really careful what we say as Christians - a person is not a Christian if they have not repented and believed the gospel, not if they don't go to church. :)

Tamara Slack

Jon Speed said...

D.C.: We are justified by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and not our work for Jesus.

Steve: I can't comment on any specific evangelist. I will comment on my own actions. I have organized large scale outreaches, trained street evangelists, and traveled as an evangelist without emphasizing the local church. I was well intentioned and at times was used by God to bring salvation to the lost. But one way we glorify God is not only in doing "something" when everyone else seems to be doing nothing, but also by seeking to be as accurate as we can be in our methodologies.

One thing I will say to anyone is that they need the direct influence of the local church on a regular basis and not on a hit and miss basis. I don't see how anyone can obey the commands regarding the local church when the majority of their time is on the road.

BTW, I wouldn't use Philip as a normative example for how things were done in Acts since he was "teleported" out of the area when he was done. Yes, we should share the gospel as we go (which is what Philip did) but when we see the apostles traveling to share the gospel, their pattern was church planting (Acts 14:23). The point in the story of the eunuch is not the methodology, but the fact that the gospel was being spread to a Gentile. If it was methodology, then we would expect Paul to follow that method exclusively, but Acts 14:23, the rest of the Book of Acts and the epistles don't bear that out.

Michael Coughlin said...

Hey Tony - Amen. I understand the intent of the adage, and the need to teach humility to aspiring evangelists. But I believe the phrase can be misunderstood (especially out of context) and it would be better to encourage people to proclaim Christ and also hope that people we minister to remember how to get a hold of us.

FortC said...

I very much agree with what Paul Washer is quoted as saying at the beginning of this article.

In the main I agree with what Jon is saying. I think that those who disdain living as an active contributing member of a local church are opposing the truth of Scripture.

If people are coming to Christ because of our evangelism, I think that they will also want to be part of a good solid local healthy church. We should help them as much as we can by our example and by direct encouragement/teaching on the mandate to be an active member of a local church. The problems we face are huge. There is a serious lack of good solid churches in many areas. Much of this is because of the prevailing pragmatism when it comes to the question of how we interact with the world at large. So I say, Yes! to being a vital part of the local church and teaching the need for genuine church membership. But, I say No! to the idea that we should do it for pragmatic reasons. Let's do what we do because it is the right thing to do for the glory of God. Let's work at being a part of the solution when it comes to the local church. I am seeking to be ordained as a pastor/elder in my local church at this time for this very reason. I do not intend to stop doing the work of an evangelist. I want to be an example by the grace of God to my fellow believers and to every member of our local church.

Patrick Hegarty

Washington DC Evangelists said...

Fort C is right and I have had that problem with trying to send people to solid Churches, because people are always coming up to us to ask about where to go to Church. And I use to tell them that to find a Bible believing Church, but the problem is that every Church says they are a Bible based Church, even Joe Osteen says he is, and he will lift his Bible up to show you too. So I made a special tract that took people to the 9Marks Church Search Tool (http://www.washingtondcevangelists.com/Store/Free-Gospel-Tracts.html), but the problem with that is that there are not many Churches on that list, so I found a few more and put them all on to one webpage on my website (http://www.washingtondcevangelists.com/Resources/Online-Church-Search-Tool.html) and I now direct people to that webpage and if they have any questions or want to talk, they can contact us through the website.

Damon said...

Jon: Here is the difficulty I have with what you are saying. You say that evangelists should not follow Philips example, but should instead follow the Apostles example. Here is the problem: the apostles had the office of Apostle, and were doing the work of that office. Philip had the office of Evangelist, and was doing the work of THAT office. So I would absolutely consider Philip as an example of what is normative for an evangelist. I would suggest that the book of Acts (and the Epistles) teach an organic Church planting model, rather than a FORCED church planting model, where the evangelist goes into a new area and proclaims the gospel, and then, when fruit is born, the apostles (or in our age, the Pastors and Teachers) come in and equip, and establish a local church. Of course, such a model would demand that the evangelist be part of an established congregation, somewhere, that is able to supply such workers.

Shane Dodson said...

One of the unintended consequences of evangelism divorced from the authority and accountability of the local church? Unregenerate street evangelists. Calling street evangelists back to the local church won't guarantee the absence of hypocritical street preachers, but it will certainly help.

Also...this is an issue not only for evangelists, but for Pastors/elders as well. Evangelists need to get back into the local church, and Pastors/elders need to welcome them and help them serve the church most effectively with their gifts.

John said...

Jon: you say "I wouldn't use Philip as a normative example." True it wasn't the norm but was Philip's methodology off? Does Philip's example not give Biblical warrant for simply sharing the truth of Jesus? Does the parable of the scattering of seeds apply here? What about 1 Corinthians 3:6 where Paul states that "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth."? Was Paul not speaking of this type of evangelism where he shared the gospel but didn't stay to do the watering?

I agree with much of this article. I think doing God's work in the context of our local community and church is good. But, I also think that simply sharing the Law and Gospel with people is good. I don't think we need a complete pendulum swing in all cases.

Jon Speed said...

I've been a little stunned by the reactions here and on Facebook.

The fact that many seem to be looking for loopholes regarding either telling someone about a good local church, their own involvement with a local church, or how they do evangelism without the local church may be more telling about how low we view the local church than anything I have seen in awhile. Why do we feel the need to make exceptions rather than embrace what the Scriptures say?

Does anyone honestly think that I am saying that lost people can go to Hell if there is no local church I can refer them to?

Does anyone honestly think that I am only interested in filling pews for my megachurch (that meets in a small living room)? Some seem to think Peter was compromised for getting a response on Pentecost.

Folks, this is a lot simpler than it's been made by some. Serve your local church. The fact that this is controversial, is frankly, disturbing.

Steve Bauer said...

Amen Jon!

Damon said...


I don't think your main point is controversial (least I hope not). Bro, we are just discussing the details of what you are saying. Be of good cheer. This means people are actually listening to, and considering what you are saying. Much worse to get 0 commments, or a bunch of "Amens" that do not interact with your thoughtful post. I truly hope NO ONE is denying the importance of the local church. However, some of us might disagree with the exact way the evangelist functions within that context. Also: much as I love the wonderful brother who really kicked of the street evangelism movement we are seeing, I believe that individual's own disregard for the local church has resulted in many of his progeny having the same attitude...

Travis Yates said...

Excellent article Jon and needs to be said. I have seen the damage of when evangelists treat the local church like a boxing ring.

Unknown said...

An example in Acts of a person traveling to different cities preaching the Gospel is Philip in Acts chapter 8. He did not follow up on the Samaritans or the Eunuch. It seems he preached to new people in different cities until he reached Ceaserea. I agree about making disciples (who wouldn't)

but you cannot disciple someone who is not converted. I can count on one hand the people converted under my street preaching for the last 5 years. One of those is in a local church still growing in the Lord.

Unknown said...

unknown above is me Lawrence DuBois

PreachTheWORD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Oracio Sandoval said...

Great article Jon. Been feeling the same conviction in recent times myself. I've been trying to focus more on evangelizing in my local area in order to be able to point people to the local church I am involved with. In case anyone is interested, here is another good article along the same line from my friend Josef Urban: http://missionsevangelismtheology.blogspot.com/2010/12/church-planting-and-discipleship-in.html

Tim Rector said...

Praise God! Thank you for those words Jon. We can't use God's sovereignty as an excuse to ignore our responsibility to our local church, or to those whom God has placed in our hands on the street. Each one of us needs to assess the cost of this cross and be prepared to go deeper and deeper in the Lord.

Unknown said...

Wait 'til you guys find out there's even more than just the local "churches", there's actually *the* Church which Christ founded in Jerusalem in 33 AD (hint: it's not the Roman Catholic Church, which split off from the Church in 1054 in what is known as The Great Schism)! This is the same Church which the Scriptures were addressed to (it existed before a single sentence of the collection of writings we know as the New Testament was even penned), which copied and preserved them, and through which the Holy Spirit worked charismatically to settle the Canon of the New Testament. Keep coming...

brian waddell said...

Acts 18..
Acts 18:24-26New International Version (NIV)

24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor[a] and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

brian waddell said...

Acts 18:24-26New International Version (NIV)

24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor[a] and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.