To all my brethren in Christ, called to be saints;
Grace, mercy and peace from our God, our Father, and from Jesus, our Lord, Savior and King. In this long letter, which ends in an appeal to our church leaders, I would like to submit to you that our churches should not be considering Evangelism to be their core function. Instead, their primary function should be to ensure that we, their members, grow in the Spirit, and that we stay spiritually clean, since Jesus, our Lord cleansed us with His own blood, and freed us from the power of darkness (Colossians 1:13).
The scriptural passage in Matthew that is used often to support the idea that one of the (if not “the”) primary function(s) of our churches should be to evangelize, is the commission message that Jesus, after His resurrection, gave to His disciples:
Matthew 28:18-20 – And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Because of what Jesus said above, most churches today feel obligated to have an “outreach ministry”, whether locally in their community, or even abroad, where they will organize missionary trips in which some of their members will travel sometimes thousands of miles to “preach” the Good News.
But have you ever wondered how this practice of “outreach” that is so prevalent today aligns itself with the practices of the early churches?
Where is the Outreach?
Consider all the following letters, in fact all the epistles: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude. These letters are addressed either to a church (a group of brethren), or a leader of a church. We shall address Revelation after.
These letters are outstandingly devoid of passages where the brethren are exhorted to evangelize. Can you, for instance, find a passage in any of these letters where the authors (Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude) went so much as even raising the importance of the brethren embarking on some outreach ministry? Can you think of a passage in any of these letters where the authors felt the need to reprimand the brethren for not doing outreach?
If outreach, the reaching of the “lost”, should be one of the key functions of a church, then why are the Apostles of Jesus not addressing this issue with the early churches? In everything they raised in their letters, they either 1) encouraged the brethren to do even more of what they were doing right (1 Thessalonians 4:1), 2) exhorted them to persevere in their sufferings (1 Peter 2:20-22), or 3) reprimanded them for either slacking in their walk or for being completely off-mark (Galatians 5:7). But WHERE, WHERE do we read them speak of outreach, of going into town to reach others, or of traveling long distances to spread the good news?
In addition, consider the letter that our Lord Jesus addressed to the seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation. In His address, Jesus did a number of things in each church: 1) He acknowledged what they were doing right (Revelation 2:2,3), 2) He pointed out the issue(s) He had with them (Revelation 2:14,15), 3) He counselled them on what they should do to correct the wrong (Revelation 3:3), and 4) He made a promise to anyone who would listen, whom He called, the overcomers (Revelation 3:21).
We should find it peculiar that whether as a commendation, or even a rebuke, in none of the churches does Jesus bring the subject of outreach, or evangelism. If some of the seven churches were great at evangelizing, we do not see Jesus acknowledging it, and if some of them were worst at outreaching, we do not see Jesus addressing this issue either! How is it therefore that churches today consider outreach to be one of their most essential functions when neither Jesus nor any of His disciples seemed to dwell on it when caring for the early church members? Why is there such a contrast on the subject when we compare Jesus and His Apostles on one hand, and on the other, many of our church leaders today? Rather than focusing on outreach, what do we instead see our Lord and His Apostles to be focused on?
Before addressing this last question, two facts are worth mentioning:
1) The scripture instructs us that it is God, not us, who adds to the Church those who will be saved. It is by the Will of GOD, not of man, that men are saved
Acts 2:47 – And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
John 1:12,13 – But to all who…believed in his name, he [JESUS] gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
2) Evangelists are but one of several groups of people in God’s arsenal of servants
Ephesians 4:11,12 – And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ
Now, I am certainly not suggesting in any way, shape or form that evangelism is unnecessary. Matter of fact, it is so necessary that, as we just saw, God has Evangelists as a special category of servants. However, just as not everyone has been called and gifted to be an Apostle, not everyone has been called or gifted to be an Evangelist. Hence, what I am suggesting is that the idea that evangelism should be one of the core function of each church has no scriptural basis.
What did Jesus and His Apostles focus on?
Returning now to our last question, if we do not see either Jesus or His Apostles focusing on outreach, what do we see them focusing on instead? What seemed to be their priority when caring for the church?
Time and again, and returning to all the letters we mentioned earlier, we see that the focus of the Apostles was on what we would label “spiritual purity” (the putting to death of that which is earthly) and spiritual growth (the putting on of that which is heavenly) in the brethren, the members of the churches.
2 Corinthians 6:14 – Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
Colossians 3:5,8,9 – Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices.
2 Peter 1:5-8 – For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, we see the same focus when we look at the criteria that the Apostle Paul gave to Timothy (1 Timothy 3) for the appointment of church leadership. Those criteria centered around the leader being a model that can be imitated by the church members, and on his ability to truly care for the flock. But nowhere do we see Paul requiring such a person to have made his mark in outreach efforts, or to be effective as an outreach minister. Paul simply made absolutely no reference to outreach when it comes to what should be the focus of good leadership. The focus of the leader should be toward the flock he has been entrusted with.
Churches in Revelation:
Lastly, we also see the same focus on the members’ spiritual purity and growth when Jesus addressed the seven churches in the book of Revelation. The church at Ephesus had abandoned its first love (which we understand to be His affectionate love for Jesus). The church at Pergamos was tolerating false doctrines within its midst. The church at Thyatira was also allowing false doctrine to persist within its midst. The church of Sardis had completely slacked to the point of death. And the Laodiceans were no longer hotly zealous for God, yet they thought they were at the pinnacle of where a church should be. All these issues were matters that were “internal” to the churches. They were matter of individual personal growth, as well as spiritual purity and sound doctrine within the church.
And such were also the commendations of Jesus, which were matters that looked inward, and not outward (as would be the case with “outreach”). For instance, the Ephesians were commended for their labor for Jesus, and for successfully identifying false Apostles within their midst and casting them out. Those in Pergamos were commended for staying faithful even in the face of martyrdom. And Philadelphia was commended for keeping the faith, and was told to hold fast that which it had (and so were also told some in Thyatira).
I submit to you that it results from the above that the primary focus of any church, any group of brethren should be directed “inward”, toward “itself”. Evangelizing, outreach should NOT be the primary focus of the church. God did appoint SOME to be evangelists. They will do their part, and the rest of us should do ours. It is true that with today’s technology, a Pastor in the United States could be bringing the Gospel to someone in the remote confine of India. But the flock, the brethren should be the focus, not the “so-called” lost. There are Evangelists for that, and they will by the grace of God do their tasks. Those who read this letter and have been gifted to evangelize should by the Holy Spirit continue to strive to put to good use the gift that has been given to them. However, for the rest, and particularly for the church leaders, their focus should be directed toward the flock that God has given them. They should not be focusing on those who are outside, and whom God has not given to them! By imitating Jesus Himself and His Apostles, our church leaders will find themselves spending all their energy in caring for the portion of the flock entrusted to them, by doing everything possible by the help of the Holy Spirit to ensure that their members continuously grow spiritually and maintain themselves spiritually pure. Should God decide to add some sheep to that pastor or teacher, so be it, and may that Pastor or teacher be counted of double honor for it. But until then, his focus should be leading to green pastures the flock that has been entrusted to him.
Hence the plea to the vast majority of our pastors and teachers: Please shift your focus away from evangelism and direct it instead toward the flock you have been entrusted with. You will have more time to feed the flock so that it may grow and mature, in such a way that it will not be carried away by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14), or continue to be easily entangled by sin (Hebrews 12:1). I believe that such inward focus lines up more accurately with Christ and the church fathers. It is the Father, not you, who adds to the Church. And it is the Father (not, you, yourself) who prunes you so that you may bear more fruits. Be therefore diligent with what God has given you, and He shall prune you so that you may bear even more fruits, either by giving you more people, or by some other means.
May the grace of God be with all of us. In the name of Jesus-Christ, our Lord.