The Pulse of a Healthy Church, Part 3: Bad Witnessing 101

by Rev. Carl Greene

Hebron SDB Church, PA

 

I was one of the most feared pitchers in my Little League Division. Batters would come to the plate with white knuckled twitches as they held their bat and sweat flowed from their brows. I could throw the ball fast and hard. I also had lousy ball control. I could not get many batters out, but man, they feared me!

Realizing that this might not maintain my spot in the pitching rotation, I studied pitching. I learned about split finger fastballs, knuckleballs, curve balls — though interestingly enough, not much about my patented bean ball. I practiced hard to develop multiple pitches — if I had an exclusive pitch the batters would figure me out. At the same time, I wanted to develop a cluster of pitches I was exceptional at.

Let’s consider the potential link between pitching and evangelism. As defined by Intervarsity, “Evangelism is communicating the Good News of Jesus Christ, and inviting response. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God offers the forgiveness of sins, the gift of new life,

and begins the healing of the world.” Now think about how we present that Good News. We can use all sorts of techniques: proclamation of sin and judgment, appeals to intellectual reasoning, storytelling with illustrations, testimonies from our own life, interactive questions, public invitations to profess faith…and the list goes on.

There are lots of potential links between pitching and evangelism: practice, technique, skill, reading the batter, knowing the context, working as a team, etc. But here is a very important clarification. Evangelism is not baseball. Again, evangelism is not baseball. Every technique of evangelism is terrible without the authority of Jesus Christ. Every technique.

Matthew 9:35-38 presents a clear picture of Jesus using a variety of techniques to share the Good News in different contexts. He is bringing the same message of the gospel, but presenting it through different means. Yet, it is far from only about technique — there is a critical prerequisite. When Jesus sends out the twelve disciples in 10:1 to follow His example, He “gave them authority.” For the disciples to follow Jesus’ methods of evangelism, they need to be working under His authority, not their own slick plans. Working under Jesus’ example and authority leads us to:

  1. See the harvest
  2. Pray for the harvest
  3. Labor in the harvest.

See the harvest. Jesus directly tells the disciples: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few…” Jesus is telling them to see the harvest, take notice of what is there and respond to it. But Jesus does a whole lot more than encouraging the disciples to see the harvest; He sets an example of what seeing the harvest looks like. In fact, Jesus’ example of seeing the harvest provides insights for us. The context of the harvest matters.

Let’s think about context with a peanut butter illustration. I love peanut butter. I put it on celery, carrots, toast, ice cream, spoons — you name the food, and peanut butter is a worthy addition. I also put peanut butter on mousetraps. Once again, very effective on mousetraps, but not quite the same as on top of my bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. It is the same exact peanut butter, but the different context requires special attention.

Notice the example that Jesus sets of seeing the context of harvest in verses 35-36. Jesus brings the Good News by: 1) teaching in their synagogues, 2) proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and 3) healing every disease and every affliction. Let’s think about each of these contexts.

Teaching in the synagogues. The synagogue is where practicing Jews gathered for singing, prayer, scripture reading, and a Homily, or sermon. Does this sound somewhat similar to a modern-day church worship service? This was a structured setting for worship and teaching. This was a setting that Jesus readily used to bring the Good News.

This has direct application for us. We often see evangelism as only reaching outside the four walls of the church. As David Fox advocated at General Conference this past year, the modern-day church must not overlook her mission to present the gospel in compelling ways within the four walls of the church building. Jesus sets the example of utilizing the unique context of structured worship to bring the Good News — we need to intentionally do the same. It is a terrible miss if we assume the gospel is somehow wrapped into our services — we must purposefully seek the harvest within the context of the church.

Proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. Jesus also brought the Good News to unstructured, unorganized groups of people. Jesus went to people who were not within the organization of the synagogue. We have the clear example of Jesus repeatedly proclaiming in all sorts of places — wherever a crowd would tend to assemble. Jesus brought the same message of the Good News — yet it appears as though it was not a cookie cutter presentation. Same message, different style of presentation.

This is once again a tremendous example for us. While the church must purposefully teach within the four walls, she must also press outward and proclaim beyond the comfort zone. What are opportunities to share the Good News within the community? What are ways to assemble groups outside the church building? Could it be a backyard barbecue, a concert, etc.? It is imperative that you and I consider ways to intentionally proclaim the gospel — and not just within the comfortable walls of the church building. This also requires honesty. We label all sorts of things as outreach into the community. The labels make us feel good, but often are not truly evangelism. How much gospel proclamation of the kingdom is my church truly doing in the community?

Healing every disease and every affliction. Jesus was about meeting physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Jesus was all about meeting individuals where they were in life. Jesus establishes a tremendous example of connecting His ministry to the needs of individuals. Perhaps there is something for us to take in here. Part of bringing the message of the Good News is practicing the Good News with hurting individuals around us. People with emotional and spiritual wounds are around us at work, at our kids’ soccer games, in the grocery store — do we slow down enough to bring the Good News to individuals God has placed in our life?

Pray for the harvest. Jesus does not stop at advocating the disciples to see the harvest, but to take the next step and pray: “therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Jesus does not tell the disciples to jump in with their own strength — He tells them to pray for the Lord to send laborers, and not just any laborers.

In verse 36, Jesus demonstrates the compassion needed in laborers of the harvest. The compassion flows from seeing that the crowds “were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” When we are told that Jesus had “compassion,” that literally means that His “heart went out to them.” This concern was due to the condition of the sheep — not because He thought they simply made stupid choices repeatedly. In fact, rather than blaming the crowd for their emotional and spiritual condition, He placed the blame on the religious community. These people were lost because they were without a shepherd — the believers were not doing their job to draw the lost into the kingdom.

This prayer should therefore be something of a confession for us. When we ask God to send laborers into the harvest, it is in part a confession that we have not been doing our job. It is not simply because we minister to a “stiff-necked generation.” The problem is also us. We need to confess our need for God to send us — that we will be under Christ’s authority.

Again, do not miss this. Notice who this prayer is for. It is for you and me. It is through prayer that our vision of harvest is more fully Christ-like. It is when God shapes our hearts with His compassion that we see His harvest. It is through prayer that we confess how we have not labored under His authority in the past. Prayer is also where we are prepared to labor in that harvest.

Labor in the harvest. Matthew 10:1 — “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority…” The first thing that takes place after Jesus calls the disciples to pray for laborers in the harvest, is Jesus sending the disciples out as laborers. Important principle here: Be careful what you pray for!

Jesus has moved the disciples through an important series of steps. First, He calls them to see the harvest — noticing the unique context of each setting. Second, He calls them to pray for the harvest, specifically for the laborers to be prepared and sent. Finally, He sends the twelve disciples out as the laborers — distinctly under His authority.

Here are two questions to ponder. How do we prepare to labor in this caring harvest of the Kingdom? How do you and I intentionally grow into the role of harvest laborers?

We will find answers to those questions by looking at Leviticus 19 next time. Because, who, after all, does not love the Book of Leviticus?

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