The Purpose of the Church is Evangelism
At an old seminary, there was a custom that the president could call on any student on any day for that morning’s chapel sermon. One young man was petrified, and each day he dreaded going to chapel. Sure enough, one day the president looked over the audience, pointed directly at him, and said, “Young man, you are preaching our sermon today.”
As he ascended the platform he was a nervous wreck. His mouth was dry, his knees were knocking together, his hands were shaking, him mind was reeling, and finally he stammered, “How many of you know what I am going to say today?”
Nobody raised a hand.
“Then neither do I,” he said, and sat down.
The next day as the students filed into chapel, the president again pointed to the young man, giving him a second time. Again, the young man was gripped with stage fright, his hands and knees shaking. With a tremor in his voice, he finally stammered, “How many of you know what I am going to say today?”
This time everyone raised their hand.
“Then if you already know, I don’t need to tell you,” the young man said and promptly sat down.
The president of the seminary was angry, but he decided to give the young man one last chance. The next day, he again called on the student, and this time the student was even more nervous than before. At last he muttered, “How many of you know what I am going to say today?” This time, half the students raised their hands and the other half didn’t.
“Then those of you who know,” he said, “please tell those of you who don’t!”* [i]
This is the essence of evangelism: for those of us who know to tell those of us who don’t know. Evangelism is everybody’s business, and the 4th Biblical purpose of the church.
In my experience, I’ve seen different approaches to evangelism.
Some people are very passionate about evangelism. They talk about soul-winning and leading people to the Lord a lot.
On the other hand a lot of Christians don’t think a lot about evangelism. They think winning people to Christ is the preacher’s job, or the missionaries’ job.
But I wonder how many of us understand Jesus calls us to win the world, but we’re really unsure just how to do it? What this group wants to know is, “How can I reach the lost?”
I want us to address these issues tonight as we look at Matt. 28:18-19.
Like all of the Bible, the context of these verses is very important. Jesus has died for the sins of the world, risen again, and is now spending some bonus time with His disciples. Sometime during these special days, Jesus gives them this Great Commission. But this isn’t the only place you will hear Him give these marching orders. In fact He repeats this commission at least 4 times. Mark 16:14-15; Luke 24:46-48; Acts 1:8.
Why does Jesus repeat this command 4 times? There is a rule of Biblical interpretation I learned a long time ago: when God repeats something in His Word, He does it to emphasize what He says. Jesus is stressing the importance of evangelism. Jesus wants His followers, both in the 1st century and the 21st century to understand evangelism is not an option, but a command from God to all of His people—both as individuals and as the Body of Christ.
But what does this command involve? What is it Jesus is commanding us to do? He makes it very clear.
First of all He says Go… Our Lord has a very different philosophy about evangelism than many churches. Some Christians seem to have this idea Let’s make the church attractive, get a nice building, some good music and preaching, welcome everybody who comes in the door and we’ll fill up the church. I call this the “Field of Dreams” approach: if you build it, they will come. It’s pretty attractive because once you get everything in place, you can just sit back and wait for the crowds to start streaming in. There’s only one problem: that’s not Jesus’ plan for winning the world.
He says go…This word is what in English class you learn is an action verb because, well, it means you have to do something. You can’t sit and go; you can’t stand and go; you’ve got to move. You’ve got to move out of your comfortable pew, move out of your comfort zone, not wait for the lost to come to you but to go where they are and bring the Gospel to them. That is not so attractive. Cartoonist Doug Hall sarcastically put it like this:
The question is, How do we win the world to Christ ... with a minimum of fuss and bother? [ii]
The answer is you won’t win the world to Christ that way. Evangelism is an action verb. It involves effort and energy and dedication and commitment. You cannot obey Christ’s command here by sitting in church and waiting for sinners to come to church. In some way, you and I are commanded to go where they are.
So who exactly are we called to go to? Jesus makes that pretty clear also: Go into all the world…Now think about this for a minute: He gave this command to people living before the invention of the automobile, before the invention of the railroad, before the Wright brothers figured out how to fly. At least one of them had to wonder how in the world can we go into all the world?
I’m sure some of them asked that question. I do know Christians today ask the same question. You’re a stay at home mom, a husband with a steady job, a student who hasn’t even graduated from High School. How in the world do you go into all the world?
Well one thing Jesus did was to break down this task into manageable units in
Acts 1:8 …you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
He’s speaking to His followers in Jerusalem---their home-base. You can bring the Gospel to your own community. That’s how those words would translate into our situation today.
But don’t stop there. …in all Judea….That would be the province in which Jerusalem was a part. For us that might include our county, our state, our own country—what FWBs call home missions. But don’t stop there.
…and Samaria…Here’s the first big leap. Jews and Samaritans hated one another. For centuries they had hated one another. One of the prayers of a good Jew of those days was I thank you Lord I was not born a dog of a Samaritan. There is a cultural barrier of prejudice and race and religion between these two groups of people. But Jesus includes Samaria in their mission, and later on, in Acts 8:4-8 a man named Phillip preaches in Samaria and people are saved and healed and filled with joy.
Samaria represents all of those people who are different from us, people who are separated from us by economic, social, or even racial barriers. Bring them the Gospel? Yes, Jesus says bring them the Gospel.
Finally we get to the final frontier—…to the end of the earth…Jesus wants His Gospel spread all over the world, to every person, in every language and culture.
Now let’s finish out this mission back in Matt. 28:19 by answering the question what are we supposed to go and do? …make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit….That involves 2 things:
1) Bringing the Gospel to them
2) Leading them to be born again through faith in Jesus Christ (symbolized by baptism in
In other words, our mission is not just to get people to church (as important as this is.) Our mission is to lead people to surrender their lives by faith and become committed followers of Jesus Christ.
This is the mission of the church. Brothers and sisters, this is the mission of Gray’s Chapel Free Will Baptist church. Jesus does not call us just to reach the people in our own families, or just in our own communities, or even just in our own country—He calls us to reach the world. That’s not my idea, or the mission board’s idea—it is His idea. Christ expects every single one of us to be involved in the mission of winning the world for Christ.
The logical question is simple: how? Does the Lord expect us all to quit our jobs and move overseas and become missionaries? For some of us, maybe He is calling us to do just that. I have a feeling that a lot of folks are staying home when Christ has called them to go out into the mission field. Some young people, and even some older people.
But that’s not the only way to evangelize the world. What else can we do?
First of all, let’s talk about evangelizing our Jerusalem—our own families and communities. This is the easiest place to begin. We can witness to our friends and family, which I’m sure most of us do to some degree. But how do we reach out with the Gospel to the rest of our community? One way that has worked for churches who are willing to work at it is called visitation.
Almost every Thursday night the FAITH team goes out to visit people who don’t come to church. Many of them don’t know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Sometimes we stop by and chat with people who have visited the church. We go and visit with them, try to develop a relationship with them, invite them to church, but ultimately our goal is to share the Gospel with them. You may have noticed ever so often a new face or two at church, who came because somebody went and visited them.
Do all of those people show up at church? Not all. But they know one thing: we want them to come to church, and we want them to know Jesus. With a little persistence, I believe some of those folks will eventually come to church, and even come to Christ. I do know one thing: if nobody goes, they’re not going to come.
One of my favorite professors, Bro. Terry Forrest, believes strongly in the power of visitation. One of his favorite sayings was this one: if somebody goes, something happens. If nobody goes, nothing happens.
Obviously, everybody cannot be involved at this level of visitation. But right now there are 6 people committed to this ministry. Let me ask you: of all the members of our church, has the Lord Jesus only called 6 of us to go out and win souls? I’ll let you answer that question for yourself. What I can tell you for sure is FAITH visitation is one way you can obey Jesus’ command to go and bring the Gospel to your Jerusalem.
Another way to go into all the world and make disciples is through missions outside our family and community. After all our mission is to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. How should we be involved in this?
First of all, you can become educated about the missionary activity going on all over the world. If you go to our church website, you will find a link to both our FWBIM and FWB Home Missions site, where you can read about individual ministries and even see personal videos of the missionaries telling of who God is working through them.
You can also commit to pray for these missionaries. Don’t just listen to their stories---become prayer warriors for these folks. Any missionary worth their salt will tell you that reaching people with the Gospel involves spiritual warfare, a battle that is only fought and won by prayer.
Third, you and I need to ask ourselves how can we use our own resources to get the Gospel to the world? Gray’s Chapel gives a portion of our tithes and offerings to both the International Missions and Home Missions department of our denomination. But what else could we do?
Finally, you and I need to ask how can I personally get involved in reaching the world for Christ? The world has become a much smaller place, thanks to modern transportation. More and more people have discovered that they can actually go to some of the mission fields and help bring the Gospel to lost people.
The Honduras Mission Team is one very important ministry of our church God may call you to be a part of. Even if you can’t make it for this time round, maybe you need to begin to pray right now if God might want you to join them next year.
I want to expand your vision for what you could do for the Lord. I’m not telling you God is calling you to become a full-time missionary. But there are many opportunities for you to obey Jesus command to reach not just your own circle of friends or your own community, but the world. I believe God wants to use some of us sitting right here to do just that. But it won’t happen until you understand Jesus’ purpose for the church is not to stay in our own holy huddle and hold the fort---Jesus’ purpose for our church is to win the world.
Mark 1:17 Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”
Now it came to pass that a group existed who called themselves fishermen. And lo, there were many fish in the waters all around. In fact, the whole area was surrounded by streams and lakes filled with fish. And the fish were hungry.
Week after week, month after month, and year after year, these who called themselves fishermen met in meetings and talked about their call to fish, the abundance of fish, and how they might go about fishing. Year after year they carefully defined what fishing means and declared fishing is always to be a primary task of fishermen.
After one stirring meeting on "The Necessity for Fishing," one young fellow left the meeting and went fishing. The next day he reported that he had caught two outstanding fish. He was honored for his excellent catch and scheduled to visit all the big meetings possible to tell how he did it. So he quit his fishing in order to have time to tell about the experience to the other fishermen. He was also placed on the Fishermen's General Board as a person having considerable experience.
Now it's true that many of the fishermen lived near the water and bore the smell of dead fish every day. They received the ridicule of some who made fun of their fishermen's clubs and the fact that they claimed to be fishermen yet never fished. They wondered about those who felt it was of little use to attend the weekly meetings to talk about fishing. After all, were they not following the Master who said, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men?"
Imagine how hurt some were when one day a person suggested that those who don't catch fish were really not fishermen, no matter how much they claimed to be. Is a person a fisherman if, year after year, he never catches a fish? Is one following if he isn't fishing?[iii]
Jesus Christ calls you and I—every single one of us—to be fishers of men. He left nobody out. That is the purpose of the church---to catch the souls of men for Christ. What are we doing to fulfill that calling? Gray’s Chapel cannot win the world all by ourselves---but we can do our part, both as individuals and as a Body—to bring the Gospel to our community and our world. That is our purpose as a church. Will we answer that call from the Lord? Will you commit yourself to being involved in Christ’s purpose for His church?
* This story was told to me in the 1970s by an elderly gentleman with whom I shared a few minutes on the patio of the Pocket Testament League in Pennsylvania.
[i]Robert J. Morgan, Nelson's Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000),
[ii] Cartoonist Doug Hall in Leadership, Vol. 14, no. 2.
[iii] Darrell W. Robinson, People Sharing Jesus, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995, pp. 21-23.