I recently received a newsletter for a couple that has a college campus ministry. The theme of the newsletter was based around Matthew 9:37-39. “The harvest is so great, but the workers are so few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask Him to sent out more workers for His fields.” I’m not sure what translation that is from. And that isn’t the point. Part of the newsletter grabbed my attention. “This time around the verse stood out to me as to who owns the project of reaching others. As I continue to work with this generation, there often are nights I lay my head on my pillow and never feel the work is done. The verse rings so true in my ministry where there just isn’t enough Christians witnessing to their peers. Too many have rested on the coat tail of the ‘professionals’ in the church. I realize that I fall into that camp and often wonder if we, by the title of leader, perpetuate the problem, But then, I realize that there are ways in which I can change how others view themselves by how I lead them.” While I think I agree with the general sentiment of this servant of the Lord, I also think there are some problems with this view of evangelism and the pressure it puts on believers.
Where does evangelism come from? Why do people witness? Or maybe it should be “where should evangelism come from” and “why should people witness”? One obvious thing about all of this is that Jesus commands us to go make disciples. But making disciples isn’t the same as making converts. Making converts is the first step. The problem is that we don’t make converts, the Holy Spirit does. And therein lay the catalyst for evangelism, witness, and the entire Christian existence.
In Acts 1:8 Jesus said that we shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon us. Not just power for its own sake but for a specific purpose; to be witnesses to Him. Evangelism and witnessing are supposed to be a Holy Spirit driven/inspired/empowerd process. When I was in high school I was involved with a very seeker sensitive youth group. Once in my junior year they took us all witnessing at a mall. They showed us how to use the Four Spiritual Laws. Disclaimer: there isn’t anything wrong with the 4 laws, they are a great tool and many people have put their faith in Jesus because of them. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, no one wanted to talk to me. I learned (correct or not) that evangelism and witnessing means going up to strangers and trying to talk them into believing in Jesus. In college I hooked up with Campus Crusade for Christ and had a similar experience on a Summer Project. I was in San Diego for 10 weeks witnessing to people on the beach. No one wants to hear abut Jesus when they are on vacation and trying to get a tan. It was very forced and I hated doing it. But I was a Christian and I was supposed to do this, right? Wrong.
To be a witness means to testify as to what you know about something or someone, or what you experienced. It would be pointless for someone to testify to something they had no knowledge of or didn’t experience. Yet that is exactly what many Christians are told they ought to be doing. That was me in high school and my early college years. I was a Christian in title and practice (basically) but I had no relationship with Jesus. I had no personal knowledge Him or experience with Him. It was all head knowledge, all facts and figures. Many Christians operate this same way. Many churches produce Christians that are like this and that’s all they ever know. They are supposed to share the gospel and lead people in a sinner’s prayer, and that’s about it because that is it, isn’t it? That’s being a Christian. That’s witnessing. Right? Not really.
When you read the book of Acts you see what I like to call the Holy Spirit School of Evangelism. People had a relationship with the Holy Spirit right along with Jesus and the Father. They had the full meal deal. Evangelism was a fruit, a natural byproduct of walking, living a life, in the Lord. There was no compartmentalization of public life, private life, church life, etc. It was all one life in Jesus. When we live life like that, we will have a witness, we will have something to testify about. “The is what Jesus has done and is doing in my life.” That’s all that witnessing is. It’s the Holy Spirit working in, on, and through you. It’s also a matter of the Spirit working in, on, and through the person you are witnessing to. The Spirit is the one who convicts the heart, He is the one who saves souls. We just show up, deliver the message, and watch Him work. That’s the way it is supposed to work. It has from time to time, so why isn’t it now?
That’s the way it was in the old days of Calvary Chapel. At least that’s what I’ve been told. It was a move of the Spirit as the simplicity of God’s word went out. The Lord truly built His church and the power of the Spirit was the drive. I don’t mean lost of stuff like tongues, miracles, and emotionalism. I mean the power of the Spirit working in hearts and minds, doing things only He could do. What changed? In the 1980’s the seeker sensitive movement came about and many CCs got on board. Some overtly, some didn’t know they did. The seeker thing started for the right reasons. Well, kinda. In most places church was still boring and legalistic. No one wanted to go. No one wanted to hear about God from their neighbors either because those neighbors didn’t have anything to share. They had the 4 laws but no testimony of their own. What was the solution? Change church so its a fun place to go, a place for your family to be. If you can get them in the doors you can give them the message. But no one wants to hear about sin and hell so we will tone those ideas way down. And in order for people to be more receptive to the message we need to set the right mood with lights, music, maybe dramas. And once we get them to convert we have to get them to commit so we will put these new people in charge of thing to make them stick around and have ownership. That’s how we build a church. See God? Look what we did!
Wait, time out. Who builds the church? Whose church is it? What is the point of the gospel? It’s so easy to think you are doing the work of the Lord and that that’s a good thing, but the reality is that the Lord is supposed to do the work of the Lord. He is supposed to build His church. His Spirit is supposed to work in the world to convict of sin, righteousness, and judgment. When you read Acts you read about ordinary people who were continually soaked and saturated in the Holy Spirit. Those are the ones who God uses to reap the harvest. Those are the ones who have a witness, something with which to testify.
We don’t need more Christians witnessing to their peers. We don’t need to leave it up to the professionals. We need more Christians to actively and deliberately develop their relationship with the Spirit so that they will be equipped to be used by the Spirit. When we all do this, pastors or not, then we will see the harvest. We will see more fruits of the Spirit and less works of the flesh (see Galatians 5:16+). We will have, in our own lives, that sense of relationship, power, confidence, faith, and relationship with the Most High God, creator of Heaven and Earth. That, after all, is the point of all of this.