By Kevin Cauley
Jesus mission while he was upon the earth was to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). Inasmuch as the church belongs to her Lord (Matthew 16:18), she is to be about that same mission as well. Within that mission, there are those who need to be saved and there are those who are saved. Evangelism concerns itself with the former category. There is no doubt that the church needs to be in the business of evangelism. The church is God’s plan for man’s salvation today and as such needs to sound the message of the gospel to those who are not saved. This is epitomized in the great commission. Jesus said,
“Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:19, 20 ASV).
The twelve had the specific charge to get this done within their lifetimes. The church was the instrument through which this charge was carried out. Today, the church stands as the instrument for world evangelism as well. Often times when we think of world evangelism we think about supporting evangelists in other parts of the world. While the concept of world evangelism certainly includes this, we should not think of world evangelism as exclusive of our own communities. World evangelism includes THE ENTIRE WORLD. We cannot fulfill the great commission without taking the gospel to our “neck of the woods” as well. We find, in fact, that this is exactly the pattern that Jesus had for the apostles. In Acts 1:8b we read, “and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Notice the order in which Jesus charges the apostles to work: First, Jerusalem, then Judaea, then Samaria, then the rest of the world. They were to start locally and then branch out over time. Herein lies a great principle. Local evangelism ultimately supports foreign evangelism. Do you wish to expand your foreign evangelistic efforts? Expand your local evangelistic efforts.
I am afraid that in the United States we have allowed the general apathy of her citizens to quash our efforts at local evangelism. It is true that there is a great deal of apathy regarding biblical things within the United States, but this should not hinder us. Our job is not to “grow the church” but to plant the seed and water (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). God will give the increase! It would be great if every single individual Christian were a personal worker extraordinaire!
However, we know from experience that not everyone is able to do this. Moreover, the Bible teaches that different people have different abilities (1 Corinthians 12:12-25). Thus, it is biblical for different people to have different roles within the church. This is why it is often very expedient for some sort of local evangelistic plan to be put into place. The specifics of the plan are not what is important. There are various methods for doing personal work within one’s local community. What is important is that the plan includes the potential for everyone within the local congregation to aid in the effort. The plan should come from the leadership of the congregation–the eldership. The plan should be something on which these men are united. The congregation should understand and want to be involved in the execution of the plan. The involvement of the local preacher should be participatory and not administrative–it is the work of the church! If the book of Acts teaches anything, it is that when the people worked, the church grew!
Foreign evangelism should not, however, be discounted. A balanced approach is the best here. There are some that say, let’s merely focus on local evangelism and not foreign evangelism. There are some that say we should focus only upon foreign evangelism and not local evangelism. Both would be incorrect in their assessment. The church has an obligation to the local community to preach the gospel locally. However, the church has the additional obligation of expanding beyond the local. The church of Jesus was not created to be a static institution. But how can a local congregation support missionaries in every single country of the world? Simply answered, she can’t. It would be virtually impossible for one congregation with her limited resources to do such. This is why the great commission was given to the church as a whole through the apostles.
The church as a whole must cooperate to ensure that the world is evangelized. This means that some local congregations will only have part in specific areas of the world and not the world as a whole. It is not wrong for a local congregation to focus upon one particular area of the world in foreign evangelistic efforts. It would be wrong for the church as a whole to say we are not going to evangelize any particular part of the world. This involves and necessitates cooperation with other churches. We find that this is exactly what the early church did in regard to evangelism. Various congregations supplied various different missionaries to go into the work in various different locations. Paul and Barnabas were associated with Antioch (Acts 13:1-2). Philip was associated with the church at Jerusalem (Acts 8). Timothy came from the congregation in the area of Derbe and Lystra (Acts 16:1). However, we see that they all worked together to evangelize the world. So must we today.
Understanding our individual and collective obligations in evangelizing the world goes a long way toward fulfilling those obligations. There is one additional obligation in which each and every person must participate in our efforts at evangelism–prayer. Jesus instructed us to pray that the Lord of harvests would send more laborers into the harvest (Luke 10:2). Paul instructed that we pray that the word of the Lord have “free course” in the world (2 Thessalonians 3:1). He also instructed that we pray that God open doors of opportunity for us to work in His kingdom (Colossians 4:3). Let each one of us resolve that we will pray for the work of evangelism both locally and foreign as if everything depended upon God and let us work as if everything depended upon us. With God for us, who can be against us?