Yesterday was our last official adult education class on Robert Coleman’s book The Master Plan of Evangelism. I summarized our last class here, with links to my blog posts on the first two classes. Next week we are going to do a Bible study of Barnabas who one of our pastors says was the earliest recorded evangelist (besides the original 11 disciples) to implement Jesus’ plan.
So far throughout Coleman’s book the emphasis has been on relationship. Evangelism happens best in one-on-one relationships and small groups. Jesus carefully selected His disciples, spent time with them, set them apart for God’s work, imparted to them His wisdom and ultimately His Holy Spirit, demonstrated the behavior they needed to employ for evangelism, and delegated to them the work of His Father. The next two principles, the final principles, that we learned from Coleman’s book was that Jesus supervised his disciples and He called them to be fruitful.
Jesus’ supervision of His disciples involved a rotation between instruction and assignments. When they returned from a trip He had delegated to them, He would listen to what they had done. If they had been successful, He would rejoice with them and give them praise. If they had failed in some measure or had clearly misinterpreted His prior teaching, He would correct them and admonish them to do better. If they had done quite well, He would move on to more advanced teaching for the next assignment, building on what they already knew but giving them even greater responsibility.
Here was on-the-job training at its best. Jesus would let his followers have some experience or make some observation of their own, and then he would use this as a starting point to teach a lesson of discipleship. The fact that they tried to do his work, even though they may have failed at it, gave them greater awareness of their deficiencies, and hence they were more disposed to the Master’s correction. The Master Plan of Evangelism pg. 85-86.
As disciples of Christ, we must always be more disposed to the Master’s correction. Often that correction comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit. But practically speaking, teaching and correction more often come from more mature Christians with whom we have developed a relationship. We must endeavor to do His work, but we must also be willing to learn how to do it better from those who have learned greater lessons than we have. Sometimes we will be the more mature Christian in a given situation and must do what we can to teach and guide others. But sometimes, we must admit our own deficiencies and seek the guidance of those who know and understand more. In our churches, we must focus on creating relationships with just this type of teaching and learning in mind.
The final principle is that we must be fruitful. Often we think of being fruitful as exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23. It is true that the fruit of the Spirit is important for the Christian walk. But this is not the fruitfulness that Christ called His disciples to exhibit when He gave the Great Commission following His resurrection. He said, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20. There are four verbs in this Great Commission: go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. What Christ called His disciples to do was to make more disciples just like them, who would in turn make more disciples.
This mission is emphasized even more when the Greek text of the passage is studied, and it is seen that the words go, baptize, and teach are all participles which derive their force from one controlling verb “make disciples.” . . . to build people like themselves who were so constrained by the commission of Christ that they not only followed his way but led others to as well. Only as disciples were made could the other activities of the commission fulfill their purpose. The Master Plan of Evangelism pg. 93.
Jesus did not focus on huge numbers of converts. Rather, He staked all on these few disciples to share the gospel and reach the whole world, one relationship and one disciple at a time. Coleman concludes that the church today does not need new and better programs, “but better men and women who know their Redeemer from personal experience” and want nothing more than to help others experience Him as well. The Master Plan of Evangelism pg. 97.
Discipleship is not easy, but it is exciting! It is a life of passion for our Lord who gave everything for us. In this Christmas season, as I ponder Immanuel, God with us — that Jesus would His wonderous throne in Heaven to walk this earth to teach 12 young men of His purpose (knowing one of them would eventually betray Him), and then suffer death on a cross so that we might have a relationship with our Creator who loves and adores us — I wonder how can I do any less than to go and make disciples. How can I do any less?