I am a simple parson—storyteller. It is my goal in life to tell the story of the gospel and the stories that surround the gospel. When I do that people’s lives are transformed and then I train them to embed the same life-transforming stories in the hearts of others. I’m out to change my world—through storytelling.
This the second installment in a series of writings about how to live on a mission from Jesus. You can read the first article here. Let me know what you think. I would love to hear from you.
Operation Evangel: The First Element—Prayer
by Ken Pierpont
Last week in the Stonebridge Newsletter I called for fewer meetings and more ministry. I believe the first priority of the church is to make disciples. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are a disciple, a learner-follower, apprentice of Jesus. He has commanded—commissioned—given each of us a mission to be on what I call a “missional team.” In the simplest and most direct form, how can we obey our Jesus to make disciples?
Let me suggest a simple and organic strategy. I like to call it Operation Evangel. There are four elements in Operation Evangel—a disciple-making evangelistic strategy. Here they are: Pray—Love—Invite—Gospel Conversation. Today let’s talk about the first and foundational element. Pray.
An Unforgettable Spring
In March of 2011 Lois and I had the life-changing privilege of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. When we flew out of Detroit it was cold and gray—still very much winter-like. When we landed in Ben Gurion Airport it was spring. We spent our first balmy night in Israel in an inn in Haifa perched high over the Mediterranean. The next morning the sun rose into a clear sky and, after a trip to Caesarea on the Sea, we drove through lush-green flowering fields into Galilee where we would spend a few days in a Kibbutz on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. The second morning we drove through the bustling city of Tiberius up to Mt. Arbel. Mt. Arbel is the prominent geographical feature of the region. It is the highest peak overlooking the Sea of Galilee. I believe it was a very special place in the history of the church. I believe it was the place where Jesus arranged to meet with his disciples after his resurrection.
Being a Follower of Jesus Means Living on Mission
Jesus told his followers that he would die and rise again. He arranged to meet them after his resurrection on a mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee. On that mountain post-resurrection meeting he gave them a mission—we call it the great commission. It was simple. He told them that wherever they were going he wanted them to gather other Jesus-followers. “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…” There it is in it’s simple strait-forward form—the mission of Jesus. It is a perpetual mission. It is still binding on all followers of Jesus everywhere today. He promised his presence and power to all who would take up that commission to gather other Jesus-followers from all nations.
That commission was given to a group of his followers. Not just an individual. It was meant to be obeyed by groups, little clusters of Jesus followers. The passage in Matthew specifically mentions “the eleven.” I believe the passage at the end of Matthew describes the same post-resurrection appearance referred to in Paul’s first Corinthian letter. “He was seen by over five hundred at once…” There on beautiful Mt. Arbel looking down on all the “nations” he could have swept his arm toward the different people groups to which he was sending his disciples.
There it is. It is strait-forward and simple. I think it is a huge mistake to over-complicate what Jesus said. Break into teams and wherever you go make disciples—gather follower-learners wherever you go. Jesus said; “I have authority-power and I will be with you in power and authority when you do this.”
The history of the early church shows that God would give them a special spiritual empowerment and they would spread out in little Jesus-groups and gather other Jesus-followers. You can read about this in the book of Acts in the New Testament. This spread across the earth and down through time. That is how you came to be a follower of Jesus. A significant chunk of the New Testament was written as letters to clusters of Jesus-followers.
Nothing Else Will Ever Satisfy You
I think we were designed to participate in the mission of Jesus in little groups and we will never find full satisfaction in this life unless we are on this mission to make disciples. John Piper says; “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him.” He proves his point with thick volumes brimming over with Scripture. (Desiring God or The Dangerous Duty of Delight or the audio Christian Hedonism). He is right… God made us and our fulfillment and his glory go together. None of us will ever truly flourish until we understand the most selfish thing we can do is live a selfless life. God’s plan is for each of us to participate in the Mission of Jesus and God’s plan is what’s best for us. When we build our lives, our churches, our individual lives around this we flourish and grow and we are deeply satisfied, blessed, and genuinely happy.
This is Not the Exclusive Privilege of Pastors and Missionaries
This is not the job of the Pastor any more or less than it is the responsibility of little groups of Jesus-followers. Pastors are like outfitters. It is the job of the pastor-teachers to “outfit the saints” for the adventure of living on mission. “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-12)
This plan is simple, spontaneous and sustainable if we don’t over-complicate it. We can’t get distracted by multiplying programs instead of multiplying disciples. We must not allow ourselves to get too busy with selfish things or even “church-work.” If we stay on the mission to gather in little Jesus clusters and pool our gifts to gather other Jesus-followers this plan will still work today. God will still empower those who act on his behalf in this way. It is not a faithful church that gathers repeatedly every week for more meetings of endless talk and simply hangs out a sign that sinners are welcome. That is nothing like the mission that Jesus gave to his disciples.
It’s easy to over-complicate the simplicity of that mission and substitute the maintenance of programs or the defense of traditions or the preservation of customs that are dear to us. When church becomes the maintenance of programs, the defense of traditions, and the preservation of customs then it has the stench of death on it. When the church follows her Master to make disciples of every nation, it has the fragrance of life on it. It smells like baking bread. We have to continually keep the simple mission on our hearts and give it the highest priority in the strategy of the church.
No Gospel Blimp Tactics
Years ago Joe Bayley made a gospel film about people who wanted to evangelize. Instead of simply befriending their neighbors and building relationships with them they bought a gospel blimp and irritated people by dropping gospel pamphlets on them wrapped in colored cellophane. Jesus didn’t commission his followers to operate gospel blimps. Instead of following Jesus in simple Jesus-clusters and gathering other Jesus followers over meals and natural relationships we have been tempted to mass-produce Jesus-followers. But Jesus plan was for groups to make disciples by hand, hand-crafting them with the help of the Holy Spirit in a small community of Christ-follwers, sometimes as small as two or three.
It is not the job of the pastor to force people into gimmicks and circus tricks to promote the gospel. It is not the job of the church to baptize business models and mass-market Jesus treating people like consumers. Jesus never intended for us to create religious organizations offering religious goods and services in competition with other organizations offering religious goods and services. He intended for his to see each other in cooperation with other clusters of Jesus followers on mission.
When You Need What Only God Can Do—Start With Prayer
When you have a task ahead of you it is good to break it down and think, “What is our next step?” Here is the next step. Start with a prayer partner or a small prayer group. Get someone else who is interested in obedience to Jesus’ mission and meet with them to pray. It is that simple. You can include a small group, but keep it very simple. Just get a prayer partner or two. When you meet each of you make a small list of 5-10 people who are on your heart who are not yet followers of Jesus. Write down their names and begin to pray for them together. Arrange a time every day to pray for them. Connect that prayer time with a daily routine as a reminder. Start with prayer. When you need what only God can do, always start with prayer. There are three other elements to the evangelism-discipleship strategy I like to call Operation Evangel, but those can wait. Begin quietly and simply in a prayer meeting. Remember this. The early church that swept the world began in a prayer meeting with a relatively small group of people. When the power of God fell, the thing exploded.
The first thing the freshly-commissioned disciples were told to do was wait—tarry in the Upper Room and pray for ten days. According to Acts 1:14 they devoted themselves to prayer in the Upper Room. Acts 4:31 says that “…while they were praying the place was shaken… they spoke with boldness after they were filled with the Holy Spirit.”
You can do this. Meet with one or two others. Make a list. Pray. I will share the second element with you next week.
March 23, 2015