Book 2: The Mission and Function of the Church

The Commissioning of the Church

Teaching Goals

  1. The students should understand the mission of the church.
  2. The students should be able to evaluate structures and tactics designed to fulfill that mission.

Key Passages

The New Testament states the church's mission in several different ways. By looking at various formulations, we can gain a sense of the purpose of the church in God's program.

  • Jn. 20:21 "Jesus therefore said to them again, 'Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you." 
    Jesus calls attention to the nature of his own mission as a way of understanding the mission of the church. To be specific, we could look at Jesus' description of his intent in various places where he declared his own purpose:
  • Lk. 19:10 "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."
  • Jn. 3:17 "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through him."
  • Mk. 10:45 "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
  • Mt. 28:18-20 "And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, `All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." 
    This passage contains Christ's so-called "great commission" to the church. We notice that reaching the lost millions in the human race again figures prominently. The church is to go, not to wait for others to come. International missionary outreach is explicitly mentioned. 
    Notice that baptism is included, as well as "teaching them to observe all that I commanded you." In other words, part of the task of the church is to teach and disciple those we have reached with the gospel so that they have a healthy walk with God. This process is a natural part of a healthy evangelistic strategy, since those who have been discipled are in the best position to join in the task of reaching others.
  • 2 Cor. 5:15-20 "And He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died and rose again on their behalf. . . Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." 
    In this passage, Paul once again draws the parallel between the mission of Christ and that of the church. "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. . ." and "he has committed to us the word of reconciliation." The church is to take up the work of reaching those alienated from God (which is the cornerstone of reconciliation). However, our work doesn't stop there. We are to press the work of reconciliation forward in the area of bringing members close to God through enhancing their walk with him, teaching them how to worship him and how to gain victory over their own personal problems. Seen this way, reconciliation is both an event and a process.
  • Col. 2:19 "[Beware of those who come up with their own religion instead of] holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God." 
    Here Jesus is the head of the body of Christ. Our mission is to hold fast to him, receiving our directions and nourishment from him, often through the agency of other members (the "joints and ligaments"). Likewise, we, as joints and ligaments in our own right, are responsible to take of Christ and give it to others. This is describing how Christians depend on each other for ministry within the church. However, he also points out that the whole body "grows with a growth which is from God." In other words, as a living spiritual organism, the church is to grow like other living things. Here the ever-present importance of reaching out to those who do not know Christ is again evident.
  • Eph. 4:11 "And he gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love." 
    In this passage, we again see Paul's vision of the properly functioning body of Christ. Under the headship of Christ, not only are there leaders who equip other members (the saints) but the saints themselves do the "work of service." This work of service is the responsibility and opportunity of "every joint" and of "each individual part." In other words, the vision here is of a community where everyone has a role in being built up spiritually and building up others. The result is growth. Qualitative growth, or spiritual maturity among the members (we are no longer to be children tossed here and there) as well as overall growth through reaching the lost (the growth of the body).
  • 1 Pet. 2:9-10 "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." 
    In Peter's version of the commission of the church, the identity of the Christian community is stressed along with its mission. Its identity is that of the people of God. Its mission is to serve as a race of priest-kings who proclaim the excellencies of God. Some versions read "declare the praises of God" (NIV) which is not an accurate translation of the word arete ("virtues" or "excellencies"). 
    Question: What problematic implications arise from the NIV's translation here?
    Answer: The problem with this translation is that it implies that the church is merely commissioned to reflect the great things about God back to him. Instead, it is both to God and to our fellow people that we are to proclaim or publish the great things about God. This proclamation is in harmony with the other passages stressing the importance of outreach, as well as the context (vs. 12) in which Peter urges that because of our mission we should keep our "behavior excellent among the Gentiles" so they will glorify God.

Discussion Questions

  • What are some of the unfortunate forms of fallout when local churches stray from this central mission of the church?
  • What are some ways a local church can stray from this central mission?
  • How does a local church stay on track with this central mission?
  • If your church strayed from this central mission, what would you do?

Worship in the New Testament

Teaching Goals

  • To explain how worship in the New Testament is different from worship in the Old Testament.
  • To motivate people toward a lifestyle characterized by New Testament worship.

Introduction

It is common for churches to say that their first priority is the worship of God. This usually means that the corporate worship service on Sunday morning is the most important activity in which the church engages. Often, that worship service is liturgical - characterized by a set order of ritual, song, prayer, etc.

Is this what the New Testament teaches about worship?

A closer examination of the relevant biblical material affirms that worship is indeed the first priority of the church, but the New Testament defines worship in a very different way.

A Change in Sacrifices

Read 1 Pet. 2:5. This verse (along with vs. 9) teaches that all Christians are priests. Whereas in the Old Testament, only select Levites had this privilege, every Christian now has this privilege.

What do priests do?

In the Old Testament period, their main function was to carry out the worship of God through the offering of sacrifices. There were essentially two different kinds of sacrifices: sin offerings, which were offered for moral offenses, and thank offerings, which were offered to express gratitude for God's goodness and blessing.

The New Testament tells us that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament sin offerings through his death (Heb. 9:11-14; 10:1-14); therefore, we need never make such sacrifices to God again. But as Christians who have benefited from his sacrifice, we have the privilege to express our gratitude to God for Christ's work in many ways. Peter refers to this in 1 Pet. 2:5 when he says that we "offer up spiritual sacrifices to God." Peter does not specify here what these sacrifices are, except that they are spiritual, not physical.

By studying other passages in the New Testament, however, we discover several different "sacrifices" by which the Christian may worship God. It is important to note that no one way is viewed as more spiritual than the others; all are important if we want to have full-orbed spiritual lives. 

Discussion Question: Do you think we can go so far as to say that churches who practice a liturgy are wrong on that point?

Different Ways to Worship

Offer God Your Whole Self

  • "I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, well-pleasing to God, which is your spiritual service of worship." (Rom. 12:1)
  • When an Israelite had received a blessing from God, he could have a priest offer up an animal as a "whole burnt offering" to show God his gratitude. God was pleased by this costly sacrifice, and expressed this by calling it a "soothing aroma." (see Lev. 3:5,16)
  • Paul says that as Christians, we have received the mercies of God through Christ's work - a gift so fantastic that he spent the previous eleven chapters of this letter describing it. How can we say "Thank you!" to God for such a fantastic gift? Not by offering an animal, but by presenting to God something much more precious--our very selves. We can "sign over the title deed" of our lives and say "God, I want the rest of my life and every part of my being to be one long expression of my gratitude for the gift that you have given me."
  • We may think that this sacrifice is not very great because we have so many problems and faults, but God says that it is "holy" and "well-pleasing" to him! Notice that according to Paul, this sacrifice is our "spiritual service of worship."
  • The Greek word for "service of worship" is the word from which we get the term liturgy. Paul is saying that the elaborate worship service enacted by the Old Testament priests no longer has a place in Christian worship; it is now replaced by this very personal sacrifice.
  • Ask the group: What are some lines of thinking which oppose a person's movement toward offering his or her whole self to God?

Offer God Your Praise

  • "Through Christ then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of the lips that give thanks to his name." (Heb. 13:15)
  • Here is another spiritual sacrifice which pleases God--praising him and thanking him for all that he is and all that he does for us. The practice of thankfulness to God is stressed over and over again in the New Testament (see 1 Thess. 5:16-18; Col. 3:15-17). Why is this? Does God need our gratitude so that he can feel good about himself?
  • Such a view obviously does not befit the God of the Bible--he is the only being in the universe who is completely self-existent and therefore needs nothing. We add nothing to God by praising and thanking him. God is indeed pleased by our gratitude, but the ones who benefit from this practice are us!
  • As we choose (often against our present feelings and circumstances) to recall God's blessings and then to thank him for these, we are keeping ourselves properly aligned with reality. Rather than buying into the lie that we are mistreated and unfortunate, we are by faith asserting the truth--that we are fantastically blessed beyond anything that we could ever deserve! In spite of our rebellion against God which deserves his wrath, he has forgiven us, adopted us into his family, guaranteed us eternal life, given us a significant role in his purpose, indwelt us with his Spirit, provided us with Christian friends-- and the list goes on and on.
  • The author's emphasis here is that we should worship God in this way "continually." The idea that Christian worship takes place only (or especially) in a corporate worship meeting is utterly foreign to this verse. Because of Christ's payment for our sins, we have the privilege to draw near to God and communicate to him in this way at any time: in the morning when we wake up, on the way to work, during the busy day, when we are together with other Christians, alone in our room, etc.
  • It is wonderful to praise God with other Christians in song (Eph. 5:19), but this should be only the "tip of the iceberg" of our thanks to God.
  • Ask the group: What do you think erodes thankfulness in Christians? What do you think promotes thankfulness in Christians?

Offer God Your Material Resources

  • "And let us not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased." (Heb. 13:16)
  • The author touches on two more ways in which we can worship God: doing good and sharing. "Sharing" probably refers to the generous giving of our material resources to God's people and God's work. This is explicitly identified by Paul as a sacrifice which pleases God: "But I have received (your money gift) in full, and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God." (Phil. 4:18)
  • Many Christians regard giving financially to God in the same way that they pay their taxes to the I.R.S. - they have to do it, and they look for ways to give as little as possible. Paul's view is very different from this. He says that giving is a privilege (2 Cor. 8:4) and something that we should do generously (2 Cor. 9:6), as an expression of our commitment to God (2 Cor. 8:5).
  • When we give our money to God in this way by supporting our local church, other Christian workers and ministries, and helping the needy, God regards this as an expression of worship fully as spiritual as praising him. This is because giving of our money represents a giving of ourselves, since money represents the time and effort and creativity that we have invested in order to gain it. Such giving is also an expression of our trust in God's faithfulness to continue to meet our material needs--which Paul tells us God will fully supply (Phil. 4:19).
  • Ask the group: How can a Christian make the transition in his or her thinking from the "I.R.S." outlook on giving to the "privilege" outlook on giving?

Offer God Your Service to Others

  • "And let us not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased." (Heb. 13:16)
  • The other sacrifice mentioned in this verse is "doing good." This phrase refers to ministry--performing deeds of loving service to other people as representatives of Christ. When we relate to the people God brings into our lives with Christ-like, sacrificial love, God regards this as an expression of our worship to him. " . . . walk in love, just as Christ loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice as a fragrant aroma."
  • God is pleased by this kind of life-style not only because he wants to love people through us, but also because this demonstrates that we are living with an attitude of trust in his love for us. We are motivated to love others because we understand and believe in the love that God has for us (1 Jn. 4:16-19).
  • Every day, God gives us dozens of creative opportunities to say "thank you!" to him in this way-- serving our spouses, caring for our children, performing deeds of service for those in need, showing and sharing the love of Christ to our neighbors, those at work or school--the examples are endless.
  • We also have the special privilege of worshiping God through the exercise of our spiritual gifts. Paul speaks of his own apostolic ministry in this way: " . . . because of the grace that was given to me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, that my offering of the Gentiles might become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit." (Rom. 15:15,16)
  • After urging us to present our lives to God as an act of worship in Rom. 12:1, Paul goes on to urge us to express that worship through the use of our spiritual gifts (vs. 6-8). As we discover our spiritual gifts and exercise them regularly in the service of others, and give God praise for the fruit of this ministry, we discover a form of worship that is uniquely satisfying!
  • Ask the group: What differences do you think it would make for you when facing situations (mentioned in the previous sentence) that you consciously thought about serving the Lord himself via serving this person?
    (Responses might include: less fear, more boldness, more respect, more energy and resolve, deeper care about what you're doing, etc.)

Discussion Questions

What if we emphasize one form of worship to the virtual exclusion of another? Consider the different mixes of exclusions, the possible motives behind each mix, and the possible outcomes of each.

Prior to this study, which of these forms of worship did you understand the least and why? Which do you think is your strongest/weakest? Why?


Conclusion

It should be clear from this study that worship in the New Testament is a lifestyle made up of many kinds of activity, not necessarily a corporate meeting.

Why is this so important? When Christians view worship as the most important priority (which is correct) but have a superficial view of what worship is, the result is often a superficial and dichotomized Christian life. Such Christians are faithfully committed to attending the Sunday worship service, but because they view that as the essence of worship, fail to develop a lifestyle of whole- hearted commitment to God, thankfulness, financial stewardship and ministry. God is more pleased and we are more fulfilled when we develop lifestyles characterized by the full-orbed worship described in the New Testament.

See Also: "What is Worship?" an essay by Lee Campbell, PhD.

Evangelism in the Local Church

Teaching Goals

  • The students will be familiar with the main ways that evangelism can be done in Xenos Fellowship.
  • The students will be motivated to take part in the evangelistic task.

Introduction

As we have seen in the commissioning of the church, effective evangelism is God's will for the church. How should we fulfill this commission? We need three elements in a successful evangelistic ministry:

  1. A plan for proclaiming or sharing the gospel with non-Christians, and people willing and able to implement that plan.
  2. A prayer ministry that opens doors for the gospel and renders people receptive in spite of Satanic opposition.
  3. A community into which we can bring those who are interested in the message. In an evangelistic community, non-Christians see the gospel being lived out by Christians, and have the opportunity to have their questions answered by more learned members if they so desire. They also are in position to begin to learn the basics of Christianity once they make the decision to receive Christ.

A Plan For Evangelism

Although there are a wide variety of evangelistic methods available, the people in a local church must select the evangelistic strategies that are most suitable and effective in the context of their community. The following evangelistic concepts represent some of the stratagems preferred at Xenos Fellowship. All are evident in Scripture. Included under each biblical principle are suggestions for effective implementation.


Friendship evangelism

Evangelism occurs most easily within existing relationships, rather than by talking to strangers. Since we usually already have credibility with our friends and family members, they are more likely to take the gospel seriously. Because of identification with friends, it is easier for the non- Christian to envision him/herself becoming a Christian. Also, the skills involved in effective friendship evangelism are much more common than those needed for cold-contact evangelism.

Scripture gives examples of this principle. See Jn. 1:41-51, Acts 16:30-34, and 1 Pet. 3:1,2.

Application: Those of us who have non-Christian friends or relatives should be aware of the opportunity that we have to reach these friends and loved ones for Christ. Part of our motivation for sharing the gospel with others is the vision of seeing our friends find Christ and grow spiritually. 

We should ask for prayer support from Christian friends in reaching these people. Then, we should patiently and carefully endeavor to share the grace of God with them. If we are unsure about how to bring the subject up, or what to say, we should ask older Christians for help in these areas. Likewise if we encounter resistance or other difficulties, we should not hesitate to ask for ideas from older Christian friends.

Discussion Question: In the case of those of us who do not currently have friends or relatives who might be responsive to the gospel, in what ways can we still be directly involved in friendship evangelism?

Answers

  • We can continue to maintain and foster a convinced outlook that outreach is right, and that it is important. This consensus is a vital part of the motivating, healthy environment needed to encourage evangelism in others.
  • We can pray for non-Christians by name (see below).
  • We can spend time with non-Christians trying to make friends, showing them the love of Christ in various ways. Christians need to be willing to socialize with non-Christians. This is directly implied in Christ's command that we not only "love them that love us"(Mt. 5:46,47).
  • We may be able to help those who have friends investigating Christianity by advising them, encouraging them, or joining them with their friends.

Acquaintance evangelism

We can also share the gospel in relationships that are relatively more distant, or even non-existent. Neighbors and associates at work or in sports or civic groups all may be interested in spiritual things. The Bible is clear that God will give us opportunities to share our faith and will create need in those people with whom we talk. However, it is usually more difficult to do this kind of outreach, and it requires more patience. A good beginning point therefore, would be to approach God on this issue.

It would be a mistake to think that God will honor a passive attitude in this area, or that he will bring about evangelism apart from human agency. Some theologians believe that it is not up to us to worry about evangelism, and that evangelism will naturally occur if we just focus on growing with God. This perspective, which has been called "Search Theology" is not found in Scripture, and it has been discredited over and over again in dead churches that have lost their ability to reach the lost.

Instead, we believe that the church should engage in intentional efforts to win lost people, and constantly study ways to become more effective in those efforts.


Cold contact evangelism

People who are regularly successful sharing the gospel with complete strangers are manifesting the spiritual gift of evangelism. For most people this is not the best approach to evangelism. However, for those gifted to do so, cold contact is a viable and important way to win lost people to Christ.


Discussion

Concerning these three settings of evangelism--friendship, acquaintance, and cold-- which are you most drawn to and least drawn to using as an approach to doing evangelism? Explain why. Which of these approaches was used when you were saved?

Evangelism and Cultural Identification

Read 1 Cor. 9:19-22. The evangelistic principle here for us to imitate (see 1 Cor. 10:32-11:1) is the principle of cultural identification: Without compromising in moral and/or doctrinal areas, we are to identify as much as possible with the non-Christian culture we are seeking to reach.

"though not myself..." (vs 20,21) - Paul is under grace and living within biblical moral absolutes. In the area of doctrine and morality, we are not to compromise or else we lose what we have to offer to non- Christians.

"to the Jew I became as a Jew . . . to those under the Law, as under the Law . . . to those who are without law, as without law . . . to the weak I became weak . . . I have become all things to all men" - Paul meets people on their level culturally. When with Jews, he observed their dietary restrictions (wouldn't order bacon with his eggs). When with pagans, he went naked in the gymnasiums, quoted their authors, etc.

Why is this principle so important? The language of this text makes it clear that the observance of this principle is very important in reaching people for Christ (" . . . that I might win . . . "). When we identify with our audience's culture, more people will be reached for Christ.

If the gospel is really true and really universally applicable, why can't we simply get a tract in every mailbox, a Bible in every house and say that we have evangelized people effectively?

The answer to this should be obvious to all of us. People will not receive a message which they do not perceive to be relevant to their own lives.

People tend to view themselves primarily in terms of their own personal experiences and cultural heritage. Therefore, in order to be perceived as meaningful and relevant, the gospel must be communicated in a way with which the non-Christian can identify culturally. Non Christians can't "hear" the gospel effectively otherwise because of the "noise" of our different culture. This is why missiologists remind us that people like to be able to become Christians without having to cross cultural boundaries.

Discussion Question: How many of you were brought to Christ by someone with whom you could identify personally and culturally? How big of a factor would you say this was?

Along with the message of grace, this is a key evangelistic principle. In fact, it is an expression of the message of grace. Just as we do not make people change morally before they can come to Christ, so we don't insist that they change culturally in order to come to Christ. Christ himself is our example for this principle. He definitely "changed cultures" to reach man! Out of love, the Christian should make the effort necessary to do just this.

But there is an unconscious tendency for Christians to identify Christianity with their own personal cultural tastes and thus to drift into a cultural "ghetto" that needlessly alienates non-Christians from Christ. When this is the case, Christians often misinterpret non-Christians' distaste for their cultural tastes as "hardness to the gospel." The resultant perspective is sometimes called a "fortress" mentality.

Christians sit safely inside the walls of their church and church culture, judging the non-Christian world for its "worldliness" and hardness of heart. When this happens, the message of the gospel becomes effectively sealed off from all but those who happen to identify with the "Christian" culture. And, tragically, Christianity is not seen as the personally and culturally relevant world-view that it is, but instead as an irrelevant anachronism.

For this reason, church structures and strategies must be formulated in a way which not only promote true spirituality, but also cultural identification with the society to be reached. This has been a key distinctive of Xenos through the years, and accounts for a large measure of our evangelistic success.


Discussion

What are some examples of the application of this principle at Xenos? 

Central Teachings (Seeker-Sensitive Meetings)

Xenos calls its large meetings (in place since 1976) "Central Teachings" because we began as a collection of home churches. The teachings we shared were centralized, unlike the rest of our activities.

The purpose of the Seekers' meetings is to provide the non-Christian with a "safe place to hear a dangerous message." Every aspect of the meeting has been designed with the unchurched seeker in mind. The atmosphere is casual and unchurchy. The dress is also casual. The meeting is large enough for the unchurched person to feel safely anonymous while he investigates. The musical style and content is selected to impact the seeker rather than to promote corporate worship for the Christian attenders. Other modern media (such as computer graphics) are used to communicate the relevance of Christianity to modern unchurched people.

The teachings are filled with contemporary language and examples; theological words are explained and we avoid "Christianese." We use a contemporary version of the Bible. Collections of money are announced with a specific disclaimer to the seeker that he should not feel obligated to give. 

Parties

One of the main purposes for parties is to give non-Christian friends the opportunity to discover that Christians in Xenos are culturally and personally relevant people. Sometimes, the non- Christians may drink too much or become rowdy, but we feel that parties are still an effective way of communicating the cultural "common ground" that we share with non-Christians, and therefore open up additional opportunities to discuss Christianity. 

Attending Bars and Non-Christian Parties

When Jesus was invited to parties held by "sinners," he accepted. He evidently did this so much that he became liable to the erroneous charge that he was a "wine-bibber and a glutton" (Mt. 11:19). When he was rebuked by religious people for this practice, he defended himself by reminding them that he "did not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mt. 9:13).

Jesus loved lost people enough to identify with them culturally in this setting. Christians have this same privilege and responsibility (although some may not have the self-control to handle these settings).

Taking in Non-Christian Movies, Books, Music, etc.

Media is a powerful expression of culture. Therefore, those who wish to reach non-Christian people do well to understand the media of that culture. It is evident that Paul read Greek and Roman literature because he quotes it many times in his speeches and letters. By demonstrating an awareness of non-Christian books, movies and music, we open doors of receptivity to the message of Christ.

Some object to this practice by saying that non-Christian media contains false and immoral content. Of course, this is true. However, the Christian is equipped with the Word of God with which to discern truth from error. If his motivation is to more effectively reach non-Christians for Christ, he should be applauded rather than judged.

Discussion

Did any of the above four factors play into your own salvation, or someone else's that you know? If so, explain how.

Some Christians can communicate a very clear, crisp explanation of the gospel message, but are really lacking in the cultural identification department. Other Christians can relate beautifully with the culture, but often find themselves tongue-tied, shy, or they let golden opportunities float by to explain Christ to the non-Christian. Some Christians are pretty good at both or neither of these elements. Which of these most characterizes you these days?

The Evangelistic Prayer Ministry of the Church

The Bible teaches that spiritual ministry can only be accomplished through the power of God. (Psalms 127:1,2) God's power is released into ministry situations through prayer, as the following passages demonstrate. Not only did the apostles feel the need to have their own ministries supported by prayer, they sought to accomplish ministry in others through prayer.

  • Eph. 6:18,19 "With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel."
  • 2 Thess. 3:1 "Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified, just as {it did} also with you"
  • Heb. 13:18 "Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things."
  • Col. 1:9 "For this reason also, since the day we heard {of it}, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding."

Groups that persistently pray for evangelism, and who pray for non-Christians by name will eventually receive answers to their prayers. Groups that feel no need to pray for evangelism eventually lose their ability to do evangelism. This is either because they tend to rely on human will power through pressure tactics, or they become demoralized and turn to other endeavors.


Discussion

Have the group describe how these things have been true in their experience or observation.

The Evangelistic Community

In Jn. 13:34,35 and Jn. 17:21,23, Jesus stated that the unity and love Christians express to each other is compelling evidence of the truthfulness of Christianity. Since this evidence is more subjective than objective, it has to be felt and seen, rather than explained. The atmosphere produced by a group of Christians who love each other will often do a great deal to convince the non- Christian to respond to Christ especially initially.

A scriptural example of this is Andrew (Jn. 1:40- 51; Jn. 12:20-26). Andrew brought many to Christ by asking them to investigate Christ for themselves. See also 1 Cor. 14:23-25 which contemplates the non-Christian entering the Christian meeting, and there realizing that "God is certainly among you." 

Access to a dynamic group that is truly practicing Christian love is an important aid in the evangelistic task. There are several reasons this is true.


Discussion

Have individual group members read each of the following 8 points aloud. When finished, open the floor to their reactions about what they just read.

  • We may only get 5 or 10 minutes at work or school to try to explain the gospel, which is difficult--though the results can be surprisingly effective. But such a small amount of time is often not as effective as a full-length, well-reasoned teaching given by a gifted communicator.
  • There are varieties of gifts in the church, and one who is trying to share the gospel should look for opportunities to derive help from other gifted people. If we can bring our friends into contact with gifted communicators, they may find answers to their questions more easily.
  • A person who has attended a series of Bible teachings while deciding whether to become a Christian is in an excellent position to become involved in fellowship without major changes in schedule.
  • A person who is cynical, or very cognitively oriented, or who is afraid of being cornered by a small group of people, should be invited to a Seekers' meeting. There, there won't be a lot of Christian activities which might be offensive. There is also more anonymity at the large meeting, so there is less tendency to feel "on the spot."
  • Church growth experts state that the attitude of the members is the single most important factor in determining a church's ability to grow. When members in a local church are enthusiastic about what God is doing through the church, guests sense this and are attracted.
  • Attending a Seeker's meeting or an outreach-oriented home fellowship ministry allows a new person the time needed to make big decisions like whether to follow Christ. It is usually a mistake to try to move people from dim awareness of the gospel to a decision to receive Christ in one step. Rather, we are trying to help others to come to an informed, free- will decision to receive Christ. Such a sincere decision may take time and, from our side, patience. When the need for time is disregarded, people are usually either needlessly scared off, or they make insincere decisions based on the desire to please others. These decisions usually do not last. See Paul's application of this principle in Acts 17:1-4.
  • The central message of Christianity (that salvation is a free gift and that one can have a personal relationship with Christ), has the ability to profoundly affect people on a spiritual level. The Holy Spirit works in cooperation with this message to convict the hearer of its truthfulness and of their need for Christ. This is why Paul said that he was careful to stay focused on declaring this message ("I determined to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." 1 Cor. 2:1-5). The effective evangelist trusts the power of this message and knows that it will impact the hearer, regardless of the hearer's initial, visible response.
  • In the evangelistic community, the Word of God is taught clearly, and non-Christian guests can be expected to be influenced more and more as they listen to the truth.
  • When we are communicating with a non-Christian friend, we need to not only speak, but also listen. Attending fellowship meetings is a good place to spend time trying to truly understand the view of the other person. The more leisurely setting after teachings is a good opportunity for this kind of conversation.

Recommended Reading Relevant to Evangelism

  1. Discovering God, McCallum
  2. The Universe Next Door, Sire
  3. Say It With Love, Hendricks
  4. Out of the Salt Shaker and Into the World, Pippert
  5. Evidence That Demands a Verdict, McDowell
  6. To Tell the Truth, Metzger
  7. Winning Ways, Eims
  8. Lifestyle Evangelism, Aldrich
  9. The Death of Truth, McCallum, et. al.

Koinonia

What is koinonia?

The early Christians "continuously devoted themselves to fellowship." (Acts 2:42) The word for "fellowship" is koinonia, which means "to have in common" or "to share." As those who are united with Christ, we are to share the life of Christ with one another in a way that results in individual and corporate spiritual growth. This is accomplished through the exchange of God's love and truth, which is called "ministry" (which simply means "service").

Koinonia is viewed by the New Testament as a non-optional environment for spiritual growth.

Clearly such koinonia is not just a matter of attending one or two meetings a week. It is much more than that. This is why the verse so often used to stress the importance of attending church (Hebrews 10:25 ". . .not forsaking the assembling together as is the habit of some. . ."), is frequently misunderstood today. This verse is often taken to mean that only our presence at church meetings is necessary. Instead, we find that according to 1 Cor. 12:21 (". . .the eye cannot say to the hand, `I have no need of you'. . ."), it is not just the presence of the other members that we need, but also their function.

Christians are viewed as the body of Christ because we are spiritually united with Christ and with each other. Since we are members of one another, we need to relate to each other in a mutually interdependent way. The important point, therefore, is not just that we attend meetings (although this is a necessary aspect), but that we authentically share the life of Christ with one another. Thus, ". . . speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the Head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love." (Eph. 4:15,16).


How can we practice koinonia?

The New Testament defines normative involvement in Christian koinonia in two major ways. One way is by serving other Christians with our spiritual gifts and receiving others' service through their spiritual gifts. The sphere in which we use our gifts is our ministry, or service.

Another, and perhaps more basic way to practice koinonia is through loving one another in various practical ways. In Jn. 13:34,35, Jesus told his disciples that they were to "love one another as I have loved you." Since they had been with Jesus for several years, they knew how he expressed love to them. Since other Christians would not have this opportunity, the apostles carefully described what this love looks like. Through what are sometimes called the "one another" imperatives of the epistles, we are given a profile of the ways that we can love one another. Below are examples:

  • Encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11; Heb. 3:13; 10:25)
  • Admonish one another (Col. 3:16; Rom. 15:14)
  • Confess your sins to one another (Jas. 5:16)
  • Forgive one another (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13)
  • Accept one another (Rom. 14:1; 15:7)
  • Serve one another (Gal. 5:13; Rom. 12:10)
  • Build up one another (1 Thess. 5:11)
  • Be hospitable to one another (1 Pet. 4:9)

As we practice giving love to other Christians in these ways, and as we allow them to express love to us in these ways, we are practicing koinonia and expressing mutual interdependence as members of Christ and one another.

Christian meetings are important in this regard because they enable us to experience koinonia during the meeting in varying degrees. They also facilitate the meeting of other Christians with whom we can build koinonia-based friendships. New Testament churches commonly met in homes as well as in large groups (see Acts 2:46; 20:20; Rom. 16:5).

The reason for this was probably so that the Christians could more easily practice this kind of koinonia. Xenos has always emphasized the importance of home groups for this reason. In the context of a home group and the relationships which develop between members, a level of koinonia can occur which is impossible by attending only larger meetings.

Leaders as Equippers

Read Eph. 4:11,12. "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ"

There are two very different interpretations of this passage which lead to two very different answers to the role of leaders in the local church.

The King James Version places a comma between "saints" and "for" in vs. 12. thus suggesting that the leaders do three things:

  • equip the saints
  • the work of ministry
  • build up the body of Christ.

In other words, the leaders do all significant spiritual work and the rest do very little. The King James Version reflected this view which had been held for centuries and reinforced it for succeeding generations. Even today, this is the prominent view of leadership's role in the church.

Consider the following quotes by leaders and theologians:

  • ". . .both the clergy and the laity have leadership roles, but they are different roles. The clergy are primarily responsible for the assembled phase of the church life. They are called and trained as professionals to preach, to lead worship, to educate. . ., to provide. . .theological counsel, and to lead the congregation's organizational and fellowship life. . ."
  • "Lay leadership in these areas is important, but it is secondary and supportive."
  • "(A corporate executive who) realizes that it is the Holy Spirit who has made him head of the research division in a large corporation."
  • "(The hospital elevator operator) who exercises his ministry by humming a hymn by taking the patient's up to the operating room." (All from Wentz, Ministry As a Way of Life)

Without the comma, everything changes. The leaders equip the believers to do the work of ministry and they build up the body of Christ. In other words, all Christians are ministers with significant spiritual roles to play.

The leaders' primary job is not to do it all, but to equip the "laymen" to minister. They are train them in doctrine and ministry, help them to find their unique ministry roles, provide structures in which they can play these role - and then let them minister!!

Which interpretation is correct?

Without any doubt, the latter is the correct interpretation. For what are the saints being equipped, if not to do the work of ministry?

Vs. 7,8 make it clear that every Christian is spiritually gifted. Such gifting is given in order to perform spiritual ministry (1 Cor. 12:4-6).

Vs. 16 sums up the teaching of this passage by saying that the church is built up by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part.

Many other passages in the New Testament teach that all Christians are gifted and called to ministry (cf. Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor 12:4-11; 1 Pet 4:10,11).

This is one of the crucial distinctives of Xenos. The spiritual fruitfulness and vitality that we enjoy is due in large part to the fact that the leadership is committed to equipping the people for effective needed and often sophisticated ministry. Not only does far more spiritual work get done when everyone does it, but people are far more spiritually healthy when they are ministering.


Discussion

  • Has anyone ever been in a church where no effort was made to equip people for ministry? What was that like, compared to a church where this is a goal?
  • What happens to Christians who don't understand they are supposed to minister?

Discipleship in the Local Church

If we have any hope of recovering the New Testament picture of the church, we will need to recover personal mentoring from the ash heap of history. Some signs look good, especially in non-western churches. In the west, we just have too many important things to do. We can’t find time for meeting with younger Christians to build love relationships and to train them in the word, character development, and how to build a personal ministry. [Barna gives convincing evidence that intentional discipleship is in eclipse in modern America. George Barna, Growing True Disciples, (Ventura, CA: Issachar Resources, 2000), Chapter 3, “The State of Discipleship.”]

We know Jesus did it. We know Paul was let down over the wall in Damascus by “his disciples” (Acts 9:25). We know he told Timothy, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). We know most churches in New Testament times probably didn’t have classes, and that classes are inadequate for forming character and ministry skills in young believers. We know there were no theological schools like seminaries in the first century, and therefore the New Testament church must have raised up virtually all leaders through personal discipleship. So the biblical case for personal mentoring is strong.

Widespread personal disciple making was lost during the rise of the clergy in the second and third centuries for the most part and has only occasionally been practiced since, usually with excellent results. But just when interest in making disciples was rising in America during the Jesus movement, the “shepherding movement” left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth and set discipleship back dramatically.1 Today, interest is again rising.

Personal mentoring brings qualities to the equipping process that no class can bring. I meet with a number of young men every week, and these are the best times of my week. These times are when I feel God working through me intensely as I come to grips with real issues in people’s lives. Most of our meetings are two hours or so. We have time to share what’s happening in our lives, study together, and pray. If I had to cut things from my schedule, these “hang-outs” would be the very last thing to go. Even more importantly, each of these young men meets with other young men to do the same thing. I believe the most important thing I can do for our church is to deliver high quality leaders for their future.

When a church gets the vision for making real disciples, the future looks good. By gradually spreading the practice across the church, such groups can anticipate a future with scores and eventually hundreds or even thousands of trained, competent Christian workers. All of them will be looking for opportunities to serve. Multiplication becomes possible.

Multiplication happens when, instead of just adding people to the church, each member seeks out people she can win and disciple. As individuals duplicate themselves, groups tend to multiply. The church grows, and not just in numbers; qualitative growth matches quantitative growth. This concept is as good today as it ever was and has tremendous potential to raise up large numbers of quality Christian workers.

I know Christians who don’t share this vision for personal disciple making, and I feel sorry for them. They’re going to miss the lifelong joy that comes from cultivating such friendships with young Christians and the eternal rewards that come with it.

The Process

For detailed information on how to make disciples I recommend people read our book on the subject, Organic Discipleship.2 The basics of making disciples include: building a quality friendship; gaining and imparting vision; teaching what the Bible says and how to interpret it; and teaching and modeling prayer, fellowship, and how to build a personal ministry. Helping disciples gain victory over personal sin problems and build godly character is the most difficult part—especially when we include sins of omission, attitude problems, self-absorption, and relational problems. We may need to confront issues at times in loving discipline.

If your disciple matures and wins a ministry, especially winning another disciple, coaching begins. Here you monitor your person’s thinking and actions when he’s working with others, helping him to ask the right questions, read situations, and measure his words. In churches where home groups duplicate themselves, you will likely see your disciples begin leading their own groups. By guiding new leaders through the first year or so of leading a group, you can significantly shorten the learning curve.

To begin with a self-centered, carnally-minded believer and end with a self-feeding, stable, relationally healthy minister for God is a several year project—if things go well. A significant percentage of people we try to disciple will never make it. But God put us here to give our lives away in real Christian love. If we adopt a ministry philosophy in harmony with that, he will bless us with eventual success. Of course, if you have some authentically mature believers to work with, the time could be shortened considerably.

The Harvest of Discipleship

In a church where people buy into personal disciple making, you can anticipate several good changes:
First, people realize that disciple making is a meaningful ministry where God might use any serious Christian. Instead of feeling clueless about how they could affect the kingdom of God in a lasting and powerful way, people dare to consider the possibility that even they could be used by God for something important. Delivering even one replicating disciple is equivalent to a lifetime of work. Instead of one servant of God, there are now two.

When disciple making succeeds, people experience changes that are deep and lasting. Most discipling relationships lasting several years are close enough to reveal people’s real underlying needs in a way no other ministry could. When two believers dare to build a close relationship before God and his word, things come out. The life-changing power of love and truth come into operation. When Paul taught that we can “speak the truth in love” to one another, resulting in spiritual growth and maturity, this is the kind of thing he had in mind. Disciple making can release the church from the deadening task of baby-sitting to move on to real service.

As the number of people being discipled and making disciples increases, the disciple making church will see an end to people’s sense of disconnection. People engaged in relationships at this level feel love in the church—something many in modern western churches do not now experience.

Under a proper model of disciple making, people stop seeing spiritual growth as primarily an inward thing benefiting themselves. They realize that God gives us life change so we can give ourselves out to others. Healthy disciples begin seeking opportunities to minister. Can you imagine what a church full of people like this would be like? A community where most people were looking for an opportunity to love and serve others? Anyone entering a group like that would soon realize this is no ordinary group of people. The whole church would seem warm, welcoming, and eager to relate.

Discipling churches have no shortage of volunteers, good giving, and consistent efforts at personal evangelism. As discipleship networks spontaneously form and expand, people enjoy being with each other, following up on how things have developed. This is different from churches where people feel relatively distant from others in the group.

A discipling church is a wonderful church. But none of this is easy. Only years of patient teaching, modeling, prayer, and pleading will have any chance of establishing a disciple-making ethos in a group, whether the group is large or small. To be fair, discipling groups also have conflict and friction at times because of the closeness in relationships. But that’s all part of the picture God would have us pursue.

If this is not a part of your church, start with yourself. Find a person or two to befriend and mentor. As you and your friends share the benefits, you may find a few others who will work with you on the project, including finding their own people to mentor. It has to spread gradually through the church; you can’t impose this church-wide and expect people to understand. Authors Bill Hull and Greg Ogden have written excellent books on working disciple making into existing, more traditional churches.3 Why not read those books and make a plan for introducing disciple making into your church?


Footnotes

1. The Shepherding movement grew out of a group centered in Pensacola Florida, and spread nationwide during the 1970s. They taught that you need a discipler, or “shepherd” whom you obey in all areas of life. They theorized that by learning to obey a human shepherd, you would learn to obey God. Their mistaken understanding led to authoritarianism and spiritual abuse. The movement was stamped out of existence by the rest of the church in America during the ‘80s.

2. Dennis McCallum and Jessica Lowery, Organic Discipleship: Mentoring others into maturity and spiritual leadership, (Houston: Touch Publications, 2006). You should also read Robert Coleman, Master Plan of Evangelism. (Revell, 2006). Coleman is unexcelled for vision and theory. Our book starts where his leaves off with practical ideas.

3. Bill Hull, The Disciple Making Pastor, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Co., 1988), and The Disciple-Making Church, (Revell: 1998). Greg Ogden, Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003).

Ministry to the Social and Physical Needs of Our Society

Orientation

Although, as we saw earlier, the church is not intended to take over the state, or to see itself as the state, this does not mean that the church need not be concerned with socio-economic conditions in our society. In fact, the Bible lays special responsibility on the people of God, including the New Testament church, to watch out for the disadvantaged members of society. We will look briefly at two aspects of this area of biblical teaching:

  1. The biblical mandate for social ministry
  2. The strategic outlook of Xenos for dealing with this task

The biblical mandate for social relief ministry

The ethics of generosity in helping the poor is rooted in the person and work of Christ himself according to 2 Cor. 8:9, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich." This example of Christ's should lead us to see our responsibility to use the wealth God has entrusted to us to glorify him by sharing with the poor.

John draws the connection this way: "We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. (1 Jn. 3:16-19) Christ's love should move us to compassion for those who are suffering from poverty.

Jesus agreed that caring for the physical needs of others is an essential part of what it means to love others as we love ourselves in the parable of the good Samaritan. (Lk. 10:25-37)

We are all made in the image of God, and it should pain us that there is gross inequality. When Paul led relief efforts for the poor believers in Judea, he reasoned with the Corinthians that they should give generously to the effort because, "this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality--at this present time your abundance being a supply for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want, that there may be equality; as it is written, `He who {gathered} much did not have too much, and he who {gathered} little had no lack.'" (2 Cor. 8:13-15) Of course, the ideal is not that all Christians become poor so that there will be equality.

Rather, the ideal is that the poor become more prosperous so that their needs are met.

Jesus taught caring for the poor in very strong terms when he described this scene at the last judgment:

"Then the King will say to those on his right, `Come, you who are blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me {something} to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, `Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you, or thirsty, and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger, and invite you in, or naked, and clothe you? And when did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?' And the King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.'" (Mt. 25:34-40)

Paul makes it clear that we should also prioritize the needs of Christian poor, without neglecting non-Christian poor. (Gal. 6:10) However, this support of the poor is for those who are victims of tragedy, or who are disadvantaged, or not able to work. It is not for those who are unwilling to work. (2 Thess. 3:6- 10)

Finally, the extent to which we go in helping the disadvantaged is a matter of private conscience. It is not to be legislated by the church. This can be seen from Paul's comments in 2 Cor. 9:7 "Let each do just as he has purposed in his own heart. . . not under compulsion. . ."

Discussion

The book of Proverbs has some striking promises and warnings in the area of caring for the poor. It may be appropriate to go around the room, each reading one of the following proverbs, and the group summarizing what the verse teaches, or what the application(s) is.

  • Prov. 13:23 "Abundant food is in the fallow ground of the poor, but it is swept away by injustice."
  • Prov. 14:21 "He who despises his neighbor sins, But happy is he who is gracious to the poor."
  • Prov. 14:31 "He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors him."
  • Prov. 19:17 "He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, And he will repay him for his good deed."
  • Prov. 21:13 "He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor Will also cry himself and not be answered."
  • Prov. 22:9 "He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor."
  • Prov. 28:27 "He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses."
  • Prov. 29:7 "The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor; the wicked does not understand such concern."

Xenos' strategy for dealing with social relief ministry

At Xenos, we believe that the church needs to carry out the biblical mandate outlined above to the extent we are able, based on a carefully thought-out community development strategy. Our social relief ministry, Urban Concern follows these principles:

  1. We should devote the vast majority of our resources to projects that effect permanent socio-economic as well as spiritual change. In other words, we want to impact families and communities with money, help, and the gospel in a way that is self-sustaining over decades, not merely feed hungry people in a way that is soon forgotten in an endless sea of need. Many social problems have spiritual and moral causes which need to be addressed at the same time that we meet immediate need. Any immediate needs that we meet should be a part of an over all strategy to effect permanent change within a specified community.
  2. We should devote more resources to meeting need in foreign countries where poverty is much worse than in the United States. This part of our strategy must be worked out in conjunction with the imperatives in the area of world missionary outreach mentioned earlier.
  3. We should accept limitations in the size of the area and the number of people we help for the sake of effecting real change. This means that we are obligated to say "No" to many worth-while projects in order to avoid diluting our impact in chosen communities.

Discussion

Ask the group if they agree with the above three points, and if they understand the thinking behind each. Are there any exceptions to these points?