Written by Marcus Honeysett
You can download the PDF of this resource here.
The following is the text of an address given to the All Souls Langham Place School of Evangelists in November 2011. The talks weren't recorded to allow for more personal interaction.
The main audience was evangelists but the talk is equally applicable to other leaders in local churches.
I take it from Eph 4 that the goal of all ministry – including that of evangelists - is to make disciple-making disciples. That, basically, is the whole show.
The culture that we are trying to do that within has, for 2 generations, told everyone to divorce the individual story of our lives from anything wider or more meaningful. That is the evil of relativist postmodernism. To prefer the self over all. We shouldn’t be surprised that it has been extremely successful because enthronement of self is the primary idolatry, the default setting of the unregenerate heart.
The flip side of the rampant individualism we see around us in this I-generation is the dawning realisation among many that we have lost our moorings. I recommend you get hold of Douglas Couplands recent novel “Generation A” if you want a fascinating view on people who are adrift, desperately trying to create new meanings for themselves, new identity, new sense of family. It’s a bleak and insightful read.
This is the world we are speaking to as witnesses, as evangelists and as churches. There is no worse mistake as an evangelist than to get the world wrong. Then we simply answer questions that nobody is asking and our words and witness fail to connect. Indeed for many now almost anything we can say fails to connect because they assume from the ground up that wherever they are going to find satisfying connections and narratives for their lives it isn’t going to be in an evangelical church. Because they perceive evangelical churches don’t answer the questions they are asking. They don’t frame their questions the way they did 20 years ago. The way lostness is expressed and experienced isn’t the same.
Perhaps the loudest heart cry is for authenticity. Which ought to give every church and every leader pause for thought. We have to search ourselves to see whether the churches we have built are places that is to be found. Have we built communities of missional disciples who are full of depth, or organisations providing favourite activities for the faithful that are essentially alien to the outsider. Pastoral communities for believers to get their spiritual needs met, or prophetic communities who embrace the fact that they exist to impact their area with the gospel of the grace of God in Christ?
There is no doubt that people want to see discipleship of integrity – by which I mean full of mission and service – before they will listen to our message. The day of evangelistic events put on on church premises, in which we invite not-yet Christians to step out of their comfort zone and into ours in order to hear are gone. It was never really right anyway.
The three reflections I have for us are really for us as disciples. Who also happen to be evangelists. They aren’t really so much about evangelism as about who we are as evangelists. But the reason I wanted to start with a few words about the environment we are reaching is that our hearts, our homes and our church life are key ingredients in our discipleship and in our living lives that are authentic. Our hearts, homes and church life are key apologetics for the gospel therefore, but only if they match up to the message that we proclaim. Oh, for sure God is able to take true words from flawed people and make them impact, but that is no excuse for not giving attention to our lives.
Watch your life as well as your doctrine closely, Paul told Timothy, setting an example in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity. We are disciples who make more and more disciples to the glory of God. Therefore it is critical we don’t neglect our own discipleship, lest the true things we say with our mouths are refuted by the poor state of our hearts and lives. What marked out the early believers and got people watching? See how these people love each other. Visible love, authentic community of a different kind, marriages of a different kind, flowing out of being true worshippers of God and followers of his Son.
Leading a team of evangelists in London universities was one of the most thrilling and satisfying experiences of my life. People who were sold out for Jesus. However I also met evangelists in those days who were so driven by activism that they were more in danger than anyone else I have met of neglecting their hearts, and sometimes homes and church life, in order to do more of what they thought was fruitful evangelism. Itinerant ones most of all, who could repeat the same material while living an unexamined and unaccountable life. Who could trot out the stuff from long practice regardless of whether or not their hearts were happy in God. I believe some evangelists like their calling precisely because of the isolation.
My hope for these talks is to prompt and prod us towards patterns of life that are satisfying for our souls and that as a result lead us into fruitful witness that is deep rather than brittle, fathering and nurturing disciple-making disciples. But it is to our souls rather than our skills that I really want to address myself.
How goes it with your heart
So let’s begin with the question of how we are doing in our hearts. The older I get the more I want to ask groups like this how your worship life is going at the moment? Are you gripped and thrilled with the Lord? Are you enjoying opening his book to discover things that amaze and delight you and drive you to your knees in wonder?
This is not just a crucial question for our God-directed spiritual lives, it is also critical for our apologetic. The strength for everything in the Christian life is the joy of theLord, including for evangelism. There is an indelible link between effective ministry for the Lord and enjoying the Lord. Being encouraged in the Lord. No joy, no good witness.
Experiencing the joy of the Lord in our hearts is the starting point and sustaining power of missions. A couple of years ago I went up and down the Psalms seeing how often proclaiming God among the nations and worshipping and delighting in him go together. And it’s a lot.
In some places you sing praise to him and proclaim him among the nations:
Sing praises to the Lord enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done (9:11)
Or ps 96:2 Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day
Vertical direction first, then horizontal dimension flowing out of it. In other places the work of mission is done and the result is God being worshipped by the nations:
I will permeate your memory through all generations; therefore the nations will praise you for ever and ever (45:17)
In other places the proclamation is done by praising him among the nations:
I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the Heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies (57:9-10)
There is a very close connection between worshipping, proclamation and the task of evangelism. Evangelism arises out of worshipping hearts that are delighting in the Lord, takes place through us praising the one we delight in to other people all around the world, in order that they will come and be worshipping disciples with us. It starts with worship, ends with worship and is fuelled by worship all the way through. Worship is the motivation, the goal, the means and the power.
The psalm that stood out clearest for me for Psalm 67
Take a few minutes to read it.
Now that adds one more crucial element. One word here makes all the difference to the cause of world missions. “That”, in v2. May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, THAT your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. This instantly tells us that mission start with God being gracious to us and blessing us and making his face shine upon us. It tells us that as live transparently as trophies of his grace, recipients of his blessing, that God will be known among all the peoples. The implication is that God is doing it. In Ps 67 I don’t do anything. The only place we appear in the Psalm is as the subjects of the verb – God works! He graces us so that his ways are known.
And what does it look like when God is known? Worship – may the peoples praise you, may the nations be glad and sing for joy. And blessing – the land yields its harvest. And the rule of God – you rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth. And wider world evangelisation – God will bless us and all the ends of the earth will fear him.
Now all this tells us something very critical about our task: it starts with, and is sustained by, what God is doing in our hearts. Worshipless evangelists ought to be a contradiction in terms. We will just wear out. Or we will justify our existence by our works rather than by their relationship with the Lord.
I spoke to one evangelist who is very ably qualified in every way, maybe the most gifted missions leader in the country where she serves, except she didn’t yet have the language. She said to me “I have been knocked down by realising that in a previous ministry I justified my existence by writing to prayer supporters telling all the wonderful things God did through me and how busy I was. Now I can’t do any of that and it’s like there is no reason for my existence. Except now I am tempted to try to value myself by the fact that at least I went somewhere very hard that nobody else wanted to go to.”
And then she burst into tears. Because actually she knows very well that our identity and worth aren’t established by our successes or failures but by walking with the Lord and delighting in the Lord but was so tempted to find her value somewhere else.
So much of me wants visible measures of success. Either conversions or if not that at least the appearance of extreme busyness. And I know it doesn’t work because it reduces the task of evangelism in such a way that I can do it without having a heart that is happy in God. And that is a contradiction in terms. We cannot say to the nations “come and be glad” out of ungladness. We can’t say “praise him you peoples” unless we are a praising people.
We cannot teach evangelism in a way that is disconnected from grace-oriented discipleship. It is possible to get people to say – and technically believe – the right things but without them being captivated by the Lord. Even as a substitute for them being captivated. There is no reason to do anything in the Christian life at all unless you are thrilled by God’s unmerited grace, but it is an easy and spiritually deadly confusion to make.
I was recently reading an article by a guy explaining how he lost his faith. It is a sad and thought-provoking piece. He relates how he had been an enthusiastic member of his university
Christian Union, how he participated in CU outreach, learned cogent answers to difficult questions, the whole nine yards. But when tragedy struck he says he realised that he had been encouraged to make friends simply to win them, and taught learned answers that were far too brief and inadequate for his need at that point. In his words he discovered his faith was brittle, and it snapped. He said that he knew his Christian friends would say this was evidence he was never really a Christian, but that as far as he knew at the time he really was. But he concluded that what had looked good and sounded intellectually reasonable didn’t work when the foundations were removed.
Now that scares me, because it means he thought he had built on the rock, when in fact he had built on sand, and nobody had noticed the difference because it happened in an enthusiastic, conservative, evangelistic environment. He didn’t have discipleship, but a convincing replica of it – enough to convince himself while the sun was shining in his life.
How goes it with your heart? Are you an unashamed worshipper? Do you have a soft heart? That is the only way that the love and grace of God overflow from us to others. The only evangelism that produces real deep faith is that which captivate people with Christ. That presents him not only as the answer to their questions and needs, not only as their rescuer from Hell – as critical and neglected at the moment as that is. But as the beautiful Lord, the bridegroom, the beloved who thrills our hearts and is worthy of our worship forever. Who we hold up as a precious jewel, as magnificent, not merely as the answer to a set of existential needs or intellectual questions.
And that kind of evangelism only comes from hearts that our themselves captivated. We can present Christ as real and the gospel as true without being captivated, but we can’t present him as compelling. What we end up with is not missional disciples who have been swept away by his amazing grace, but people who think they are believers merely because they have given mental assent to a set of facts they find incontrovertible.
I spent a week ministering to a group, many of whom identified that they had never known anything they would describe as the joy of the Lord. They knew their Bibles very well but had turned "worship" into "my dutiful service of the Lord." They knew facts about him but, when it came down to it, they weren't very excited about him. It was no surprise to find this worked its way out for them in quite brittle faith and worship-lite discipleship. And functionally very little Christ-saturated witness. And yet they thought that was the whole story of being a Christian.
Question: How would you set about seeking God for his grace with people who have never really heard the message of grace and can identify little of the joy of the Lord in their lives?
· Teach salvation and sanctification by grace not works of the Law
· Pray regularly
· Rejoice in God with them
· Major on the hope of the glory of God
· Rejoice in the work and benefits of Christ; exult and glory in him
· Take joy in being declared righteous and royal children; ie rejoice in who we are; perfect for ever
· Rejoice in suffering for him because God is producing character
· Set your desires on what the Spirit desires; surrender to his desires
Basically set about enjoying God, rejoicing in God and enjoying being saved with them. Grace changes hearts.
Workers for their joy
In Phil 1:25 and 2 Cor 1:24 Paul says that he works with churches for the progress in the faith and their joy in the Lord, so that their joy in Christ will overflow abundantly. That is my definition of discipleship – working with people for their progress and their joy. It’s not a bad definition of evangelism either. If we aren’t telling people to come and delight themselves in the Lord and what he has done for them, then we shouldn’t expect to grow joyous, worshipping disciples. Unless evangelism flows from this centre it is critically flawed. The title of John Piper’s little book “God is the Gospel” gets it right. The heart of the gospel, the aim of all gospel ministry, the brilliant and magnificent centre and totality of everything is having God himself and enjoying him forever.
If we take other things – even other true things – and make them the centre we end up hollowed out. Do you remember the story of Pharisee and tax collector praying at the temple? The Pharisee wasn't a bad man - quite the opposite. He did all kinds of good things and ascribed the credit for them to God. BUt he didn't get justified. Why not? Because he offered up those God-produced things to God for his own righteousness - rather than asking for righteousness that comes from God. He made something other than God the ground of his spiritual life – and it was good things. He had forsaken grace alone and worship and replaced them with good religious acts.
I wonder if there is anyone here who is tempted to do that at the moment. Replace God as your spiritual centre with doing evangelism. It is so easy to connect our identity to our work, isn’t it? What goes in the process is the invisible centre – prayer life, worship life, hiding the scriptures in our hearts, sweeter than honey, more precious than thousands of pieces of gold and silver. That shrivels up. It eradicates our joy which comes out of the invisible, non-public part of our lives. And therefore sooner or later it kills evangelism. Because it has spiritually killed the evangelists. Our work is no longer characterised by delighting ourselves in the Lord.
The joy of the Lord
I want to finish this talk by just nailing what this joy of the Lord is that we are talking about. The Bible says it is our strength, but what is it? We could ask that question of any number of texts, but I will limit myself to three:
1. The joy of the Lord is the delight that Christians have in being satisfied in the Lordship of Jesus. Phil 3:1; 4:4 “rejoice in the Lord.” Puts the word “lord” in quite deliberately. Rejoice that you have a ruling, wonderful king to whom you belong. I use the word “be satisfied” quite deliberately. We have joy in the things we rejoice in. And we rejoice in the things that bring us satisfaction. The joy of the Lord is the greatest of all joy because he is the person in whom we find the greatest satisfaction for our souls, and therefore the person over whom we do the greatest rejoicing.
2. The joy of the Lord is a settled character trait that the Holy Spirit produces in us as we rest in Christ. Gal 5:22, the fruit of the Spirit is Love, joy… And that is especially the case as we actively believe. We reckon on our belief and act on it. So Rom 15:13 “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.” And it is even more especially the case as we hope – that is we actively believe and act on our hope of heaven. So, Romans 5:2: we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
3. The joy of the Lord is the fresh appetite we get for God when we accept that we have no righteousness of our own, but accept that Jesus Christ is all our righteousness. And it overwhelms earthly appetites for food or drink or sex or success with desire for the Kingdom. Romans 14:17: the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Delight, Spirit-empowered character, appetite, hunger, desire for God, rejoicing in the righteousness of Christ. When the Psalmist cries “I am consumed with longing for you” and our hearts leap, that’s it. That’s the joy of the Lord we are talking about.
Perhaps I can leave you with a question to ponder: what factors in your life and ministry make this invisible centre get squeezed out?
We want to be disciples and evangelists of firm and secure faith. 2 Corinthians says that emerges from rejoicing in the Lord. And joy in the Lord comes from standing in, and prizing the righteousness of Christ. And standing in and prizing the righteousness of Christ is indelibly connected with being a worshipper. How goes it with your heart?
© Marcus Honeysett.