Over my break, I heard a young, Christian man tell an assembled crowd how he was forsaking his house, his job, and his former life to give everything for the cause that has captured his heart.
Usually, the passion of men and women on fire for a righteous cause enflames my own heart, but honestly, I was bored to tears and wanted to get up and leave.
It’s not because the cause wasn’t just and right and noble and oh so needed, but because I can no longer get fired up for any old cause within the Body of Christ—save one.
The amount of spam in my Cerulean Sanctum mailbox from Christian organizations lamenting the state/condition of this institution or that now overwhelms the legitimate email. I look at my inbox and see it as the perfect microcosm of where the Church in America is today. We’re like Don Quixote, and the world is a vast plain strewn with windmills.
Tilt. Tilt. Tilt.
Funny thing about that young, Christian man I heard speak. At his age, I was zealous for the same cause he was. That’s not the case now. Old age is teaching me something.
Over my break, I watched a few episodes of Mythbusters. Being a science-y sort of guy, I find the show interesting and informative.
One of the phrases they used a lot in the episodes I saw was physics thought experiment, meaning that physicists had created an illustration based on scientific principles to explain a foundational concept in simple terms.
I want to attempt the same thing.
From what I can tell, there are 300,000 churches in the United States. Our population is close to 300 million. Roughly 40 percent of our population claims to attend church services on any given weekend. That’s about 120 million people who could be said to be Christians of some type. Doing the math yields an average local church size of about 400 people. That sounds like a reasonable number.
With a church of 400 people living out genuine Christian discipleship according to the Bible, how impossible would it be to think that those 400 would be used of God in a given year to lead 20 unbelievers to Christ? We’re talking a 5 percent conversion factor.
Now how is it, in reality, that in the average church of 400 people such a thing is unheard of?
Some will object and point to our children coming to Christ. Heaven help us, I hope that would be so—a given even—but I’m less concerned about the basics of a Christian husband and wife replacing themselves in the church pews via their two children (on average), and more concerned with reaching people who would never otherwise darken the doorway of a church.
Fundamentally, I want to know why, of the myriad Christian causes of worth, the Great Commission—the one Jesus charged us with before He left this earth—has become the most neglected.
How is it that we can get whipped into a frenzy about aiding the poor, stopping same sex marriage, putting more conservatives into the halls of American power, and a million other causes, but the simple act of helping lead a lost soul to Christ is something we have neither time nor energy for?
Let’s be honest here. The Great Commission no longer compels us. The proof is right before our eyes, but we don’t want to see it.
I read ads for churches that proclaim that theirs is Spirit-filled. I hear Christians talking about charismatic gifts and soaking in the Spirit. Everyone seems to be about ushering in the Spirit during worship. We talk and talk and talk about the Spirit and being filled by Him.
But no surer sign exists for being Spirit-filled than having a burning desire to see the lost come to Christ. Being Spirit-filled awakens the Christian heart to the brutal emptiness of what it means to lack Christ. The stark division between having Christ and not having Him ends up driving the believer to share Christ with anyone who will listen.
That reality used to compel the saints of old. Christians would die to ensure that one more soul came to knowledge of Jesus. Believers gave everything they had, even their own lives, to ensure that no one would go into a Christless eternity.
Yet today, the Great Commission hardly charts on the primary cause list for most Christians.
A few years ago, I did another thought experiment in a post, wherein I computed that 4,212 people go into a Christless eternity every hour of every day. I’m sure that number is higher today.
I’m at a point in my life where I’m convinced that no cause we Christians can join trumps depopulating hell.
How is it, then, that this most important cause gets short shrift?
I see scores of people ready to radically change their lives to ensure more Republicans get into the Senate, but where are the people who forsake all so that one more person can come to know Jesus Christ?
What amazes me most of all is that many of the causes we give everything for would fix themselves if we just led more people to Jesus and trained them up to maturity.
So why don’t we do this?
My first post back from my break was going to be about freedom in Christ, and I’ll get to that soon enough. But at the very heart of freedom in Christ is dying to self. And being dead to self means no longer caring what others think of us. It’s no longer valuing what the rest of the world values. It’s realizing that eternal life is knowing Jesus, and only that matters.
That’s where we stumble in the Great Commission.
We haven’t made the choice to die to self.
We haven’t set aside the things of the world that distract us from the real work.
We don’t really know Jesus.
Don’t really know Jesus? Dan, how can you say that?
I say it because I’m increasingly aware it’s true. Most Americans Christians can’t share Jesus with another person because they don’t truly know Him. They know a few facts about Him, but that’s it. And when it comes to facts, I think average Christians would be much more likely to share their knowledge of their favorite hobby or sport than to share what little they know of Jesus.
So rather than appear to be ignorant before others of the very truth they supposedly wrap their lives around, most Christians say nothing.
I just can’t get away from that. Nothing else explains the utter lack of evangelistic fervor going on in “Christian America” 2011.
I’ve always felt my own calling was to discipling Christians to maturity, which is part of the Great Commission. But my lacks in evangelism are ever before me. I’m praying that 2011 will be the year that changes.
And that means dedicating this year to knowing Christ and making Him known.
Folks, no other cause trumps that. All others are pretenders to the throne.
God help us if we continue to fail to grasp this!
26 thoughts on “Does Anyone Still Care About the Great Commission?”
The enemy wants us to be blind to the fact that hell is real, and our friends and neighbors will spend eternity there if we don’t share the reality of Christ with them.
Satan has done a good job of blinding us, along with our own flesh focusing on things, instead of people.
As sad as this is to say, I think there’s a sense in many Christians that what they believe isn’t truly real. For that reason, the sense of urgency isn’t there. It’s like “Hell may exist, but a loving God isn’t going to send anyone I know there.”
Talk about denial.
Dan, your post is timely. Just the other day, I spoke with an English professor, a Berkeley Ph.D., who said that very thing: “I don’t believe that God would send any of his children to a hell.” Hebrews and John both wrote that Jesus came to nullify the works of the adversary. A needed ingredient for evangelism is getting the narrative right. Jesus said that he came to save, not to condemn.
Dan, I thought your comment about not being able to find an image of evangelism in the US was kind of puzzling. I thought of this right away:
😉 I thought that was a cute website when I first saw it, but it raises an interesting point. Your focus in this post was on evangelism being done through the local churches. I’d agree that we’re not very good at that. But the Church has an arm of evangelical organizations that are aimed specifically at carrying out the Great Commission. Billy Graham’s is best known, but there are a host of others. When I look at the account of the early Church in Acts and the Epistles, I don’t see them going out and bringing in believers. Instead, the focus seems to be on growth and nurturing of believers. There was a special group that went out and did conversions: the Apostles, and that seems to be the model that the Church follows today.
The crusade model is deader than dead in the United States, though it still works in developing nations. That’s why I couldn’t find anything that doesn’t look like a crusade image.
As to who does the work, nothing in the NT hints at the apostles alone doing the work of evangelists. As is noted, we are all priests and we are all ambassadors for Christ. And never be afraid to give account for the hope that you have within you, right? (Besides, if the work is solely for apostles, now you get into the argument of some that the office of apostle no longer exists. What then?)
Nice to have you back. I share your concern for evangelism or the lack thereof. One of my main frustrations has been observing selfish Christianity instead of selfless Christianity. I note that many Christians are in the communtiy club to see what they can get out of it for themselves and are not all together concerned about the guy next to them. My heart aches at the breakdown of a sense of community in the church…its all about me not us (a contradiction of Pauls pluralist “you” in 1 Corinthians). We have become little islands within the church and live like this in the world. We are modern-day gnostics with orthodox believes. We keep this special knowledge for my family and I.
I am also quite tired of hearing about hell. This may anger some people but if the only thing we can do to get people to come to Christ is to threaten them with hell…we don’t get it. If I become a Christian to avoid hell instead of becoming a Christian to gain Christ am I a Christian?
It is that “right living faith” (stealing from John Wesley) and relationship with Christ that will draw others. I think our talk of hell has become quite trite in our day because when we divorced a real knowledge of Christ for substitutes, topics like hell were all we were left with. I am not advocating a hell-less gospel but a refocusing on a Christ-centered gospel not a punishment-centric message.
You probably haven’t studied Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, but the lowest level is punishment avoidance. Even a 2-year-old child can understand avoiding getting slapped on the wrist. We Christians use hell that way. You’re right; hell avoidance should not be our primary reason for being a Christian (though it certainly does count in the whole of the equation).
While the higher levels of Kohlberg’s stages do not adequately express what it means to have a living relationship with Christ, the lower stages definitely cover how some people approach their faith. Sadly, smug social scientists like to use Kohlberg’s stages as a flail against religious people, particularly Christians, assigning believers to whatever stage they wish to use as an explanation for the “unenlightened” views that Christians hold. That said, moving people past living out their faith in those lower stages is a definite need in the Church.
To follow up on the comment. Do I understand you saying that we ought to bait people with hell and once converted moved them up on to higher levels? If so, is that a reasonable “strategy”? Again, I’m not advocate of a hell-less Christianity. Not at all. But I remember reading in Brainerd’s journal that his listeners were more affected by the preaching of a heaven they were unable to reach rather than with pure hell preaching. Just a few thoughts.
Thanks for posting!
You put your finger on it with this sentence: “Most Americans Christians can’t share Jesus with another person because they don’t truly know Him.”
Here in the south, I see a slightly different story- there is evangelism going on, but it’s generally of a flavor that is aimed at getting people to affirm factual information to someone they may never meet again. I.E. people handing out tracts on the street, which often (sadly) don’t .
I’ve often thought that we convert(or try to convert) people to what we ourselves are converted to. What’s the diet in the average Christian church/small group? Self-help, moralism, Jesus-lite fads… Thus when we relate to people with whom there’s an opportunity to share the glorious, exciting Gospel of Christ with, instead what comes out is the tripe we’ve been feeding on and passing off as “Christian spirituality.”
I for one firmly place myself in the category of “alarmingly unwilling to share the Gospel” although by God’s grace it happens occasionally. I also have to keep in mind that I’m in the process(years long) of detoxing from Christian fads and moralism. I trust he’ll produce this willingness in me the more I behold him and know him. Thanks for the post.
Sorry, that first paragraph in the comment above should end with:
which often (sadly) don’t really feature a very compelling story Jesus. Instead of sin/death conquering hero who it’s delightful to know personally, he’s a salesman of a set of goods known vaguely as “heaven when you die.”
Yeah, I have to say that I’m definitely in my second or third pass of wriggling out of the skin that is the moralism and “Why can’t you be like the rest of us?” mentality that so plagues the American Church. I’m really burned out of the institutional aspects of things, especially the constant sales pitches for this spiritual remedy or that ministry. And I think that happens by dropping the pretenses and simply asking the questions “Who is Jesus? And how can I know Him better?”
As I’m sure you’re aware, the stats you quoted are based on “professions”, not necessarily actualities. I’d suggest the numbers to be far smaller when it comes to true followers of the way of Jesus.
You seem to equate following the Great Commission primarily with evangelism (in essence, leading people through a transaction/event that assures them of getting into heaven when they die). I’d suggest that the Great Commission is primarily about teaching people what Jesus said and helping them learn how to actually do it. The Sermon on the Mount lays the foundation for kingdom of God living, and Paul’s epistles usually tend to recapitulate and reinforce that in for a mixed Jew/Gentile context.
I don’t believe Jesus’ intent was to start a religion, much less a myriad of denominations with their “distinctives”. Jesus brought us the way to TRULY live – in harmony with God, self, others, and creation. Yes, it happens in the context of community – family, friends, neighbors, etc. But last Sunday as I looked up at the ceiling of the multi-million dollar building that I attend each week, I wondered aloud if this is what Jesus had in mind, and I strongly doubted it.
Embracing the way of Jesus because you believe with all your heart that it is better than the alternatives out there results in a life that bears that out. It’s not about getting into heaven and escaping earth so much as it is living the “life of the ages” (i.e. abundant, eternal, everlasting life) right here and right now. It’s true shalom.
Trying to fill an expensive building with people who pay their money each week and sing songs about some cosmic “savior” that they ultimately have no intention of following is, I would suggest, missing the point of the Great Commission.
We don’t need more “evangelistic fervor” as much as we need people who truly believe that the way of Jesus is the best way to live and behave accordingly. Such people can’t help but share why they believe his way is best. They’ll discuss why patience is better than anger, why respect and love are better than contempt, why hope is better than condemnation and manipulation, why private charity and acts of worship is better than pretentious displays, why sacrificial love is better than treating people as objects for our own consumption.
Unfortunately, most of the local assemblies I’ve been part of in the past live in direct contradiction to these “kingdom principles”, and instead encourage all sorts of other religious activity that has little to do with the good news of the kingdom of God/Jesus/Heaven. I’m hard-pressed to find any local assembly that actually does this. But I’m grateful at least for a collection of true friends whose heart does beat this way. May you find some as well.
If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that I see evangelism as only a very small part of the Great Commission. Conversion tends to happen much more quickly than maturity. That said, the conversion is still the most critical aspect. That we neglect bringing people to maturity is a crime in itself, but perhaps not nearly as bad as barring their entry to Jesus altogether!
I hear part of what you’re trying to say, but downplaying fervor turns Christianity into little more than a rational system of behavior. I would contend that doing so is the beginning of the end of the Church. Sadly, that’s where we are in the West. The Christian life has become entirely head-based, with the heart amounting to nothing of consequence. The Faith becomes little more than mentally ascribing to principles. It becomes a cold, dead system. And that’s one reason why we don’t evangelize. Who can get excited about yet another system of living?
Actually, I’m in full agreement with you on the problem with the head-based approach to life; it manifests itself in people attending numerous bible studies to fill their brains while ignoring their families, neighbors, communities, etc. I’m ALL FOR more of a heart-based approach (and hoped I had communicated that in my unfortunately lengthy post). I believe that people who embrace the way of Jesus with their whole heart can’t help but live it and share it. It’s not about learning the way of Jesus; rather it’s about learning to DO the way of Jesus – to live as if love is better than condemnation, patience better than anger, and all the other stuff I listed above. That was my point, and I think in some respects we violently agree. 🙂 But “fervor” as I’ve known it in the past has been emotionally-induced and man-made rather than resulting from one being overwhelmed with the wonder of the way of Jesus and being internally compelled to share the good news of a salvation that extends to far more than escaping an unpleasant afterlife. I suspect you’d agree. 🙂
As far as sharing the gospel however, it doesn’t start or end with us simply telling the story or telling who Jesus is. Obviously the testimony is the strongest support for our message. Yet it begins and ends in the life we are living before the unbeliever. People today, and rightly so, no longer buy the gospel rhetoric anymore because it has proven seemingly fake before others. We are surrounded by a culture of rhetoric seducers. e.g. politicians, sales persons, advertisements, lawyers, professors, presidents, and most of all ministers.
People are sick and tired of it. What we need are Christians who put their money where their mouth is and actually live out this faith and then have the credentials and weight to actually be worth listening to.
I would add, I wonder who would come to Christ if hell was not part of the equation. Kohlbergs model of punishment in this matter is common sense. But I do not want the quality of Christian who is one out of fear, sorry. I understand and agree it is a reality but it ought not be a thrust of our message. The church, namely evangelicals, use hell and rapture far too much and it makes our gospel sound as though it can not stand on its own merit…that is Christ. I do not believe our prescious gospel needs the desperation of threatening people.
I heartily agree with your call-to-arms, Dan. One of the best books on evangelism that I’ve read is Michael Greene’s Evangelism in the Early Church. (Link to Amazon product page: http://www.amazon.com/Evangelism-Early-Church-Michael-Green/dp/0802827683)
As our society increasingly resembles the pagan, syncretic society that the early Christians lived in, I think this book is more relevant than ever. One of the things that Greene encourages is the reliance of signs and wonders in connection with evangelism. Our church in Seattle (a pagan city if there ever was one) relies on signs and wonders in our evangelistic efforts. We believe that people saved from sickness, familial breakdown, depression, or other maladies are not only great testimonies to the reality of God, but very often the most outspoken in their faith. We recently created a testimonial video of two of our members who were healed and brought into a vibrant relationship with Jesus: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rt-J78B7e4
I say all this to defend charismatic practice, especially allowing the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in church meetings. I believe that Paul was not only referring to the inward work of the Holy Spirit when he said that he preached to the Corinthians with not words only, but a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. There is good reason to believe that the Corinthians saw miraculous signs connected with Paul’s preaching. That’s what happened when Paul preached in Lystra and saw a crippled man who had faith–he healed him on the spot!
In any case, I appreciate the focus on evangelism. Let’s do our best to speed the coming of the Lord by preaching the gospel.
I’m glad your church uses the charismata properly. Too many churches today descend into charismania, and that just breaks my heart.
Well, quite frankly, the reason evangelism dead where I live (So. California) is that almost no church in my area (which has millions of people), including evangelical ones, even preach the gospel of what Jesus did at the cross for us. Romans 10:14, one of my very favorite verses states, “…how can they believe unless they hear; and how can they hear unless someone tells them.” Well, that is a big DUH……of course people cannot come to salvation if they don’t hear. As to all this talk about churches teaching about hell…where exactly are these churches? I think a lot of people are reacting to their childhood churches and not understanding what is really going on..or I should say not going on..in evangelical churches today.
By the way, when polls show 40% go to “church,” that can also mean Mormon churches, Catholic, liberal Protestant and so forth. Everything from 10-40% has been thrown around as to how many actually attend evangelical churches. My estimate is its about 15-20% of the population.
If you halve the number to 200, is that 200-person church leading 10 people to Christ each year? Probably not. And 5 percent is such a small number, when you get right down to it.
As to what percentage of people are genuine, born-again Christians? Well, in Ravenhill’s experience, the Chinese pastor told him he believed only 2 percent of Americans were, and that was before the rise of seeker-sensitive churches.
So . . . what was the cause for which the young man in your first paragraph was forsaking all? I am presuming from the rest of your post that it was not evangelism?
The cause? I’d rather not say, because it doesn’t really matter for my point. But you’re right; it wasn’t evangelism.
Very timely message. I heard a sermon the day after your post that ties in nicely. You can view it online at http://agtv.ag.org/2011-pbc-loy
If you want to skip the bio intro of the speaker given by the first pastor he worked for, fast forward to the 6-minute point.
And I heartily agree with your point that if the Christians got busy making converts to Christ instead of fighting political battles, a lot of the culture-war issues would correct themselves, because we’d have changed people, not just changed policy.
I’m sick and tired of you whining paid Christians who just can’t seem to squeeze enough blood out of hardworking lay people. I recently calculated that if every fat lazy clergyman would get up off his big fat ass and go preach in the streets, as is required (Matt. 9: 38–pastors are harvest field workers), the town I live in could be evangelized in a matter of hours. We paid them well over six million dollars last year–enough to put 300 evangelists in the streets. Remember, every dollar that goes to a fat lazy clergyman who likes to play golf in the afternoon after a long day of %@#$& in front of his computer in his comfortable office, is a dollar that is NOT GOING TO THE MISSION FIELD, WHERE IT SHOULD BE GOING. IF YOU ARE NOT GOING TO GO, GET THE HELL OUT AND WE’LL FIND SOMEONE WHO WILL.
I could put six million missionaries in the field right now, if only we didn’t have to pay you blood sucking parasites, who hold themselves out to be pastors in this country, the 10 billion or so dollars you really don’t deserve.
There are easily enough paid Christians in the world to do the job. They just won’t do it. Additionally, we are NOT ALL CALLED TO GO AND PREACH. This is just a lie you use to escape the harvest field, trying to put the job on someone else’s back (after you take their money). So have fun %@#$& in front of your computer and playing golf. It’s all you are good for, YOU PARASITE!!!!
I’m thinking of Noah right now. He was the last man of faith (in his age) before the ungodly populations were destroyed in a great flood by God. Noah preached righteousness. He preached while he and his sons were building the ark (I think). Signs and wonders were happening around Noah. The animals were coming to Noah by 2’s to the ark. This great ark was being built before the eyes of the people. Then a particular day arrived and God said to Noah to get himself and his family into the ark, and God closed the door. Salvation was ended for the faithless and unbelieving in that day.
God speaks of another day coming at the end of the ages in scripture. We see that day approaching… the Bible says. God says it will be like the days of Noah. Like what? Largely disbelieving and faithless people? Probably. God’s plan is to destroy the present heavens and earth and make a new heaven and earth. Our age is going to come to an end. And another age is going to begin. The Bible says that the righteous rejoice to see that day.
The Bible says that we can do nothing outside of Christ and the Holy Spirit. We can’t drum up this enthusiasm for evangelism. It’s not sustainable without the empowering of Christ. We get all fired up and then fizzle out.
The disciples of Jesus had to wait in the upper room (in prayer) for the Holy Spirit. When he came upon them, fire came. Empowerment came for these men and women to evangelize, guide the tremendous numbers of people claiming belief and faith in Jesus (3,000 on the day that Peter spoke), empowerment to preach the gospel, teach about Jesus, etc.
They faced persecution. Without the Holy Spirit empowering them they could never have stood up to this persecution and kept going. We see these same people running and hiding when Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane. At this time the Holy Sprit had not yet come upon them. Even though Jesus had already designated apostles in his group of disciples and followers.
I’m wondering if we are now waiting on God for empowerment for the next part of the journey of faith in Christ. We see a lack of power in our day. We see a lack of zeal and preparedness on the part of many ‘christians’. We see christians stopped in their tracks, so to speak. We don’t know what to do next. We don’t know how to get things going. Leaders don’t know how to get things going. They’re blaming the saints. The saints are blaming the leaders (and rightly so in large part, I think). Leaders lead, and we are going nowhere except around and around in North America. We seem to be wandering in a huge wilderness right now. Nobody seems to know what’s going on.
I think that we may be waiting on God. We can do nothing without Him. If we try, we will spin our wheels. Many christians seem to have little or nothing to offer converts. God will not put converts into situations like this. People are being added to the ‘church’ but they may be being added by the efforts and wisdom of ‘men’. This wisdom is foolishness in God’s sight. This is man trying to be ‘gods’.
Is any denomination succeeding? I don’t think so. If they were, it would be known. It was hard not to hear about Jesus and what he was doing in his day. They didn’t have telephones, computers or social media to spread the news, we do. We would have heard already, without a doubt.
What to do? Get on our knees before God and be patient. Inactivity is gruesome for certain people, but I don’t think that we have much choice. Should we stop trying to talk about Jesus? No. I think when we have the opportunity we should wittness to what God has given to us.
I attended a church service on Sunday. One of the main pastors in this church was hired before he even had credentials in ministry? Why? He had a masters in psychology. The church has resorted to using mind games and strategies to try and ‘light a fire’ under their congregants. They call this ‘equipping the saints’. I cringe.
Sorry for the long comment.