NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptists have determined to focus their energies and resources through a process we have called Empowering Kingdom Growth. Tom Elliff challenged us to recognize that the foundation of all that we do is the home, and thus we looked at the Seven Pillars of a Kingdom Family. Our two mission agencies reminded us that Kingdom-centered people must have a missional heartbeat. They challenged us to join our energies and resources to accomplish the Acts 1:8 Challenge.
As I travel across our convention, I am beginning to sense that the Kingdom passion is beginning to catch fire. I am hearing much conversation on being Kingdom people and on being Acts 1:8 churches. Nonetheless, many of the churches that have taken the Acts 1:8 challenge seemed to have missed the obvious point of that verse which indicates that we must be intentionally evangelistic to complete the Acts 1:8 challenge.
In recent months, we have been looking to the early church to see if we could discover the characteristics of that community of believers that enabled them to maintain a Kingdom-centered focus and to turn the world upside down. This time we look at a characteristic we give lip service to but often ignore in both personal and corporate practice — intentional evangelism.
A LOOK AT THE EARLY CHURCH
The key to the success of the early church is actually found in Acts 1:8: “You will be My witnesses.” Witness is not something we do, it is who we are. By virtue of our relationship to Jesus Christ, we become a witness. No one else has your story because no one else has your unique experience with Christ. I think it is entirely possible that we have unintentionally made evangelism seem to be too difficult by implying that one must have a certain spiritual gift to witness, and then they must memorize the right verses and transition phrases before they can be a witness. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I am an advocate of evangelism training and visitation through the church. However, the first issue of becoming a witness is to have a relationship with Christ and to tell others about that relationship.
You may be thinking that witnessing just does not come naturally to you. You’re not the outgoing type. Good news! Witnessing is not natural to anyone. It is supernatural. We sometimes forget that the promise of becoming a witness is preceded by the giving of the power of the Holy Spirit. If you read through the book of Acts, you will repeatedly find the indication that they were given boldness to witness by the Holy Spirit. They didn’t exhibit boldness nor effectiveness until the Holy Spirit was given through Pentecost. The same empowering is available to us today. The Holy Spirit gives us the boldness to share our story and then brings conviction of sin and new life to the hearer. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict and convince; it is the task of the witness to tell.
As I read the book of Acts, I find two patterns of evangelism that are uniquely intertwined — the spontaneous witness (which I view as Kingdom moments) and the planned strategy (intentional). I think it is critical that the modern-day church focus and train to embody both of these strategies.
SEIZE KINGDOM OPPORTUNITIES
Let’s look at a few examples where early Christians seized Kingdom moments. The dramatic events surrounding Pentecost provided a marvelous opportunity for the early disciples to witness. The primary tool that God used was Peter. He first explained that the joyous behavior of the believers was not caused by intoxication, but by the Holy Spirit. Notice that Kingdom opportunities are often created by the behavior of believers. We could say that the “salt” of our lives will provide the platform for the presentation of our “light.”
Now that Peter had an attentive audience, he explained what had happened to the early Christians using numerous Old Testament passages, which would have been most appropriate for his Jewish audience. He then simply declared, “God has resurrected this Jesus. We are all witnesses of this” (Acts 2:32). Not all of those persons gathered at Pentecost had been at the empty tomb, but all had experienced the resurrected Lord. The same is true for us! Notice that verse 37 indicates that the hearers were pierced to the heart — that is the work of the Holy Spirit.
In Acts chapter 3 we discover that the healing of the lame man provided yet another Kingdom moment. First, Peter deflected any attention or glory that might have come to him as the instrument God used to bring the healing and pointed them to the true source of life. Listen to his testimony: “And you killed the source of life, whom God raised from the dead; we are witnesses of this” (3:15). Peter then offered the hearers the opportunity to experience the source of life — “Therefore repent and turn back, that your sins may be wiped out so that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (3:19). Look for opportunities to bear witness to what God is accomplishing in your life and in your church and give people the opportunity to respond to this Good News. Who wouldn’t want to know that their sins can be wiped out?
I love the story that could be called “jail house rocks.” Paul and Silas were thrown into jail in Philippi. How would they respond to such ill and unjust treatment? They began to pray and sing hymns, and God sent an earthquake that rocked the house. This strange event served only to provide Paul with another opportunity to share the Gospel with the jailer and his family (Acts 16:25-34). Sometimes our response to mistreatment will actually provide a Kingdom opportunity to explain the Good News that enabled us to rejoice during trials.
DEVELOP AN INTENTIONAL STRATEGY
While it is clear that much of the witnessing of the early believers was centered on spontaneous opportunities, Luke, who wrote Acts, makes it clear that the early church had an intentional plan for accomplishing the Acts 1:8 imperative. Listen to these verses.
“Then, after they had testified and spoken the message of the Lord, they traveled back to Jerusalem, evangelizing many villages of the Samaritans” (Acts 8:25).
“Philip appeared in Azotus, and passing through, he was evangelizing all the towns until he came to Caesarea (Acts 8:40).
“After they had evangelized that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch, strengthening the hearts of the disciples” (Acts 14:21-22).
The missionary journeys give us clear testimony that the early church had an intentional and systematic plan for fulfilling their Acts 1:8 objective.
It would be foolish for the church today to ignore the need to develop a systematic means of reaching Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. It is readily apparent that we will need to develop and work in partnership at each level if we are to see this task completed in our generation. One of the unique aspects of Southern Baptist life is that such partnerships exist through our associations, state conventions, and two mission agencies. It is not enough for the local church to argue that it has done its part when it gives to other mission agencies; we must lead our people to participate at each level of the Acts 1:8 challenge if we are going to defeat the spiritual myopia that keeps us in bondage.
PRINCIPLES WE MUST APPLY
We must pray that the Holy Spirit will give us the vision to see Kingdom opportunities and the boldness to tell our story.
We must understand that “witness” is what we are and agree to make witnessing a daily part of our lifestyle.
We must quit thinking in terms of addition and think instead in terms of multiplication. The participation of a multiplicity of persons in the witnessing task will multiply the impact of the witness of the local church.
We must intentionally live in such a joyous manner that people will ask us questions that will provide the platform for our witness.
The church must provide training opportunities that will enable everyone to explain the hope that is within them.
Individually and corporately we must employ a strategy that maximizes the opportunities of daily life and incorporates an intentional strategy for penetrating our community to the ends of the earth.
We must pray for a passion for Christ, His Word, and His world if we are to be effective in our witness.
We must develop a consciousness for the lost in every program and ministry of our churches.
Don’t miss out on the greatest joy in life — leading a friend to Christ. Tell your story, and let the Spirit give the results.
Kenneth S. Hemphill is the national strategist for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis, on the Web at www.empoweringkingdomgrowth.net.