On July 5, 2019, an Ethiopian distance runner was competing in the Diamond League 5000 metres in Lausanne, Switzerland, home of the International Olympic Committee. Competitors run around the 400-metre oval track 12.5 times, pacing themselves and making carefully calculated judgments about when to try to break away from the pack to achieve victory. Near the end of the race, Gebrhiwet made his move and quickly began to leave the rest of the stunned pack of runners behind. As he approached the finish line, he was jubilant, knowing that the second place runner was many seconds behind him. Upon crossing the line first, Gebrhiwet pumped his fists in the air and began to walk toward the cheering fans in the stands. It was only then that he saw the second-place runner blow past him and continue running around the track… for the final lap.
Hagos Gebrhiwet had made a critical error. He thought the race was over while he still had one lap to go. No doubt, the disappointment that a world-class runner like Gebrhiwet experienced at finishing 10th when he could have finished first was terrible. But how much more disappointing when the prize missed out on is not a medal or a trophy, but eternal life.
As Christians, we don’t want to make the same mistake. The Revelation Today Melbourne meetings have come and gone, but our work is far from finished. There are over one thousand people from the community who came to the Revelation Today meetings and many of them are still not ready for Jesus to return. 159 of them have made decisions to be baptised, but not all of them have followed through with those decisions. Each of them needs to be encouraged, befriended, and invited to continue their walk with the Lord.
So, how do we encourage them, or for that matter, anyone new to faith who walks through our doors? How do we help them move forward in their walk with the Lord? How do we help them feel comfortable in a church that may feel new and unfamiliar? And how do we encourage them to get involved with the spread of the gospel message?
Let’s take a step backward before we take a step forward. And to do that, we’ll ask a different question.
Why do we involve ourselves in evangelism in the first place? Some people have the mistaken assumption that evangelism is done in order to get people to join the church. For some people, it’s all about seeing church membership numbers increase. And when our membership goes up, we can pat ourselves confidently on the back and say, somewhat self-righteously, “Well done.” Others think that it’s about money. Because, of course, if more people join the church, they’ll contribute more tithe and offerings to the community pot. But if those are the reasons that we are involved in evangelism, then we have wholly and completely missed the proverbial boat.
Instead, let us look back at a profound statement that Jesus made. In Matthew 28:19-20, He said, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’
When Jesus said to go and ‘make disciples’, He didn’t mean to go and make followers. A follower is not the same as a disciple. The American Heritage Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin, 1985) defines a disciple as, “One who subscribes to the teachings of a master and assists in spreading them.” So, fulfilling the Great Commission that Jesus gave to us is not about getting people to join our church. That idea is rather short-sighted and shallow. And the Great Commission is certainly not about trying to increase the amount of money that comes into the church.
Instead, what Jesus desires is for us to paint a picture of Him that is so loving, so compelling, and so beautiful, that those who see that picture can’t help but fall in love with Him and want to live their lives to glorify His name. Then they, in turn, won’t be able to help themselves as they share His love with others. That’s what the Great Commission is all about.
How then do we paint that picture of Jesus for others? Begin by showing our new friends the love of Jesus. Invite them home and allow them to enter our lives. Share a meal with them. Engage them in meaningful conversation. Invite them to church functions. Offer to study the Bible with them. Pray with them. In a word, LOVE them. And as we do that, they will fall in love with the same Person we are in love with.
In practical terms, what might that look like? First, each of us should begin by asking the Holy Spirit to guide and direct our lives. To help us make decisions like Jesus would make. To see people with the same compassion that He has. To pray that God will open up opportunities for us to reach others. Then we can begin to take action in a meaningful way.
In his book, Winning Ways to Witness, David L. Hartmann lists the kinds of interaction that people need. He says they need intercession, friendship, service, testimony, invitation, conversation, and proclamation (p. 64). Some of those are things that we can supply directly. Others can be done as a part of programs or activities that can take place in our churches.
To continue ministering to our new friends’ needs and encouraging them in their walk with Jesus, our churches can initiate a new member Sabbath school class. Or invite the youth who attended the Revelation Today meetings to join an Adventurer or Pathfinder club. Our churches also have an abundance of ministries that can reach out to our new friends’ needs. Ministries like young adult ministries, women’s ministries, men’s ministries, singles’ ministries. Our churches can also hold regular guest-friendly Sabbaths, where there is an extra effort made to make sure that sermon content, Sabbath school discussions, announcements, and other elements of the service are specifically geared toward the ears of guests. Name tag Sabbaths are great as well. Far too frequently, our own members are not familiar enough with one another to walk up to someone else and greet them with a confident, “Happy Sabbath, Oliver!” Instead, it ends up being a rather awkward, “Happy Sabbath, … uhh … brother!” If periodic name tag Sabbaths were held, where everyone wears a name tag, we would all quickly know one another’s names and it would be that much easier to get to know the names of our guests.
Churches can also hold training classes, for both new and existing members, on how to meet new people and start spiritual conversations with them. Or give Bible studies to people who seem to have an interest.
Ultimately, the job Jesus gave us to do is to get to know people, love them, and introduce them to Him, who loves them even more.
The baptismal vows of the Seventh-day Adventist Church include #13. It reads, “Do you believe that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the remnant church of Bible prophecy, Rev. 12:17, and that people of every nation, race, and language are invited and accepted into its fellowship? Do you desire to be a member of this local congregation of the world
One hopes that a baptismal candidate will answer that question with a very confident “Yes!” But in order for that to happen, it falls on us to make sure that we, as well as our churches, are being welcoming and supportive. And if we are completely in love with Jesus, that should be very easy to achieve.
I am looking forward to returning to Melbourne in November to share several more messages from the word of God. Each of our guests from Revelation Today, as well as many more, will be invited to attend these special meetings that will take place throughout the city. I hope you will come and be a part of this special season as well.
In the meantime, if you should happen to come across anyone who is still hung up on the misguided reasons that are given for engaging in soul-winning, you can always point them to these two verses:
Matthew 6:21 – For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Acts 2:47 – And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
Let’s help people see Jesus in us and He’ll take care of everything from there.
And lest we think that the finish line will be crossed this November, remember that we don’t reach the finish line until Jesus returns. And that won’t happen until Matthew 24:14 is realised. Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
Let’s all finish the last lap together.