As we discovered last week, personal evangelism is worked out by God. God works together the circumstances of our lives so that, in those circumstances, His Gospel will be placed in front of the people as a testimony of Him through us. This is the very reason God works together persecution specifically. We are sent out as sheep among wolves.
What about as a church body? Does the Scripture ever instruct the church body to practice congregational evangelism or conduct planned outreach as a group? Is the church ever to commission outreach or run ads or host outreach events or get involved in the community in order to intentionally reach people with the Gospel? In searching online, I only saw the basic calls to evangelism as a defense of practicing what we will refer to here as “congregational” or “planned” outreach. Not one article that I looked at actually used a biblical example of congregational or planned outreach. We know that we must practice evangelism. Is it right for the church to plan or program outreach, or is it something that should be relegated to the individual and the circumstances of the individual as worked together by God for God’s purposes?
Let’s look to the Scriptures together.
The first example that comes to mind is the official work of the Apostle Paul under the authority of the Church at Antioch during his missionary journeys. In Acts 11:19-26, we read,
“Those who had been scattered as a result of the persecution that started because of Stephen made their way as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the message to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, Cypriot and Cyrenian men, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Hellenists, proclaiming the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. Then the report about them was heard by the church that was at Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to travel as far as Antioch. When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged all of them to remain true to the Lord with a firm resolve of the heart, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And large numbers of people were added to the Lord. Then he went to Tarsus to search for Saul, and when he found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught large numbers. The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.”
Just as we discovered last week, God was working together persecution to place the testimony of His own name in front of people. Because of persecution in Jerusalem, the disciples fled and told people about Jesus as they went. As a result, a church was planted in Antioch and confirmed by Paul and Barnabas (who were sent from the local church in Jerusalem). Paul and Barnabas trained the new local church for at least one year (v. 26).
When we get to chapter 13, we see that the people in the Church at Antioch were mature, that the Holy Spirit set aside Paul and Barnabas for His own work and that the local church would commission this work- planned, intentional, missionary outreach.
“In the church that was at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
As they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work I have called them to.” Then after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off” (Acts 13:1-3).
Not only do we see God working together the circumstances of the lives of His people in order to place the testimony of His name in front of people, but also the church being instructed by the Holy Spirit to initiated planned outreach. Outreach was planned to tell people about Christ, not to bolster the numbers of the Church at Antioch. As a result of this intentional planning, many local churches would be planted throughout the areas we know as the Holy Land and southern Turkey. So, the local church is instructed by the Holy Spirit to commission people to lead planned outreach. Why? Why are we instructed to do this if God is already working things together to place the testimony of His own name in front of His chosen people?
Even though we are instructed to plan, this is not our work. It is the work of the Spirit (Acts 13:2). He is the one who instructs us and directs our planning. We cannot be motivated by thinking that it is our responsibility to reach the lost and that without us, they will perish. We’ve already established that God reaches His chosen people. When we plan by the leadership of the Holy Spirit, we become a fuller picture of God and a stronger part of Christ’s body. God desires that none perish but all come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). So, through congregational or planned outreach, God’s desire for people and for the nations is made evident. This is all about the glory of God on display through His people in His creation in our time and forevermore. That is why.
So, churches, do something. Do outreach that matters in your community. Please, I beg you, do not do outreach to bolster your own numbers, but to multiply God’s image in His creation. Follow the direction of the Holy Spirit. Get involved in your communities. Become church planting churches. Make disciples who make disciples and commission people to fulfill their high calling in Christ Jesus.