In a study conducted in the past year from Barna Research, in conjunction with Seed Company, one of the major findings was that over half of U.S. church goers have not heard of the Great Commission. To one who grew up in church, listening to sermons on evangelism and memorizing scriptures in Bible class to earn points for prizes, this seems hard to believe. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20: Go into all the world and make disciples…) was spoken of so often, everyone knew we had a responsibility to share our faith with others. Knowing we should be involved in evangelism didn’t always produce evangelistic mindsets or results in us, but there was never a doubt one of our most important responsibilities as Christians was to evangelize those who did not go to church. It was a defining characteristic of my childhood.
For various reasons, some good and some bad, the church in general has moved away from the constant encouragement to share our faith with others. As I evaluate my own preaching, evangelism is not a topic that comes up as often as living a holy life or being on mission with God. I often assume that if we as Christians are living into the mission of God we will be sharing our faith with others, yet the reality is at times we’ve mastered being good neighbors without remembering that at some point we have to take the next step of sharing faith. Not because our goal of being a good neighbor is “to win a soul for Christ” but because if we really are friends we will share the good news.
Barna’s research findings then should not be surprising. New generations of church goers will not know what the Great Commission is if we don’t center our preaching on the passage. It’s the follow-up question that is vitally important, and it’s not should we preach more sermons based on Matthew 28. It is, what is it that the church can offer to the world, and is that worth sharing?
The world is broken. Violence. Famine. Wars. Economic uncertainty. Family separations. Sexual identity questions. Sickness and death. Natural disasters. It seems like everywhere we turn, there is more struggle. Obviously, this is a glass half-empty way to view the world, but it’s the message that is often pronounced over the nightly news or on the internet. The world is broken. The future seems bleak. Hope is gone.
However, the truth is, Christians actually have the message that will comfort our broken world. When we hear of wars and rumors of wars, we have the message that brings peace. When we see disagreements in companies, governments, or families, we have the message of how to get along with each other in community. When we witness individuals being treated and talked about disparagingly because of their differences, we have the message of the worth of each individual God has made. When we experience struggles of identity and worth, we have the message of what it means to be fully human. When financial difficulties arise, and bills pile up, we have the message of provision for all that we need. When sickness and death mount, we have the message of healing. We have the good news for a broken world, the news that makes life better and brings hope. That’s what we offer and share in evangelism.
There is a beautiful picture in Revelation 22 when John is envisioning the New Creation. John sees the throne of God, the very presence of God in the world, and out of the throne flows the river of life. Beside the river is the tree of life with its twelve fruits, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. John declares, there is coming a time when the world is made right, and God provides the healing for the nations. This is not just a dream that could happen, it is the reality of what will happen. The healing of the nations. What a day that will be!
In evangelism, we have the opportunity to introduce others to the reality of the new creation. We are offering them the hope of healing; a healing that will come. It may not end all war now, or pay all bills, or answer all questions, but it does change the reality of life. It changes our focus. It provides a foundation that allows us to survive the storms of life.
While we may have lost the language of “the great commission” we must never lose the message or the motivation. We have the message for the healing of the nations, and it’s more vital that we share it now than ever before. We must accept the call to share, because the world needs healed. And it will be healed. God will get us to the good future. We get to invite others to join.