How do we, as Christians, impact the world? A great deal of discussion has been raised lately by a recent Christianity Today article, and several responses (positive and negative) are all over the blogosphere. I don’t really want to get into any of the details of that, but one very fascinating thing about the entire discussion is – what does the Bible say about impacting the world? What is a Christian to do?
You see, the modern approach today—particularly among evangelicals—is to view the world from a ministry-transformative approach. That is, a believer needs to be involved in a Christian ministry outreaching to the world, in order to transform it. “If you really believe you have the cure for sin,” the saying goes, “surely you would share it!” And that of course is true. But then how do we share it? The modern evangelical approach is to organize outreach programs and events; every person is out there actively ‘selling’ the faith.
We run the modern church basically like a business. (Which is both good and bad.) We advertise; we come up with slogans; we try to reach untouched markets/demographics (though we use the better-feeling term “unchurched”). Our job is to go out and “sell” what Christ has done for our lives. So we share our testimony—“here is how bad I used to be…now look how good I am! Buy Jesus! (Preferably from our church!)”
Now, the interesting thing is this—ask an evangelical where that comes from in the Bible. They will invariably point to Matthew 28:16-20, the “Great Commission”: “Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’”
Notice what is absent here—how to achieve the goal of making disciples.
So people just make up whatever they want, and use this to ‘approve’ of their ministry approach. And maybe all of those approaches are great…not saying that they are not. But let’s see what the Bible said about how to approach it.
The New Testament shows three different approaches, and it depends upon the vocation that God called the people to: there is one approach for the missionary, one approach for the shepherds/pastors/elders, and one approach for the “laity”.
(Pause. Let me be clear that these three vocations do not indicate a separation in approach to God. We are all priests to God, all having access to Him by His one mediator, Christ Jesus. There is no other way to approach God but by Him. I simply mean to indicate that God calls different people in different ways, and virtually everyone I can find in the New Testament churches falls into one of those three categories. Unpause.)
For good descriptions of the missionary vocation, please read Acts starting in chapter 8. I’m not going to go into much detail here, but the goal of the missionary was to teach the Gospel in places that had never heard it, and to plant churches. For good descriptions of the church leadership vocations, see Paul’s pastoral epistles (Titus, 1 & 2 Timothy). I am not going to spend any time discussing those two roles. Their roles are clear.
What I want to know is this: what is the role of the ‘lay’ church member, someone called to a non-pastoral/missionary vocation, in impacting the world? How do we go about it?
The modern evangelical approach would be to take the priesthood of every believer (i.e., our access to God) and turn us all into missionaries to our communities. In this approach, seemingly the only difference between an ordained minister and a lay member is that the ordained minister gets paid to spread the Gospel. Maybe that is the right way; maybe this is what Christ intended.
Still, what is the right approach to interpreting a Scripture? It is always to look at the Scripture in light of all others. So we see that we are called to make disciples of the world…how does that work for “lay members”? The best way is to find out what the Bible says about how “proper” Christian lay members behaved.
So let us look at several passages.
Let us start in Acts 2. In this passage, Peter begins preaching the resurrection of Christ and eternal life, and people start joining the church in Jerusalem. So what do they do? Well, here is what we see the “lay” members doing:
• They spend time eating, praying, and enjoying fellowship with other believers (Acts 2:42, 46-47, 5:12)
• They give generously, both inside and outside the church (Acts 2:44-45)
• They study the teaching of the Apostles, which later became the New Testament (Acts 2:42)
So not much ‘evangelicalism’ there—they spend time in fellowship with each other, they are generous, and they study the Bible. They just lived their lives, but praised God and were kind and generous to all people (Acts 2:47).
We see this again through the Scripture; for example, take 1 Peter 2-4, where he discusses how to live as a Christian in a pagan world. He says to simply love your neighbor, submit to authorities and your family members, forgive those who do you wrong, remain humble and pray. That is it – live a life of simplicity and love. Try to fix your own sin, and ask forgiveness when you fail.
This is a lazy Christianity! Most evangelical churches would be scandalized if a pastor taught such things! Imagine…shutting down all those programs and ministries, and instead teaching the Bible every day, fellowshipping with other believers constantly, and giving generously to your community (with no strings attached). Pastors would lose their jobs left and right.
But that is what God said in His Word. And what was the result? “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
That was it. No ad campaign. No outreach events or parties. No programs or organization at all. They generously took care of people in need, they feasted on the word of God, and they prayed and spent time with other believers. That was all. And the Lord brought people to them.
They didn’t go out and hand out tracts or seek out people for street preaching or have special evangelical events to reach the masses. They simply went back to their real lives, “praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people”. They showed compassion and love for those around them in real, physical ways – with sacrifice and money and feeding the hungry and clothing the poor.
And God added people to their number.
And GOD added to their number.
This is not the modern evangelical approach today. The approach of most evangelicals is to create outreach programs and events. To create ministry teams. To engage everyone in the church in evangelism activities. To make church seem attractive to those who didn’t want it before. Why? Because they are trying to add to their number. They are trying to do the work themselves. But that is not what the Scripture teaches. It is God who adds to our number.
Our job as “lay” Christians is not to run or organize or be in some ministry program. It is a simple life: fellowship with other believers; study the Word; take care of those in your community in a real, sacrificial, financial, physical way. And let God add to our numbers.
It is, at its heart, a question of trust. I trust that if I engage in what God asks me to do in my calling, then God will do what He wants to do in the church. If I take care of my community and feast on His word and celebrate with His people, then God will be glorified through my life. If I do the part He has asked me to do, then He will be glorified.
As Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the Gospel every day. If necessary, use words.” Evangelism happens not by a ministry campaign, but by believers engaging with Jesus in their day-to-day callings. If you are a homeschooling mother, then engage Jesus in your vocation. If you are a teacher, then engage Jesus in your vocation. Lawyer, doctor, engineer, business owner? Engage Jesus in your vocation. Walk with Him where you are. Preach the Gospel in your life – that God loved you as you are, and that you love others as they are (i.e., non-judgmentally). That you will give everything you have to help them, just as Jesus gave everything He had to help you.
For those of us who are lay members, ours is not to be a life of the missionary or the pastor. Ours is to be a life of loving those around us like we love ourselves, and trusting God and the Holy Spirit to do their jobs. Why are we not okay with that? Why must we insist that God’s way is too slow, too simple? Why do we think we know better than Him how to achieve His goals? Why do we feel like, when it comes to ministry, “more is better”, “busy is good”?
The Bible does not put the weight of increasing the church on us—it puts it on the Lord. He will add to our number. He will convict the sinner. He will call the saved. Our role is much simpler, but no less important. We are to be a mirror reflecting His love to those around us.
So believers, be strengthened. Shed your anxiety. Simplify your life and schedule. And do what God calls us to do: study His Word; engage with other believers; and give generously to help those in your community. Let God add to our number those who are saved as a result.