Lon J. Allison
Director, Institute of Strategic Evangelism and Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College
The key to reaching the world with the Gospel is not more schools, more programs or more sermons. They key to world evangelism is more workers who follow Jesus.
When will we learn to concentrate our efforts upon meeting the basic need in evangelism? The masses of humanity, Jesus point out, are like "harassed and helpless" sheep (Matthew 9:36). They were receptive to works of compassion, as was demonstrated in the way crowds were drawn to Him. But they were self-serving in their interests, bereft of loving shepherds to come for them, and the good intentions of the people were soon aborted.
Jesus did all He could to help them, but in His incarnate physical body, He could not possibly meet their continuing need for nurture. Where were workers available who could assist Him in the waiting harvest?
Calling attention to the problem, Jesus told His disciples to pray for the answer—pray for "the Lord of the harvest" to "send out workers into his harvest field" (Matthew 9:37-38). In calling us to pray, we are reminded that it is a supernatural work. Yet in dependence upon God, we become participants in what He does.
Jesus the Model
Our Lord's own pattern of ministry in principle showed how the prayer was answered. While tirelessly working among the multitudes, He gave special attention to some men who would go into the harvest and multiply His labors.
As their numbers grew, He selected 12 especially to be with Him. Peter, James and John had an even closer association, which underscores a principle. The smaller the group being trained, the greater the opportunity for learning.
For the better part of three years they were together. Imagine! He came to save the world, but while here He spent more time with a handful of learners than with everybody else in the world.
In this fellowship the disciples could see His vision of the harvest lived out. He involved them in various ministries, gradually enlarging responsibilities as they grew in self-confidence and skill.
From time to time He would check to see how they were coming along, building them a sense of accountability. Problems were dealt with as they came up. Though progress was painfully slow, he patiently kept them moving toward His goal. That objective was the ultimate evangelization of the world and the coming of the Kingdom of God.
That the group was small in the beginning made no difference. All that mattered was that His disciples learned to reproduce and teach their disciples in turn to do the same—a strategy clearly focused in His farewell command to the church. "Go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19)."
The Great Commission is not a call to clerical service, nor is it a gift of the Spirit to a few chosen saints. It is a way of living every day whereby workers are prepared for the harvest.
A Pattern to Follow
Because relationships of this depth are best accomplished with a few people at any one time, every Christian has about the same opportunity to make disciples. When members of a congregation see this ministry as their own, the priesthood of all believers comes alive. As they pass it on, sowers and reapers in the harvest multiply, and the whole church becomes a ministering body.
Do you see those god has given to you? They are the answer to your prayer for God to raise up laborers for His harvest. Likely most of them belong to your own peer group.
Look around you, and you will see persons with whom you already have much in common. With those who do not know the Savior, your relationships become a means of clarifying the Gospel, bringing them to decision. With believers needing encouragement and direction in their lives, you can lead them into deeper realms of holiness.
You do it by being together. The more informal the association the better, like going shopping or playing a round of golf. Such casual activities, of course, do not take the place of scheduled group meetings and church services. But learning comes more naturally in relaxed family settings.
As they follow Christ, help them grow in the Word of God. Teach them to pray. Show them how to make their witness relevant to the community where they live.
In the process, they will see your own struggles and shortcomings. But let them also see your confession when you know the error of your way. The beautiful thing about discipling others is that you, too, are being disciples. It is God's provision for helping us all grow in grace and knowledge.
You learn together as a team in the harvest, each person working according to his or her gifts. And as you impart the vision to others, with each succeeding spiritual generation, the harvest increases to the ends of the earth and to the end of time.
Multiply such workers, and you will win the world.
For Christ and His Kingdom,
Lonnie J. Allison