We consider someone’s last words to be of utmost importance. Family members will crowd around a dying man’s bed to catch his last words and then recall them again and again for years to come. Similarly, the last words of Jesus Christ before He ascended to heaven were of utmost importance. He gives them to us in all four gospel accounts and in the book of Acts.
Matthew 28:18-20 “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Mark 16:15-16 “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”
Luke 24:46-49 “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witness of these things. And behold I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
John 20:21 “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”
Acts 1:8 “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
Notice that in every case Jesus emphasizes the responsibility of the apostles to extend His kingdom. They are to make disciples of all the nations, preach the gospel to all creation, proclaim repentance for forgiveness of sins to all the nations, be sent by Jesus Christ just as He was sent by His Father, and be witnesses to the remotest part of the earth. Jesus gives the same basic message in five different ways in order that the apostles would have no doubt as to what their job was after He left. He left these words ringing in their ears. He had one thing He wanted to impress indelibly on their minds. It was as if He was saying, “If you forget everything else I’ve taught you, you must never forget this!” These texts form the marching orders for the Church until Christ returns.
Those of us who meet in small churches must deal responsibly with these final words of Jesus Christ. Theoretically, we should have an advantage over those who meet in more traditional settings. Since we do not typically use our money to hire a pastor or pay for a mortgage on a building, we should have all the finances necessary to do the work of evangelism in our city. Additionally, the house church model is much easier to reproduce than the traditional church. In order to plant another house church we don’t need to hire a seminary trained individual, and build a special religious edifice complete with cross, stained glass windows, pulpit, pews and organ. All we really need to plant a house church is a handful of people who love Jesus Christ and want to follow Him together. On the other hand, the whole dynamic of a house church can work against the command of Christ to reach out with His gospel. Often, when someone comes into a house church they enjoy the rich and intimate fellowship with other believers so much, that they tend to focus on that to the neglect of equally important matters, like evangelism, discipleship and church planting. However, we must not let that happen to us. Our churches must not only have an inward nurturing thrust. They must also have an outward missionary thrust.
Too often the church has a fortress mentality. We see the power of Satan and his demons, and wanting to protect ourselves from the power and pollution of sin, we retreat and cloister in fear. However, instead of finding ourselves on the defensive, we ought to be on the offensive! Jesus said that the gates of Hades would not overpower His church (Mt 16:18). In this passage the church is on the offensive, and hell is on the defensive! I understand Jesus to mean that as the church boldly, and aggressively invades Satan’s kingdom with the gospel of Jesus Christ, the devil will not be able to successfully oppose our onslaught. We will prevail. We have the power and authority to invade the kingdom of darkness with the truth of the gospel, and hell can’t stop us. Let this truth from the lips of Christ encourage and embolden you to new evangelistic exploits!
If all this is true, how should our house churches engage in the task of reaching the lost and planting new churches? Let’s take a look at where and how the early church evangelized to get some direction for our own churches.
Where Did The Early Church Evangelize?
Often churches today seek to evangelize by inviting non-Christians to one of their meetings. A popular approach is to gear the Sunday church service towards non-Christians by having professional music, drama, and practical messages directed towards the nonbeliever in areas such as finances, stress, work, and family. They hope that unbelievers will be attracted to Christ through such means. After they have been converted, they are encouraged to attend a Bible study during the week where they can grow in their faith. However, the New Testament approach is almost completely opposite. Instead of inviting the lost to church meetings, most New Testament evangelism took place during the week as believers came into contact with unbelievers, or as apostolic workers proclaimed Christ in public places. Church meetings were designed for the edification of believers, not the conversion of unbelievers (1Co 14:3, 5, 12, 17, 26). Of course, on occasion unbelievers did attend church meetings (1Co 14:24-25). Nevertheless, the meetings were not designed for them but rather for the strengthening of the church. It seems that the Biblical model is to proclaim Christ to others as the Lord provides opportunity for our witness, and when someone comes to faith in Christ, to then invite him to begin meeting with other believers in our corporate gatherings.
How Did The Early Church Evangelize?
The early church took Jesus’ words at face value and sought to obey them. They did so in two different ways. Speaking in broad, general categories, apostles (church planters) and evangelists sought to reach those they did not know through public proclamation, while the other members of the church sought to reach the lost through daily interaction with people they did know. Apostolic workers proclaimed Christ in synagogues, market places, and riversides (Ac 13:5, 14; 17:17; 16:13). The rest of the church on the other hand, witnessed primarily through their daily, regular contact with unbelievers. That’s why Paul wrote to them and said, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Col 4:5-6). Peter exhorts likewise, “…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1Pe 3:15). Early church members were to respond to outsiders, and be always ready to make a defense to everyone who asks. These passages seem to indicate that the early Christians usually witnessed to the life transforming power of the gospel to those they already knew (life-style evangelism), whereas the apostles (church planters) took a more aggressive approach in proclaiming Christ to those they did not know.
What implications does this have for how our house churches should reach out to the lost? It means that those in our churches whom God has gifted and called to work in evangelism (evangelists and church planters) will look for venues to present the gospel of Christ to those they don’t know. Perhaps they will engage in open air preaching, street evangelism, door to door witnessing, and tract distribution. Perhaps they will be given opportunities to speak at various events and functions. Because I am a bluegrass banjo player I have been given several opportunities to preach the gospel to largely secular audiences at concerts and festivals.
On the other hand, other members of the congregation should be praying and looking for opportunities to speak a word for Christ to those they interact with, like classmates, neighbors, work mates, relatives, customers or other acquaintances. Additionally we need to regularly seek to put ourselves in places where we can interact with non-Christians. We can join a neighborhood watch program, civic group, or square dancing group to meet people. We can open our homes during the holidays and invite our neighbors in. We can invite unbelievers into our homes for dinner. We can start an investigative Bible study for any of our unsaved friends who are open to learning what the Bible has to say. We can ask our unbelieving friends what we can be praying for in their lives. I have been surprised to find out how many of our neighbors were actually lonely people and welcomed a loving friendship. When God gives an opportunity for us to befriend an unbeliever, we need to just be ourselves, and let our light shine. The opportunities abound to love people and thus make an eternal difference in their lives.
In addition, our churches should pray for and give generously to those God has gifted and called to evangelize and plant churches. The apostle Paul often urged local congregations to pray for him in his evangelistic and church planting labors (Ep 6:19-20; Col 4:3-4). In the texts just cited, Paul is urging believers to pray for him that God would give him boldness to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, and that God would open to him a door for the word that he could speak forth the mystery of Christ. Furthermore, Paul consistently commended those churches who generously gave of their finances to support his evangelistic work (Php 4:14-19; 2Co 8:1-5). Let’s pray for and give to those whom God has raised up as evangelists and church planters today.
Out of all the people the church witnesses to, there will be some whom God has prepared to receive Christ and be saved. What then? Well, the person who led the individual to Christ, if possible, should begin to disciple him by spending time with him, encouraging him, answering questions he has about how to live for God, and providing an example for him in serving Christ. As God saves new believers we can either add them to the existing church, or begin a new church plant. Since house churches have a built in size limitation (as many as can fit in a house), you will probably start to experience difficulties meeting together when the numbers approach 35 or 40 people. At that point plan to plant a new church! You can plant the new church either by splitting the previous church in two, or hiving off a few people and starting a new church plant, while leaving the previous church pretty much intact. I personally prefer the latter method. When people begin to form strong friendships in a church, it can be traumatic to tear them apart. It may be much less stressful to take a few new believers and a brother gifted in church planting and have them begin meeting in a new location. The church planter can begin to teach these new believers how to function as a church, and how to reach their social circle with the gospel of Christ. Hopefully, over time, God will raise up from these new converts mature brothers who can serve as elders to shepherd the flock. The church planter is now free to devote himself to planting a new church, and so the process begins all over again.
Oh, may God stir those of us involved in house churches to labor to fulfill the Great Commission that Jesus might receive glory and His kingdom extend around the world!
Some believers are supernaturally gifted in evangelism and or church planting. Their existence and ministry is a New Testament pattern, especially in pioneer areas. However, it does not follow that every new church must be started by a bona fide church planter, else it is not a true New Testament church. While their ministry is a great help in the plant of a new church, it is not absolutely essential, particularly in areas where the gospel has already been preached and the church firmly established.
1. Why would Jesus say that His people are the salt of the earth (Mt 5:13)? 2. Based on Matthew 5:17- 7:29, how can we let our light shine before men in such a way that they praise our Father in heaven (Mt 5:13-16)?
3. What did Jesus predict about the gospel in Matthew 24:14? Compare Mk 13:10, Lk 24:46-47.
4. Based on what Jesus said in Mark 4:1-20, what evangelistic results might we anticipate?
5. In John 4:34-38, what can we learn about the process that is involved in bringing someone to faith in Christ? Compare 1Co 3:5-9, Ga 6:9-10.
6. What final mission did Jesus give the apostles before He ascended into heaven (Mt 28:18-20, Mk 16:15-16, Lk 24:46-49, Ac 1:8)?
7. How can those of us who meet in home churches deal responsibly with the final words of Jesus Christ?
8. What should we ask God to do whenever we pray for evangelists and missionaries, based on Matthew 9:35-38, Ephesians 6:19-20 and Colossians 4:3-4?
9. Why did Paul commend the churches in Philippi and Macedonia (Php 4:14-19; 2Co 8:1-5)?
10. What should a house church do when more people come than the home can accommodate?
11. According to Acts 11:19-21, 13:48, & 16:14, why was their evangelism so effective?
12. Should you see yourself as an ambassador for Christ (2Co 5:11-21)? How might envisioning this change your life-style?
13. What evangelistic advice did Paul offer in Colossians 4:5-6?
14. Based on the context of 1 Peter 3:8-22, why would someone ask to hear a reason for the hope that we have (1Pe 3:15)?
15. Why does the whole dynamic of a house church tend to work against the command of Christ to reach out with His gospel?
16. How are local church members, as opposed to the apostles and evangelists, supposed to evangelize?