Christians must be disciple-makers and must be willing to do the Father’s will as Jesus did.
Jeff Johnson challenged attendees at the American Baptist Churches of Nebraska annual meeting May 1-2 at First Baptist Church of Kearney, Neb., to be disciples and evangelists.
Using Matthew 28:18-20 in the evening session on May 1, Johnson, the evangelism specialist for the American Baptist Home Mission Societies, reminded listeners that God would give them power and authority.
“Disciples are the producers of evangelism. Believers are the product of their efforts,” said Johnson, who also serves on the ABC Pennsylvania and Delaware Region staff.
But many Christians are unwilling to be disciples. “Our pews are full of believers but we have few disciples,” Johnson told a producer of the ABC Nightline television news show a few years ago when asked to sum up the problem with the church.
Johnson turned to the story of Nicodemus, suggesting that the Pharisee had been among the group the religious leaders had sent to find out what John the Baptist was doing and who he was.
Because of the time required to travel from Jerusalem to the place where John was baptizing, Johnson suggested that Nicodemus and the group of priests and Levites would have been leaving the area and would have walked by as Jesus was baptized.
The encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus recorded in John 3 likely meant Nicodemus was a seeker, the first of three stages of spiritual development and growth, Johnson said.
The best thing believers can do is to give their time to seekers. As they spend time together, believers should give their undivided attention. Believers also should simply tell seekers that God loves them, rather than to try to explain the Bible or the mysteries of faith, he said.
Then Nicodemus became a secret believer. He “really believed God loved him…as an internal truth,” Johnson said. Nicodemus’ participation with Joseph of Arimathea to bury Jesus showed that Nicodemus had “brought Jesus from the inside to the outside.”
“To be a disciple means you are making a sacrifice for Jesus,” Johnson added. “Being a believer means you’ve got Jesus but you keep it. Being a disciple means you’ve got it but you let the world know it.”
In his Saturday sermon, Johnson used the story of the servant sent to find a wife for Isaac in Genesis 24 as an analogy for evangelism.
God had promised Abraham would have countless descendants, but Sarah had already passed away and Isaac was not yet married. Sometimes God keeps his promises but not in the lifetime of the person to whom the promise was made, the evangelism specialist reminded listeners.
But that is a reminder that believers need to start something that’s not all about them and to be a part of something beyond themselves and their existence, he said.
Abraham was old but not too old for God to continue to use. “God’s not done with working with old people or old things,” Johnson said, reminding attendees of the oldest ABC churches in Nebraska.
Genesis 24 is about the father’s love for his son. Abraham, the father, sent his longest-serving worker. The servant knew the father was looking for someone to love his son as the father loved the son, Johnson said. Believers also look for people who will love Jesus as God the Father does.
Just as Abraham explained to the servant, Christians aren’t responsible for the decisions others make. The servant only had to offer the invitation to be part of Abraham’s family, he did not have to coerce Rebekah to respond.
Evangelism is like that, Johnson explained. Believers only need to extend the invitation to join God’s family and let the Holy Spirit take care of bringing the lost person to a decision.
When the servant arrived at Abraham’s relatives’ home, he knelt and prayed before approaching the well. “Before you talk to people about God, you must talk to God about people,” Johnson said. “The more you talk to God about people, the more you will talk to people about God.
The well in the Genesis story represents the workplace, Johnson said. He challenged listeners to “be careful of the labels we put on people.” Rebekah appeared to be the right woman, but the servant did not know whether she would have faith in Abraham’s offer. She had not seen him, nor had she seen Isaac. She had to take the servant’s word by faith.
“Salvation will always be by faith,” Johnson said.
He encouraged listeners to go to places where they would see people as they are, to spend time with them and to share their stories and invite people to come to the Father, and then allow the Holy Spirit to lead those folks to faith.