By Bishop Scott Jones
Years ago, I quit praying, “God, please bless what I am doing.” Instead, I have prayed daily, “God, help me be a part of what you are blessing.” That re-orients me to look around and to discern where God is actively pursuing God’s purposes, and then to ask how I can be used by him to accomplish his goals.
Scripture is clear that God desires the whole world to be saved. The hymn in Philippians 2:10-11 casts the vision of the day when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” God is working that purpose out and has called into being a church to be a vehicle for that mission.
That is the big picture which describes why Christians are called to be God’s witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). We are called to reach out to anyone who does not know Christ as Lord and Savior and help them to experience the love of God so they become disciples of Jesus. Every Christian is called to be an evangelist—a witness to the good news that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Unfortunately, most local churches in America and in some other parts of the world have drifted away from this mission. Rather than asking how they can be part of God’s gracious invitation to abundant life for each person, they have become clubs which exist for the benefit of its members. Instead of being fishers of men and women, these congregations have become keepers of an aquarium.
I am excited that the Global Methodist Church has committed to making disciples who witness boldly. Yet this will not be easy because we have all accumulated some bad habits over the last 50 years. Our commitment to this part of the denomination’s purpose needs sustained reflection about the role each clergy and lay person should play in the Church’s mission.
For many years I was a leader in evangelism in my annual conference and then I became a professor of evangelism. Over three decades, I have preached and taught that every Christian should be an evangelist. When I say that, I usually get a very puzzled reaction. Most American Christians cannot imagine themselves as being evangelists. They think, “I cannot preach like Billy Graham.” Or they think, “I have seen so-called evangelists being abusive. I don’t want to do that.” I fear that when people hear our new commitment to “witness boldly” they might have a similar reaction saying, “that is someone else’s job.”
I suggest it is your job, and that we all need to get a larger understanding of what it looks like to be a witness for Christ. Witnessing boldly for Christ can take many forms. Consider the following ways to be part of your congregation’s evangelistic ministry. You could:
- be a prayer warrior, praying for persons by name so that they will come to Christ,
- invite your friends, relatives, acquaintances or neighbors to come to church or Sunday School with you,
- give financially to help start a new congregation,
- get involved in children’s ministry and teach little ones about Jesus,
- write a personal note to every first-time visitor who comes to your church, inviting them to return,
- serve on the hospitality team welcoming guests to your church,
- give your testimony to a friend or in front of a group, sharing how God’s love has impacted your life and brought you to saving faith,
- preach evangelistically, or
- serve as a counselor for youth camps, mission trips or small groups.
Yes, some people are called to preach in front of large crowds like Billy Graham. But that kind of evangelism is only one of many different forms. Our goal is for each Christian to use her or his gifts to help our local churches witness boldly.
When I was pastor of a church in a small community, I visited a faithful woman who was bed-ridden because of a stroke. She lamented that she could not do anything for the church. That day the Holy Spirit gave me the right thing to say to her. I replied, “You can pray.” She said, “What should I pray for?” I said, “Pray that some people come to church.” A month later when I visited her in the nursing home, the first thing she said to me was, “Did it work?” It took me a minute to remember our previous conversation and finally I realized that for four weeks she had been praying as I suggested. I then told her two new families had joined that church since I had last visited with her. I thanked her for her faithful witness for Christ.
We need more people like her.
I am excited to be part of a church that will witness boldly. Yet, this new beginning that is the Global Methodist Church requires self-discipline. We have all accumulated some bad habits of how to do church—that is, how to follow Jesus in community. We need to use our time, our money, our ideas and our activities to prioritize witnessing for Christ so that the Church can reach more people in more places. God is doing a new thing, and I am glad to be a part of it.
Bishop Scott Jones is an episcopal leader in the Global Methodist Church.