Studies Show This Is Still the Best Way to Evangelize a City

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The military term "boots on the ground" is generally understood as indicating military forces deployed and ready for military conflict. As Christ's disciples, we are to make sure we live our lives ready to be deployed into the world. Sometimes this requires that people travel to a specific location and directly interact with the people of that region.

There is a strategic nature behind Christian missions that is similar to a military campaign. To have a boots-on-the-ground mentality requires that believers are mobilized and sent to cities and nations to take territory, where they can establish a beachhead of operations to carry out the task of Christian engagement.

Some missiologists call this "church planting." Several studies have shown that one of the best ways to evangelize a city is to establish a new church in that area.

Interestingly, the term "evangelical" dates back to the 16th century, when it was used with reference to Catholic writers who wanted to revert to biblical beliefs and practices.

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As we understand it now, evangelicalism centers on four key principles: the authority and sufficiency of Scripture; the uniqueness of redemption through the death of Christ on the cross; the need for personal conversion; and the necessity, propriety and urgency of evangelism.

Again, we must be reminded, Christians have been given the power of the Holy Spirit to be God's witnesses through the whole world (Acts 1:8). Jesus has commissioned His followers to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19). Paul proclaims that we are ambassadors of the kingdom, wielding the message of reconciliation whereby we persuade men (2 Cor. 5:17-20).

We have been given a divine mission. This is why evangelical Christians call the territory assigned to them the "mission" field. Missionaries have an assignment they must carry out if they want to accomplish their specific mission.

The apostle Paul wrote that people, through observing the created order, can surmise there is a God and still refuse to acknowledge Him as God (Rom. 1:19-20). But whatever knowledge can be inferred through observation is insufficient for salvation. Paul further writes that the contents of the gospel come only through a human messenger: "How shall they hear without a preacher?" (Rom. 10:14c).

In His sovereignty, God has ordained that the gospel transmission be communicated person to person. D.L. Moody concurred: "If this world is going to be reached, I am convinced that it must be done by men and women of average talent."

Consider the Power of One

In today's Western culture, we may be tempted to think "bigger is better." It is only too easy to think one or two people can't make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things and that the minor decisions we make each day are of little or no value. We often believe these false assumptions, even if we don't say them aloud. But just the opposite is true. Great, world-changing events usually emerge from small, insignificant beginnings.

For example, we know that in the beginning of His ministry, Jesus selected 12 ordinary men to be His disciples. These fishermen, farmers and tax collectors had no exceptional giftings or pedigrees, yet through them, Jesus was able to impact and upset the whole world with the gospel (Acts 17:6).

While I was ministering at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, a Christian club invited me to speak to their group of about 15 to 20 people. I decided to accept their invitation just to be nice and do them a favor. To be honest, I didn't put much stock in this small gathering. To my amazement, several students prayed to receive Christ at that event.

In that group was a young Samoan student named Jarrett. A former all-star rugby player, Jarrett had suffered a career-ending knee injury. Prior to that injury, he had high hopes of playing professional rugby and was well on his way to achieving that goal. His injury changed everything.

But he had seen his brother Nathan's life transformed. Nathan, who had been a committed atheist, got saved two weeks earlier at our campus outreach. He was now constantly talking about Jesus to everyone. Jarrett could not deny the amazing change he saw in his brother. Jarrett found his way to our Saturday-night service and was gloriously saved. He not only became a Christian but soon joined our campus ministry.

Over the next few years, Jarrett became equipped through our Bible school and became a full-time campus minister at the University of Auckland. During his time there, Jarrett was responsible for dozens of students coming to know Jesus. Today he and his wife, Nicole, have planted a new church in Fiji, reaching out to students at The University of the South Pacific in that island nation. Looking back at the impact Jarrett's life has made, I am so glad I didn't blow off the opportunity to speak to what appeared to be a small, insignificant group.

When our actions intersect with God's providential plan, there are eternal consequences. We have opportunities almost every day to talk to people about God. Our personal willingness to be ready and available for the Master's use is a daily challenge for all Christians everywhere. We are to volunteer to engage the world with the gospel, as God's boots on the ground. Unfortunately, many Christians have marginalized the biblical idea of prioritizing their lives to impact others for eternity until after they have achieved their own personal goals, if they even remember then. This is especially true in a generation where self-fulfillment and hedonism dominate most people's thinking.

"For the love of Christ constrains us, because thus we judge: that if one died for all, then all have died. And He died for all, that those who live should not from now on live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again" (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

In contrast to this, the apostle Paul reminds us about the emphasis of King David's life: "For after David had served by the counsel of God in his own generation, he fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw decay" (Acts 13:36).

David chose to serve the purpose of God in his own generation. Wow. What a powerful epitaph to mark the accomplishments of one's life. That would be the inscription I would like to have written on my tombstone.

Living a full life is not just about the quality of our lives here on earth. It's about fully engaging in God's purposes. What highlights a Christian's life as meaningful is not just the succession of moments, but the significance of those moments.

God uses our simple, seemingly insignificant acts of obedience to engage people with the gospel, producing an amazing ripple effect that leads to future generational blessings.

Commit to the Lost

In the 1994 blockbuster movie Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks is cast in the lead role as Forrest, a developmentally disabled child growing up in the Deep South in the 1960s and '70s.

Even though the odds were stacked against Forrest, he nevertheless has a remarkable life through a series of seemingly accidental coincidences. The movie depicts him in many iconic historical events such as playing college football for Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama, winning the Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War, playing on the U.S. table tennis team in China and eventually making his fortune in the shrimp business.

One day Forrest asks his mother, played by Sally Fields, "Mama, what's my destiny?" It is the simple-minded Forrest Gump's quest for purpose that drives him to overcome and accomplish so much.

If only the answer to Forrest's question were as straightforward as his drive for destiny. By the end of the movie, his lovable innocence and resilient friendship with his beloved Jenny convince us that human life has value.

Just as in the movie, everyone eventually asks four essential questions that address the major philosophical questions of our origin, our meaning, our morality and our destiny.

Origins addresses the question, "Where did I come from?"

Meaning addresses the question, "What is the purpose of my life, and why am I here?"

Morality addresses the question, "How am I meant to behave and interact with other people and the world while I am here?"

Destiny addresses the question, "Where am I going?"

These are the primary questions of mankind. Does life happen by chance or by destiny? As such, these questions are perfect starting points for a conversation about the gospel.

Ultimately, the answers to these questions lead to a recognition of divine purpose individually and corporately. We must understand that our lives and relationships are meant to be formed and centered on God's overarching purpose to reach and disciple the lost.

Renee and I regularly receive compliments on the spiritual health of our marriage and our children. I would love to pat myself on the back and take credit for the grace of God that has kept us through the trials we have faced, but the main reason our marriage and family have been so healthy is because we have cooperated with God's agenda. We have put His desires above our own. We have done this by prioritizing our lives: putting our relationship with Him first, then our marriage relationship, followed by our family relationships and then making ourselves available to reach out to others, especially the lost.

Many marriages and families are so inwardly focused that they miss the opportunity to host a ministry gathering in their home and see lives transformed. They experience contention, complaining and strife, instead of the love, peace and joy that the Holy Spirit brings when He is honored first. Doesn't James say, "For where there is envying and strife, there is confusion and every evil thing" (James 3:16)?

Understanding our purpose results in increased productivity and fruitfulness, bringing greater glory to the Father. "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, so you will be My disciples" (John 15:8).

While we were living in Auckland, I would travel back and forth to the island nation of Samoa. We were working to establish a new Bible training school and leadership institute there. Our church in Auckland was responsible to fly our New Zealand teachers to Samoa every two weeks to teach and train the students in the capital city of Apia.

The cost of underwriting airline flights to and from Samoa for the year was high. Our ministry spent a considerable amount of time, money and energy to run this Samoan Bible School from Auckland. Although this endeavor was challenging, it was also rewarding. We saw many lives changed for the gospel.

Someone once asked me, "Why do you go to all this trouble to establish a Bible school in a far-away place like Samoa?"

I replied, "I wouldn't do it for anybody else but Jesus!"

Jesus is the reason. That's not just a slogan to say around Christmastime. Whenever we have God's perspective and encounter hardship, our trial becomes an act of gratitude to honor what God has done for us. There comes a time in every believer's journey where we understand the great price God had to pay to redeem us from our sin debt. Anything He asks of us is as nothing compared to His great sacrifice.

Because of God's mercy and forgiveness, we can obey; and indeed, we are obliged to do so. No request the Lord makes of us is off limits. To care for what Jesus cares for is our greatest way to identify with Him and love Him through our service.

Count the Cost of the Mission

In their book Transformational Church, Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer point out that "growth for the church and growth of the individual believer occur when we move 'out' by participating in God's mission."

Many Christians are reluctant to share their faith in any situation. Imagine if encountering persecution and public hostility were a staple in our presentation of the gospel. Would we present the gospel truth no matter what personal repercussions we might face?

It's difficult to say how many contemporary Christians would answer the call to engage their culture if, like Paul, they knew beforehand about the many hardships and trials they would face. I fully understand that most Christians are not remotely called to walk in Paul's footsteps or emulate his ministry call. That doesn't diminish the reality that contemporary Christians who choose to be faithful to the Great Commission may indeed suffer hostility, even persecution, for their faith, much as Paul did.

If modern-day believers ever do suffer persecution for their commitment to Jesus, they will find themselves in very good company. According to Paul, those who really want to live godly lives will suffer persecution (see 2 Tim. 3:12). However, we should not lose heart.

"Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the Lord delivers him out of them all" (Ps. 34:19).

"So I take pleasure in weaknesses, in reproaches, in hardships, in persecutions, and in distresses for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:10).

It is more than possible that the God who has prepared the gospel for all people has also prepared the people who hear the gospel to be receptive to it. In fact, God confirms over and over again throughout Scripture that He has prepared the hearts of the Gentiles to receive the good news (Luke 2:30-32). Isaiah writes that those who walk in darkness, the unsaved Gentiles, will see a great light (Isa. 9:2).

It's time to evaluate your willingness to be involved in engaging your world with the gospel. Being placed front and center means a person can no longer excuse himself from carrying out the Master's cause. The question God posed to the prophet Isaiah centuries ago in Isaiah 6:8 still echoes through eternity to all believers: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?"

It is imperative that all believers be willing and available to be carriers of the gospel message, couriers of the good news. We must demonstrate a focused availability to be God's witnesses.

Our response should be, as Isaiah's was: "Here am I. Send me!" And the Lord will then say, as He did in Isaiah 6:9, "Go, and tell this people."


Ken Dew is a senior minister with Every Nation Churches and Ministries. He serves as a church planter and equipping evangelist. His new book, Engaging the Culture, will be available in May at kendewresources.com.

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