Back in Autumn 2011 I spoke at an evangelists' conference. Afterwards I was chatting to one evangelist who said this: I think I am doing good, orthodox evangelism. I am giving people the truth of the gospel straight from the Bible and presenting Christ accurately. However, if I am honest, I know in my heart that in a year's time the only thing that will be different in the lives of most of the people who become Christians is that they will be going to church.
He knew that they weren't going to be involved to much noticeable degree in God's great purposes for winning the world. They would merely be pew-filling, passively receiving services in church. How different to Jesus' expectation when he said to potential disciples "come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." With Jesus there was an expectation right at the very start that if they followed him they were going to get involved in something. He was going to turn them into something, train and equip them and include them in his Great Cause.
Jesus was upfront before they followed him. I explored this with the evangelist. He pondered whether he is tempted to explain to not-yet Christians all the benefits of Christ's death - forgiveness of sins, being made right with God, being rescued from judgement and Hell, having a new home in Heaven and a great saviour who intercedes for us - which are received entirely by faith. We get them simply by repenting, asking God to forgive us, trusting Jesus to save and committing our lives to him.
However, he started to realise that in so doing, what he wasn't doing was also presenting the fact that they were going to live in Christ's life. The Holy Spirit would come and live in them if they become Christians, empowering them to win the world for Christ, including them in one of his local teams (churches).
The former things that he included are all essentially passive. That is they don't require you to actually do anything. Indeed we can't do anything to merit or earn salvation. We can only receive it. But it is only half the story. Living as a Christian is not only about the historical and legal consequences of receiving Christ's death on our behalf. It is also about what it actually means for our lives to be committed to him, for him to own us. And that is far from passive.
I asked the man why he didn't tell people about being invited and included into God's big purpose before they become Christians. Why he didn't mention the fact that the Holy Spirit will be given to them, that Christ will empower them, that they will be given spiritual gifts and included in a team for Jesus.
He replied: what if I tell them that and the reality doesn't match up? What if they then get involved with a church where there is little sense of being a family on a mission for God?
So his fear of people getting involved in mediocre church life was impacting his evangelism. Unbeknownst to him he had been subtly tailoring what he told people according to what he thinks the reality actually is on the ground in churches, not according to what it ought to be. And thereby falling into a vicious circle: if you don't expect too much then you won't teach others to expect it either lest they be disappointed. And the whole thing becomes self-reinforcing.
Jesus was upfront. I will make you fishers of men...Go into all the world and make disciples... This is an amazing cause for people to be included in. We shouldn't be upfront about the passive benefits of Christ's death and not upfront about what Jesus expects people to then do and be involved in. It should almost be the other way around, telling people "God has some amazing things for you to do in his Kingdom. You need to become a disciple first, get reconciled to God and have him forgive you. But when you do, this is what he wants your life to be about..."