Competence Is Critical
This is the fourth and last in a series of articles on Community Evangelism by the Local Church as exemplified in the church at Jerusalem and recorded in the first seven chapters of The Acts.
The church in Jerusalem did a marvellous job of evangelizing the surrounding community. By contrast, most churches today do a terrible job. Why the difference? Simple. The Christians at Jerusalem had the spiritual competence to do the job, and we don’t!
Who led the evangelistic thrust of the early church? Peter—a man of faith, courage, ability single-hearted devotion to the Lord. Read his sermons in The Acts. Feel your soul thrill to his vibrant, challenging message.
“Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and signs, which God did by Him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that He should be holden of it” (Acts 2:22-24).
Peter believed what he preached. He had the courage to deliver the message pointedly and vigorously. He was able to hold his audience and to make them feel the impact of his words. He was all-out for Christ. Nothing restrained him from devoting his life and energies wholly to the cause of Christ. He had the spiritual competence to do the job!
True, it was God who gave Peter the competence. And Peter would be the first to admit it. Peter was empowered by the Holy Spirit and the message went forth as from God Himself. Peter had no virtue or power of his own—only what God had graciously condescended to exhibit through a weak and failing human vessel (Acts 3:12-16).
But then, this is precisely wherein spiritual competence lies — in a yielding to the power of the Spirit of God in such a way that God’s work is done in His way, in His power, for His glory, and to the salvation of sinners.
God is the same today; His Spirit has not changed; His Word is eternally established. There is only one possible explanation for our failure to evangelize effectively and with God-honouring results. There is but a single reason why we’re not doing the job we should: we can’t do it! We’re spiritually incompetent!
Peter’s competence was dependent on the Spirit of God. But in addition, Peter spent three years in constant companionship with Christ. We’re incompetent today — not only because we lack the power of the Spirit, but also because we lack companionship with Christ.
What a joy to walk with Him! To hear Him announce His Messiahship in the synagogue in Nazareth. To see Him heal Peter’s mother-in-law, and the lepers, and the paralytics. To hear Him call His future disciples to follow Him.
How challenging to hear from His own lips the Sermon on the Mount, the parables of the house on the rock; the creditor and his two debtors; the sower, the seed and the soil.
What a thrill to observe His mastery over nature: He stills the waves; He quiets the storm; He reveals His glory in transfiguration; He feeds the 5,000; He dies and rises; He lives forevermore!
How often do we walk with the Saviour — thinking of what He said, how He acted, the people who responded to Him, those who rejected Him, the ones He loved despite their sin and failure? How often have we felt our hearts burn within us while He talked with us by the way?
Let’s admit the truth when we’re faced with it. We’re incompetent to evangelize our communities. And one reason for our incompetence is our failure to walk in constant companionship with the Saviour!
He loves us. He died for us. He lives to intercede for us. He left us to be witnesses, to tell others. But we’re not doing it. And when we do try, we fail. The results are miserable. Why? We’re not walking with Him! Hence we’re incompetent!
Not so with the early church. Not so with Peter. “As they observed the boldness of Peter and John, and noted that they were untrained laymen, they began to wonder, then recognized them as former companions of Jesus” (Acts 4:13 — N.E.B.).
And Peter was not the only gifted evangelist in the church at Jerusalem. Think of Stephen. “They were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake” (Acts 6:8-10). Think of Philip the evangelist. “The people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake” (Acts 8:6).
We often think of Stephen and Philip as deacons, chosen to perform certain temporal tasks in the church. Let’s always remember that they were men filled with the Spirit, spiritually qualified to do a spiritual work of God. And they did it with resolve and effectiveness — because they were trained by God, fitted by the Spirit and yielded to Him. They were competent to do His work in His way!
Let’s remember too that the leadership in the church at Jerusalem left no options as to spiritual competence. When men were to be chosen, even for a seemingly secondary task, spiritual competence was essential and there was no compromise. “Brethren, look ye out among you seven of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business… .And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip… .” Acts 6:3-8).
Do our local churches today lack gifted, competent, effective evangelists who can minister the Gospel in the power of the Spirit? Are we short of men who with the help of God can bring souls face to face with the Saviour so that they bow in His presence and yield their hearts and lives to Him? If so, we need not wonder greatly why our community evangelism is so ineffective.
No doubt there is a vital, essential place for personal work, visitation, Sunday school teaching, mailing of Christian literature, and many other means of getting to grips with souls about their need of Christ (See the three previous articles in this series).
Nevertheless, with all the personal work by the church in Jerusalem (and no doubt there was much done that is not recorded), we must mourn the fact that in many — if not most — of our assemblies today, there is not a single gifted public evangelist who can preach the Gospel in power and see men and women from the community brought in, saved, and added to the church! In other words, we just don’t have the competence to get the job done that is crying out to be done every day of our lives!
Why don’t we? Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:11 that Christ gives evangelists to the Church. We might well ask the Lord (and ourselves) why He isn’t giving them to our local assemblies. Should it not be the heart-cry of every assembly that the Lord would raise up at least one man, filled with the Spirit and gifted by Him to proclaim the Gospel in convicting, convincing power? What hinders the Lord from producing such spiritual competence among the members of our churches today?
Why do we appear to be so dependent upon intinerant evangelists to do the job of community evangelism for us? Particularly when there are so many unreached areas claiming the attention and energies of our travelling preachers. What makes it seemingly necessary to hold long series of Gospel meetings with visiting speakers in order to get souls saved? Why do we not have the local gift to minister the Gospel in such a way that souls are saved through the ministry of gifted public evangelists raised up within the local church? We profess to have independent churches, antonomous and indigenous. Then how come we are so incompetent to carry on our own ministry of public evangelism in the community, so that our friends and neighbours in the surrounding area are won for Christ?
Answers to these questions do not come readily; but only because we don’t want to face the obvious answer: we’re spiritually incompetent! And the reason for our spiritual incompetence is the fact that we are not allowing the Lord Himself to raise up the gift so essential to the effective evangelism of our communities today. We’re too busy trying to be competent in every other sphere, and we give too little time to allowing the Spirit of God to make us competent for community evangelism.
The only solution is confession, repentence, fresh yielding to the Lord. Every member of the local church must yield all his members as instruments of righteousness, his body a living sacrifice (Rom. 6:13; 12:1). Each of us must seek to discover and perform his individual function as a member of the Body of Christ, as a member of the local church. There must be urgent prayer that the Lord will give to each church at least one gifted public evangelist whose calling and gift will result in the salvation of souls from the community.
And in all of this concern, the elders of course are ultimately and fully responsible to lead God’s people. Peter was not only an evangelist; he was also an elder. And he discharged both responsibilities in exemplary fashion.
Unless the elders of our assemblies are dedicated wholly to God with a view to seeing His hand at work in raising up men with the requisite competence — either from their own number, from among the deacons, or from among other members of the local church — we can fully expect to see things go on as they are. The Lord will continue to use other channels, other means, other instruments. We shall be passed over and left alone to wallow in our smugness.
That’s why competence is so critical!