THE GREAT UNBALANCED
A careful study of what we call the “Great Commission” shows that it has
two basic aspects and two methods of carrying it out.
The two aspects of the mandate are EVANGELISM and DISCIPLESHIP
The two methods of evangelism and discipleship are PERSONAL
and PUBLIC ministry
The major concern of Jesus was for the lost. “He came to seek and to
save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10); “God is not willing that any should
perish” (2. Peter 3,9). First and foremost, our mandate is to see that the lost
hear the Gospel, encouraging them to accept Christ as Savior and Lord. We call
PERSONAL evangelism “witnessing” and PUBLIC evangelism
A major portion of the Lord's time and energy was devoted to training
twelve disciples. The post-resurrection mandates also call upon Christ's
followers to disciple, teaching to observe all things which he has commanded of
us. The PERSONAL aspect in modern missions is usually referred to as “counseling”.
Christian Bible Colleges, Bible study groups, Sunday School and church
services are examples of PUBLIC discipleship.
What I am observing is that many Christians, especially so-called
“fulltime” Christian workers, tend to emphasize or even glorify the public
aspect of ministry to the neglect of the personal aspect. It is a sad truth
that most fulltime Christian workers seldom witness, counsel or disciple
individuals. They are too busy preparing and conducting meetings, which they
feel to be more important.
We Americans especially, are obsessed with numbers
and bigness. The Bible tells us that the angels in heaven rejoice over one
sinner who repents, but we need big numbers to satisfy our own egos!
A pastor of
my acquaintance was criticized for not being a soul winner. He retaliated by
saying that as shepherd of the flock, it was not his job to “produce lambs”! He
was only partially right. A careful study of the New Testament shows that not
all believers are called or equipped for public ministries (I Tim. 1:7; 3:2),
yet no one is excluded from personal witnessing and counseling (Acts 1:8;
I Corinthians 14:1-3), not even pastors!
The general consensus is that religion is a private matter. Personal
confrontation is avoided at all cost! No one wants to be criticized or to cause
offense. Those who “meddle” in the private affairs of others can count on
becoming the object of harsh criticism. So we avoid personal counseling or
witnessing and concentrate on the public aspects of ministry.
If a student in a Christian college does something displeasing to God,
what is the typical reaction of the administration? The entire student body is
reminded of the rule book and if no rule covers the situation, a new one is
When a church member is living a disorderly life that is noticed by
another member, what happens? The pastor is confidentially informed, who in
turn preaches a sermon on the matter!
How does the average Christian seek to lead an unsaved neighbor to
Christ? He or she may ask the church to pray for the neighbor and if one gets
up enough courage, the neighbor is invited to evangelistic meetings.
An actual case in Austria (where we spent 38 years of our lives)
illustrates the problem in missions. Missionary Smith (names have been changed)
objects to missionary Jones moving into “his area”. Smith claims that his city
is already being reached with the gospel. Jones should go where the gospel has
not yet been preached. Smith has lived in this city four years and has not yet
witnessed to the people who live next door. About twenty families live in an
apartment complex across the street from Smith, who have not yet heard a clear
presentation of the gospel. The city has a population of 20,000, yet in his
opinion, there is no room for missionary Jones! What on earth has Smith been
doing these four years? Smith has been conducting evangelistic meetings, Bible
studies, church services, children’s classes and youth meetings. Unfortunately,
missionary Jones would probably do more of the same!
Someone has suggested that evangelism can be defined using three "P"s:
Presence (Christian life style), Propagation and
Persuasion. I would define evangelism with even more detail, using a
Personal Presence (personal Christian lifestyle)
Public Presence (collective presence of the church)
Personal Propagation (witness)
Public Propagation (evangelistic meetings)
Personal Persuasion (consistent witness and “follow-up”)
Public Persuasion (long-term mission strategy)
We can describe the discipleship process in a similar manner (using fewer "P"s):
Professional or Pastoral Counseling
Personal Instruction in the Word
Personal “mentoring” discipleship
Professional Training/Equipping (Ex.: Bible College)
The secret of Paul's success as a missionary was not his brilliant
strategy or fantastic preaching ability (II Cor.10:10), but his faithfulness in
witnessing and discipling believers. He never hesitated to personally confront
those who were in error nor forget to encourage believers who were faithful. His
disciples were also witnesses and disciplers.
Jesus preached to multitudes and they marveled at His teaching, but He
also witnessed to and counseled with individuals. To his disciples he said, "Ye
shall be My witnesses" (Acts 1:8), and “Just as the Father hath sent me, so send
I you” (John 20:21).
ARE WITNESSING AND DISCIPLING BECOMING EXTINCT?
We have almost entirely lost touch with the personal nature of the great
commission. Church history has shown that the personal witness has been
extremely effective in evangelism and that personal counseling and discipleship
of believers are the keys to healthy church growth. Yet these ministries are
widely neglected by evangelical Christians today. Lay Christians leave the task
of evangelism and building the church to the professionals, who have special
training. These seldom have time for personal witnessing and discipleship.
Subconsciously they feel that they are over-qualified for such trivialities.
They are too busy with meetings. We like to think big, especially in America.
We are no longer “sowers” but farmers. We don't plant seed; we raise crops. We
are obsessed with harvesting forests, not planting trees. That is not good
THE SILENT WITNESS ARGUMENT
Many Christians point to their good Christian lifestyle and say, “What we
do speaks louder than what we say.” Although this is certainly true, it does nor
excuse our silence or negligence in witnessing and counseling.
Each and every person on the face of this globe exercises influence upon
others! God's Word teaches clearly that our deeds and words are extremely
important. Not simply because we will be held accountable for them on the day of
judgment, but also because they influence others. We may not be aware of this
fact, but God certainly is and He knows both to reward and to punish.
Consider the poor widow who dropped her last two pennies in the offering
box (Luke 21:1-4). She probably felt that her contribution to the Temple was
quite insignificant. Yet her simple act has been influential beyond
comprehension. Millions of people have been moved to give sacrificially because
of her simple exemplary and sacrificial act.
In Matthew 26, we read of a woman who poured perfume worth a year's
salary on Jesus. In the critical eyes of the disciples, this was wasteful, but
Jesus said that everywhere the gospel would be preached, her deed of love should
become known. What influence!
Romans 14:7 tells us that no one lives or dies to himself. According to
John, the man who does God's will lives on forever (I John 2:17), not just in
heaven, but through the influence he has upon others around him. The writer of
Hebrews attempts to make our options clear. Either we are like Cain or like Abel
(Hebrews 11:4). Both brought sacrifices and the deeds of each had far-reaching
influence. Cain tried to appease God; Abel pleased Him. Cain tried to influence
God; Abel sought to be influenced by God. Those simple words, “by faith” say it
all. According to this passage, Abel's testimony and sacrifice is still
influencing people thousands of years after his death! According to Deuteronomy
5:10, the influence of obedience is longer-lasting than that of disobedience.
In this sense, we are ALL witnesses. If we are not witnessing of Christ,
we ARE testifying to something! Even if we never open our mouth, we are
witnesses. And ALL of us are making disciples of a sort!
A Christian who lives the life, doesn’t need to say a lot, but few have
been saved simply by observing a silent Christian. The Christian who does not
witness, sins against God. In fact, the suppression of faith is probably the
worst sin that man can commit (Romans 1:18 and 14:23).
A “missions-minded” Church is one that holds annual missions conferences
and supports missionaries. An “evangelistic” church is one that holds periodic
“revival meetings” (a misnomer since only the living can be revived!). A “good
Christian” is one who lives the life. But few Christians witness.
Even “fulltime workers” seldom witness. Few are prepared to respond to
even the most common opportunities that avail themselves to us on a daily basis.
“Serving the Lord” for many, means holding a church position, serving with a
mission or in some other Christian institution. We have “lay workers” who serve
the Lord for nothing, and “fulltime workers” who serve the Lord for money
(pardon: “who receive a salary”). “Serving the Lord” can consist of office
work, preaching sermons, conducting evangelistic meetings, funerals, weddings or
teaching Sunday School. Isn't it strange that we seldom consider witnessing to
be a legitimate description for ministry? Even some missionaries who go to a
foreign field, feel no special need to witness. They are “missionaries,” so
everything they do, from writing prayer letters to attending meetings, is
missionary work. Where does witnessing fit into the job description of a
missionary? Because the personal witness is missing, many souls will be lost
The Scribes and Pharisees identified themselves with an institutionalized
“church.” Their identification with the synagogue prompted them to speak
affectionately of “their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” But they shied
away from any kind of association with the lost around them. One of these
prayed, “Father I thank you that I am not like that sinner...” Jesus said that
the Pharisees were of their father, the devil and that their fathers murdered
The parable of the Good Samaritan reveals the hypocrisy of the Jewish
leaders. The Priest and the Levite felt secure in their religious beliefs, with
no need to have pity on or otherwise help the victim of a brutal robbery. They
were full-time servants of the most high God-Jehovah and personal ministry to a
poor suffering Samaritan was not in their job description.
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
I grew up in a good church and heard the Gospel repeatedly. Perhaps,
because I quite expected this of a church, the message didn't seem to hit home.
Once a stranger witnessed to me. I was hitchhiking and he was on his way home
from a Gideons' Convention in Atlantic City. I had hardly set foot inside his
car, when he began to share his faith. He asked pointed questions about my own
spiritual condition. I lied saying, “I am already saved” but his witness
convicted me more than all the sermons and Sunday School lessons I had ever
Ralph V. Harvey