Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Matthew 28:18-20
Original date: March 2, 2008

For over 2,000 years, the church has existed for one prime purpose: to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Churches don’t have to strive to find God’s purpose for their church: it’s clear as a bell, right there in the Bible. There’s a reason we refer to Matthew 28:18-20 as the Great Commission: it defines for all this age what we’re supposed to be about as a church:

18Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Remember again, Jesus didn’t tell us to make converts, adherents or church members. There’s another outcome He had in mind. First, that we would GO; second that we would MAKE DISCIPLES and third, that we would cross any barrier or geography and culture to get the job done: OF ALL NATIONS. But at the heart, it’s this simple: make disciples!

As we come to the end of looking at the seven basic commands of Jesus, I want us to explore just what Jesus means when He says, “Make disciples.” As I said last week, it seems to me that there are three key aspects to understand what He means by “make disciples.”

First, what is a disciple? That’s what we looked at last week, and we found that a disciple is someone who is learning to live, love and serve like Jesus Himself.

Second, how do you make a disciple? That’s today, and I want to focus on how you initially make a disciple, or how we bring the Good News about Jesus into to lives of people who don’t know Him.

Third, what’s the full implication when He says, “of all nations”? That’s what we’ll look at next week.

When we live as faithful disciples of Jesus, we change the world. Faithful disciples act like Jesus, they live like Jesus and they love and serve like Jesus. That changes the world. Not the whole world all at once, but one little corner of the world where we have a network of relationships. Your “world” is that network of people who know you best, the ones where you spend most of your time.

Many of us here know Charles “Chip” Arn of Church Growth up in Monrovia; Michelle Cooper, Matt’s wife, used to work in his office. Chip continues the work started by his father Win Arn, one of the real pioneers in the area of church growth. Win observed a principle of evangelism in the New Testament that he passed on as the oikos principle. Oikos is a Greek word, the word for household. But the modern equivalent of the oikos isn’t just the people living under your roof. Let me explain.

In the USA, we’re used to each individual family living in their own home; that’s our standard arraignment. For most of the world throughout most of history, that’s not the way it’s done. Your oikos, your household, is everyone in your extended family, plus servants and employees and so forth. That could mean three or four generations of family plus workers or servants. It could easily be 20 people, and in some cases many more.

Remember as well that for most of history, people didn’t go somewhere else to work; they worked from home. (So telecommuting and home-based businesses aren’t something new; it’s going back to the way it’s mostly been throughout history.)

So the oikos today includes people related to you, co-workers, neighbors, schoolmates, friends and really everyone else that you came into contact with on a regular basis. It is your relational world, your circle of influence.

For the average person today, that’s a circle of 8 to 15 people. (For some real introverts that may be as few as 5 or for some real extroverts, that may be as much as 30, but for the rest of us, it’s somewhere between 8 and 15 people.)

These are the people who know if you’re genuine or not. These are people who listen to you when you have something to say.

And this is overwhelmingly how people come to faith in Jesus. Somebody in their oikos network influenced them to consider the claims of Jesus and they did and now they are part of God’s family.

Surveys consistently show that just under 90% of all people who come to faith in Jesus do so because somebody in their oikos network (especially family and friends) influenced them. This is far more effective than any kind of “drive by” evangelism.

We all know what a drive-by shooting is. Drive-by evangelism is kind of like that. Somebody lobs the gospel at people from a safe distance. They leave a tract, they use a bullhorn, they drop Biblical quotes into a conversation, and they try to shoehorn the gospel in an unnatural and even manipulative way.

Now no doubt you’ll tell me a story about someone who came to faith when they picked up a tract or heard a radio broadcast or even listened to a street preacher. I have no doubt that that happens. It just doesn’t happen very often, and I strongly suspect many more have been repelled by these approaches than have been positively influenced.

What really works, and what I really think is the God-ordained way for most of evangelism, is the influence of people in your network of relationships, in your oikos.

Let me give you’re a few very quick examples of this oikos principle confirmed in the Bible. In each case, I’m going to leave the word “oikos” untranslated so that you can get the idea quickly:
In Mark 5:19, Jesus tells the man delivered of demons, and says to him,

"Go home to your oikos and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you."

Another example, Luke 19:9: after Zaccheus was converted, Jesus said,

Today salvation has come to this oikos, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.

Here are a couple of passages where whole households came to faith in Jesus at once:
First, John 4:53. When Jesus healed the son of a royal official, we read,

…he and all his oikos believed.

And in Acts 11: 14, when Cornelius the centurion had a vision of an angel, the angel said about Peter,

He will bring you a message through which you and all your oikos will be saved.

Matthew Levi has an interesting oikos! When he came to faith in Jesus, he threw a party for them. Mark 2:15 says,

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi's oikos, many tax collectors and "sinners" were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.

His oikos was the lowlifes of Galilee: all the drug dealers, prostitutes and gang members. And when He met Jesus, he threw a kegger for all his buddies—all the people in his oikos network.
My proposition is that since this is so clearly modeled in Scripture, this oikos principle, that this is the primary God-ordained way to reach people. Yes, I know that some are reached by other means, that’s why I said “primary.”

And know this as well: we can seek to intentionally expand our oikos world for the purpose of evangelism; our network can and indeed must change over time. That’s exactly what a cross cultural evangelist (a missionary) does: he goes to a different culture (in Cameroon, or Mexico or Laos) not to “drive-by” the gospel, but to establish a new, intentional oikos network for the sake of the gospel message.

But you don’t have to go to some place distant to do that. You can do that right here, right now. Let me tell a story to help us all relate to this.

Tom Clegg was a youth pastor in suburban Chicago. Each summer some suburban churches put on an evangelistic outreach to the inner city. They’d blitz the streets with tracts. It was a hot day, over 100. Tom went out with a teen from his church named Ryan. A man on the street said something about the heat and Tom shot back, “It will be hotter in hell unless you repent!” Another guy was panhandling, so Tom gave him a tract and said, “You need this more than money!”

They turned a corner and about five tall, tough-looking black kids were sitting in the shade by a basketball court. Tom and the kid with them suddenly felt very small and very, very white. Tom began to hand out tracts when one guy said, “It’s too (blank) hot to listen to some honky preacher!” Then he pulled a knife, and Tom and the kid ran for their lives.

When they got back to their van, Tom confessed to the teen from his church that not only was he scared, but as he ran away, he couldn’t shake the feeling that the way they were trying to “spread the gospel” seemed shallow, fake and manipulative. Then he did something that will probably make you think he was crazy. He talked Ryan into going back to the playground where the guy with the knife was.

They drove the church van, stocked with cold sodas and ice. The tough-looking guys were still there and so was the guy with the knife.

Tom got out of the van and said to them, “Hey everything is cool, OK? Look, I just want to apologize for being a jerk. How about a soda instead of a sermon?” They dove for the cans and began to playfully throw the ice around. One of them challenged Ryan to some one-on-one b-ball. The guy with the knife talked with Tom. Tom ended up hiring the kid--his name was Franklin--to give him a tour of the neighborhood and to introduce him to people.

This was a huge turning point for Tom and for that outreach. It’s a long story, but here’s the bottom line—they resolved never to tell the gospel without actually demonstrating the gospel. Before, they’d been content to drive-by the Jesus message; now they began to live it. Tom calls it switching from sermon-based outreach to service-based outreach.

And guess what? It took a year, but Franklin, the kid with the knife, gave his life to Jesus. Today he’s a printer, married with kids and active in an urban church in Chicago.

I can sum it up this way: you have to immanuelize before you can evangelize. Jesus came into this world as our Immanuel, “God with us.” He got in our neighborhood and lived among us. He didn’t do a drive-by. Only after he’d lived among us for 30 years did He even start to preach. He proved the love of God by His way of life, then and only then did He tell the story and then go to the cross. He “immanuelized” before He evangelized!

That’s why we do service evangelism things like wrapping Christmas presents rather than handing out tracts on a street corner. That’s why we’re there at the Camellia Festival. That’s why we host things like the Chamber of Commerce and the Blue Banner dinners. That’s why we’re going to shut down morning worship on April 27 to do a Day of Service to the community—to immanuelize before we evangelize.

Didn’t Jesus say that the world will know that we’re His followers by the way we love? Sure He did.

Now, I want to suggest two action points to make what I’ve shared real in your life. First, in today’s worship folder there’s a card that says, “My Connection Commitment.” It says, “I covenant before God to pray for and to invite…” There are places for three names, a good start. If you need more, you can get more out in the lobby. With Easter coming soon, it’s a great time to invite people to worship. This is simply recognizing the oikos network God has put around you and to be part of praying for them and inviting them to hear the Good News.

Another action point is to get involved in the Day of Service on April 27. This will be a day of total immanuelization! Serving like Jesus will commend the Good News to people like nothing else.

The command to make disciples is clear as a bell. So let’s get to it, OK? Let’s let the world know just how good Jesus is!

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