Confession: I generally do not like to be around preachers. Realizing this statement may sound weird to many of you, let me explain. When preachers get together, there is almost always a set of standard questions that are asked. At the top of the question list—typically—is this question: “So, how many are y’all having now?” Ack! The dreaded “numbers” question. Every time I hear that question I recoil. Part of it is because when I gather together with others who live the life that I live, I do not necessarily want to talk shop. I simply want to enjoy being in the presence of others who “get it.” Part of it is because I sense (too often) that folks are only interested in comparing one church to another (which is neither healthy nor endearing, by the way). Part of it is because I believe it is evidence that we have lost our way. Allow me to explain further, via an admittedly circuitous route . . .
This was a small part of our discussion last night in class (last night was Wednesday night, just for reference): as Christians, we are a people called by God to live a “kingdom life.” God has saved us through Jesus Christ. Through this God has bestowed upon us the great honor of being his children. He has destroyed the sin shackles that formerly kept us in bondage. He has given us of his Spirit so that we may be equipped to live as his children in a hostile world. He has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3). He has ensured our future, and he has also guaranteed the joy and confidence of our present. He has equipped us in Christ—and with the indwelling of his Spirit—to be able to be people who live and love in this world in the same ways that Jesus did. As Paul said in response to the blessing of our reconciliation to God (and this is important!), “All this is from God” (2 Co. 5:18). Yes, Paul. All of this goodness and blessing is from God. All of this preparation and equipping is from God. All that we are able to be in this world is because of God. He has certainly called us “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9b).
The truth that God has called us out of darkness should be a catalyst for our lives. Historically, however, we have placed what we deem “evangelism” (well, a very specific brand of evangelism) before the call to live lives of holiness—lives lived in imitation of Jesus Christ. Historically many have been satisfied with simply getting people wet in baptism, with little or no consideration of the dramatic transformation that God intends with such an act of faith, or even of the supernatural realities of such a decision. Maybe this is because we ourselves have not submitted to the transformative power of the Spirit. Maybe this is because we are not changing—that we are not living holy lives. Because of this, I wonder sometimes if we have not taken what is eternal and cosmic and turned it into something that is only a practical obligation.
The bare truth is that we will never be able to effectively reach others until we become serious about being the “holy nation” that God has set us apart to be (1 Pet. 2:9a). Evangelism is not simply an action whereby we express in words (or visuals) the truth about Christ. Evangelism begins and ends in lives deeply embedded in imitation of Christ. To be evangelistic is to live for Christ—it is to ruthlessly examine our words, thoughts, actions, and responses in order that they be conformed to the image of Jesus. I have become convinced that the key to achieving “numbers” is to not focus on them. When that is our focus, we almost always lose sight of the call to holiness. Instead, we must each commit to growing in Christ. We must each spend time in the word, in prayer, and in real community with one another. As we grow, we will be changed. As we are changed, we will be better equipped to reach others. We will live holy lives, and the world will notice.