Written by: Nathan Hill
When Christianity is reduced to the popular slogan that ‘God loves you’ there is an inevitable lowering of expectations regarding what God is doing in the world or how God expects us to change . . . Thus the shift to a message of acceptance and encouragement, with little judgement or call to change (p. 91).
I encountered the above statement one day and was moved by its compelling thoughts about the way that we portray our Christian faith to the world. So moved I was, that I actually forgot to note what book it came from, only the page number—please forgive my academic negligence here and if you know what book this is from by all means please comment!
It is common to hear an evangelist in the pulpit telling us that salvation is a free gift from God for those who believe. We emphasize the word free, telling people that it will cost them nothing. We emphasize that there is nothing that we can do to earn this salvation, standing in step with our Protestant forefathers. We emphasize the word believe, telling people that they must make a decision in their mind that Jesus Christ is Lord. All of this is good and true—biblical support can be found for all of it and therefore the evangelist has fully dispensed their God-given role. But this is not the whole story. Thankfully Ephesians 4:11–12 reminds us that God gave many gifts to the church, and so like in a relay race the evangelist must now pass the baton off to the pastor/teacher to continue the message of our faith.
I have found over time that my unique role in the church is to be an architect (or instigator?) of spiritual formation. Once people accept the free gift of salvation and desire to grow in their relationship with Christ, I guide and teach about baptism, membership, sanctification, and spiritual disciplines that will sustain and nourish their faith. In the last several years I have had the opportunity to do this not only with students in our youth ministry but also with adults in our congregation.
Consider this analogy—an evangelist is like a salesperson that sells you a membership at a golf club. The evangelist, in this situation, brings you from one state of being (i.e., without a golf membership) to another state of being (i.e., with a golf membership). That’s all. However, whoever heard of purchasing a membership at a golf club and then never exercising the right of playing golf on the course! When it comes to our faith we can sometimes fall into the trap of crossing over to salvation and then just sitting there with this new gift in our hands—or maybe we lead people to salvation but are not sure where to go next. And, since the perks of salvation are perhaps not as apparent as the perks of membership at a golf course (at least to the newly saved), we need to tell the rest of the story and encourage people to “live lives worthy of the calling they have received” (Eph. 4:1). Here is where we can talk about being formed but still forming, about justification and sanctification, about personal change, and finally about judgement—not a popular topic but nevertheless a biblical topic and one we must contend with.
I heard a great Easter message this past Sunday on justification by faith in Jesus Christ alone (follow the link to hear this message from 04/04/2015- CLICK HERE) My lead pastor passionately recounted God’s plan of justification, his plan to impute not impart righteousness, the likes of which no man or woman can earn on their own. The Spirit of God moved the hearts of a few and they indicated they wanted to walk in that new life of justification. The role of the evangelist has been dispensed in eloquent fashion—now spiritual formation can begin.
One final caveat: just because some evangelists or some pastor/teachers occupy paid positions, not all do. You indeed might have the gift of a pastor/teacher that can guide a loved one or someone from your own church into the depths of spiritual formation. There may be people in your circle of influence that you can speak into like no one else. If that is you, pick up the baton, and be a participant in the work God has begun in a person’s life.