Acknowledging But Not Following Jesus
“Follow Me” asserted Jesus, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). This suggests an obvious concern. Are people who do not become “fishers of men” following Christ? A second searching query follows. Why is the average church experiencing such a paucity of man-fishers? In short, why has The Great Commission of our Lord become an afterthought in the life of the contemporary congregation?
Incompetent instruction regarding evangelistic technique is the culprit. Actually, the evangelism professors in the seminaries are as gifted as they come. And books like Mark McCloskey’s Tell It Often—Tell It Well and the first book I ever read, L. R. Scarborough’s With Christ After the Lost, constitute the finest efforts in the teaching of soul-winning technique. Books originating in unusual venues focus on specific aspects of evangelism. In 1967 Fritz Ridenour published Tell It Like It Is, a classic little volume on witnessing from John’s Gospel that sold more than 200,000 copies. Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron wrote The Way of the Master, reemphasizing the importance of the law in a gospel presentation.
Three of my favorite volumes are from quite different pens. Quaker philosopher, Elton Trueblood, wrote The Company of the Committed and The Incendiary Fellowship, which provide some of the most perceptive insights about evangelism that I have discovered anywhere. My students in Personal Evangelism were always surprised to see Barbara Walters, a famous news anchor, on the mandatory reading list. In her book How to Talk with Practically Anybody about Practically Anything, Walters had no intention of penning an evangelism text, but inadvertently she provided insights that are priceless. The key to opening a meaningful witness is found in the ability to carry forward a meaningful dialogue with anyone.
Fabulous professors and great books and seventeen straight years of decline in baptisms suggest that the problem is not what we know. Techniques and approaches to evangelism abound. The problem may be found in the affections of the soul. Jesus warned that “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt. 14:19), and consequently, we are “to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and your mind, and your soul” (Matt. 22:37). Please follow the logic. (1) If we are followers of Jesus, we will love what He loves and reject what He rejected. (2) Jesus defined His own mission as coming “to seek and to save those who were lost.” (3) To follow Jesus is to accept His mission as our own. (4) We will become witnesses to the Christ when we love Him with all of our heart, mind, and soul and when we love those for whom He died in order to save.
All of the learning in the world will not produce a single witness. Thousands of great examples are praiseworthy but produce none to tell the story. The motivations and admonitions of a thousand golden-tongued orators will never be sufficient to create a witness. As Trueblood reminds us,
A little realism in observation would teach us that the genuine danger we face, whatever our ancestors may have faced, is that of a mood in which people are so terribly apologetic that they refuse to witness at all.
This remains true in the face of the philosopher’s warning.
The call to witness is a call which men can answer affirmatively or negatively, but one who answers it negatively, however kind and pious he may be, is not in the company of Jesus.
There remains only one solution for the dilemma of the contemporary church. Trueblood has a word for us here also. He notes that
The renewal of the Church will be in progress when it is seen as a fellowship of consciously inadequate persons who gather because they are weak, and scatter to serve because their unity with one another and with Christ has made them bold. This is the only kind of Christianity that can stand up to the challenge of militant paganism and the fanaticism of the New Left. It will win, in the long run, because it is more revolutionary than they are.
Concerted, honest prayer that Christ will create in each of us love for Jesus and for the lost is the only hope. Otherwise, as Jesus also predicted of the last days, “The love of many will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12).
 Elton Trueblood, The Company of the Committed (New York: Harper & Row, 1961) 52.
 Ibid., 49.
 Elton Trueblood, The Incendiary Fellowship (New York: Harper & Row, 1967) 31.