Spontaneous Witness

Posted on June 24, 2011 by Dr. Jerry Rankin in Devotional Reflections

It has been a wonderful experience to spend this past week in retreat at a beautiful lodge near the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand training global leaders from Crossover International in a strategic approach to church planting. It has refreshed the memory of many personal experiences from our 23 years on the field, and I have drawn from the strong commitment of the IMB to planting indigenous Baptist churches that were doctrinally sound and spiritually strong.

Much research has been done and books written about church planting, church growth and church planting movements. We can learn a lot from both success and failures practically, but we should be reminded winning the lost and gathering them into a fellowship of believers are spiritual tasks accomplished only by the work of God’s Holy Spirit.

However, Paul identified the key to the human role of God’s people in this important task in his reflections about the gospel coming to Thessalonica. He observed that the witness of new Thessalonian believers had swept the city and extended throughout the provinces of Macedonia and Achaia and beyond. As Paul continued his evangelistic tour of the area he discovered everywhere he went the people had already heard of Jesus. Not only had they heard the gospel, they had seen its life-changing power in people who had turned from idols to serve the living and true God.

This is what every missionary and church planter would like to see. It is the dream of every pastor. Grassroots church members, even new believers, becoming dynamic, spontaneous witnesses so that the gospel spreads beyond the work of the pastor or missionary to saturate a city and area. How did this happen?

Paul observes in 1 Thess. 1:5, “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with full conviction.” They did not receive the gospel simply as a verbal testimony or intellectual assent. It was not a new religious teaching that they decided to embrace. That is not to disparage the power of God’s Word and a verbal witness of the plan of salvation, but it was a dynamic, life-changing experience.

There was evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Their conviction of gospel truth enabled them to turn aside from cultural practices and expectations of social traditions. They weren’t just sharing something they now believed but demonstrated spiritual power in their life and witness.

Unfortunately, we have watered down our witness to what David Platt often refers to as a “shrink-wrapped gospel.” If we can lead someone to say the right words and repeat a perfunctory prayer, we declare them born-again. There may be no sense of repentance, there is no change in their previous carnal lifestyle and we may have to work to get them to attend church and into the baptismal waters. The gospel will have little impact until the demands of discipleship as a Christ-follower are clearly understood. Christians have little motivation to share their faith when they lack an authentic transformation generated by the power of the Holy Spirit.

How did the Thessalonians become these kinds of believers and spontaneous witnesses? Paul observed that that was what they had seen in him and his companions. “For you know what kind of men we were among you, and you became imitators of us and of the Lord” (1 Thess. 1:5-6). We produce no more than what we are. When church members and others see in us evidence of power, the Holy Spirit and confident conviction, it is something they want and will draw them to Christ.


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