By David Leavell,
President, Tennessee Baptist Convention
Every Tennessee Baptist knows John 3:16. It truly is the Gospel in a nutshell i.e. the greatest verse in the universe! My challenge is for every Tennessee Baptist to share John 3:16, once a week, with a lost person, with the intention of leading them to personal faith in Christ. The only way Objective One (to baptize 50,000 people a year and set them on the road to discipleship by 2024) can ever be accomplished is by the blessing of God and the obedience of God’s people.
At face value, people would rightfully say that this is an evangelism initiative. By the 3:16 Challenge, we are trying to lead people to personal faith in Jesus Christ. It is our Great Commission. But have you read Mark 1:16-17? It gives a deeper context to our evangelistic efforts. It reads, “As He was passing along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother. They were casting a net into the sea, since they were fishermen. ‘Follow Me,’ Jesus told them, ‘and I will make you fish for people!’ ”
A sad development has emerged within the body of Christ in my opinion. We have separated evangelism and discipleship into processes that many times don’t relate. Our spiritual ignorance has caused divisions in denominations and churches. As we have chosen sides, we have spiritualized “going deeper” with God rather than sharing Christ or vice versa. We have even allowed our personal theological biases to justify our positions creating “holy jihads” at times. I’m sure the devil is proud of our “little camps” that we have developed. Discipleship is not a class or a 12-week study. Evangelism is not a lengthy, memorized, canned outline presentation. Evangelism and discipleship take place in the lives of obedient followers of Christ. I’m simply suggesting that we make evangelistic activity a benchmark of discipleship. And that we make spiritual growth in Christ a benchmark of evangelism. It’s not either/or but both/and.
According to Jesus, discipleship happens as we share the gospel message with people far from God. As I share Jesus with others, I am being discipled. As I’m being discipled, I’m sharing Christ with people who don’t know Him personally. That’s the school of growing in Christ. It is interacting daily with God’s Word and God’s Spirit resulting in spiritual godliness and visible outward expression.
You see, evangelism and discipleship are two sides of the same coin. It’s like holding a quarter in your hand then asking for the heads side. Or holding a quarter in your hand and asking for the tails side. The reality is that you cannot have one without the other. The quarter encompasses heads and tails. When you view the head side, the tail side is right behind it. It’s one quarter.
According to Jesus, if you are not fishing for souls, you are not following Him. The gospel is so simple that a child can understand. In fact, Jesus wanted children to hear His message (Matthew 18:2-3). The gospel is for all people.
How do we share the gospel? The gospel is more of a conversation than a presentation. Relationally, engage people and talk about John 3:16. How? The outline given by author and former pastor Max Lucado is simple. He Loves. He Gave. We believe. We live. “For God so loved the world … ” He LOVES. God loves you. You are the apple of God’s eye. He created you, made you in His image, and sustains you. “He gave His one and only Son …” He GAVE. God sent Jesus to earth to announce and provide for our salvation. “We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sin” (Colossians 1:14). “That whoever believes in Him will not die …” We BELIEVE. “If we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, we will be saved” (Romans 10:9-10). This is also a great place to incorporate your personal testimony of your conversion experience. “But have eternal life.” We LIVE. Eternal life is today and forever. Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Jesus fills us with His Spirit at conversion and prepares a place for us in heaven. Forgiveness, purpose, direction, security, all of these blessings come to us when we place our faith in Jesus Christ!
Remember, as you share, you are being discipled. As you are being discipled, you share the hope that is in you. It’s both/and, not either/or!