Communication can be practically impossible if you’re unable to understand the language someone else is speaking. Hand gestures, facial expressions, and pointing to things can help, but it still falls far short of efficient communication.
Something similar happens in discussions among church leaders talking about mission and ministry. They may be speaking the same actual language, and even using the same terminology, but the meaning of those terms can be understood differently.
Throughout church history, theological and biblical terms took on a pretty standard meaning as they were taught and studied. At times, some of the deeper meanings of terms may have been truncated somewhat for any number of reasons. Perhaps out of cultural compromise, political convenience, or in an effort to promote a particular doctrinal position certain terms were shaped accordingly. Today, that reshaping of terminology has carried over into our current church experience, and we unwittingly fall short of full comprehension of some critical language of mission.
If we are going to effectively share the good news of Jesus, be fully engaged in the mission of God, and have lasting impact on the culture of our day, we must be on the same page when we describe and define our terminology of mission. It is definitely not that we must come up with new meanings for familiar terms. It is simply that we must define these terms from the perspective of the biblical mission.
So, here are a few terms where we may be using the same words, but speaking a different language at times…
Typically, sin is defined as anything that displeases God, acts and attitudes of rebellion against God, or disobedience to God. All true. But let’s go deeper. Consider this definition of sin:
Sin is any expression of disobedience to God rooted in unbelief regarding the truth of who God is or what God has done.
Sin at its root is unbelief. We believe wrongly, which leads us to behave wrongly. Sin is not just about the surface actions that we manifest. It is not even only about the heart attitudes that sometimes lead to those actions. It is about a willful unbelief that God is who he says he is or that what God has done for us in Jesus is enough. When we fail to believe that God is great, glorious, good, or gracious, we sin.
The gospel is traditionally thought of as the good news about Jesus paying our sin debt by his sacrificial and substitutionary death on the cross so we can be forgiven of sin and go to heaven. Amen! All that is great news. The typical understanding of the gospel with this definition speaks to our future, and usually this is how people think of the effect of the gospel: it secures me a place in heaven for eternity.
The problem with this description of the gospel is that it doesn’t really address the here and now impact of the gospel on us. So let’s define the gospel like this:
The gospel is the good news of Jesus as expressed in God’s greatness, glory, goodness, and grace. Jesus has saved us from the penalty of sin, is saving us from the power of sin, and will save us from the presence of sin.
A fuller understanding of the gospel enables us to live with incredible peace and victory right now in the everyday. We understand that we are now living the eternal life that God gives through Jesus, and all the benefits of the gospel begin now and not in the sweet by and by.
The usual understanding of evangelism is that it’s the act of sharing the gospel with a nonbeliever for the purpose of seeing them come to faith in Jesus. This typically involves learning a technique of conversation that eases into the topic of spiritual matters.
Evangelism means telling good news. We normally think only nonbelievers need to be evangelized, but believers need the good news about Jesus proclaimed to them as well. In fact, there is not a single person who does not need to be evangelized on an ongoing basis. Evangelism is not just for the purpose of getting a nonbeliever saved. It is also to call believers to live in line with the truth of the gospel.
Evangelism is showing how the good news of Jesus applies to your life circumstances. It is declaring how the greatness, glory, goodness, or grace of God as expressed in Jesus speaks to what you are dealing with in life at the moment.
This is not some sort of feel good approach that compromises the need of the person to repent of sin and turn to Jesus. It’s simply making the good news truly good news to the individual by showing how Jesus is the better answer for whatever their dilemma is.
Most think of discipleship as training a new believer in the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life; how to pray, how to study the Bible, how to serve, and how to share their faith. It usually involves a curriculum, a class time, or some sort of formal one-on-one meeting. Discipleship has a continuum, beginning when a person chooses to follow Jesus and ending when the person has completed the course.
Biblical discipleship is a lifetime process. It begins with your first encounter with a person and continues for as long as you are involved in their life.
Discipleship is the continuing process of learning to submit every area of life to the lordship of Jesus. It is moving from unbelief to belief in every area of life.
Discipleship occurs best in three environments: life on life (one-on-one, done in normal everyday rhythms), life in community (each believer has impact on the person in the family life setting), and life on mission (discipleship occurs as the family serves together on mission).
It’s so important for leaders in communicating with those they lead, not just to use the same words, but to be speaking the same language.