When telling someone else about your faith, what do you think is most important? A clear, concise presentation of the Gospel? Good theology? Answers to all their questions? An exciting testimony?
No question, all those are important. As the church, we’ve put a lot of effort into making sure we can explain the Good News in a way a non-Christian can understand. We have tracts, websites, and billboards. Churches and neighborhood Bible studies describe themselves as seeker-friendly. We take classes in evangelism, learn the “Roman Road” verses and memorize John 3:16. Fans hold up signs at ball games and players tattoo Scripture on their arms, crediting God with every win.
With all the witnessing going on, you’d think the church would be growing by leaps and bounds—but it isn’t, at least here in the U.S. Why not? Could it be that we’re going about evangelism all wrong?
I was reading my Bible a few days ago when a couple of verses in 1 Corinthians jumped out at me. Paul was describing how he wasn’t a very good preacher. He wasn’t eloquent. He didn’t use fancy language or impress the Corinthians with his logic. He certainly wasn’t a headliner—in fact, he repeatedly got beat up and run out of town. (At least he did have an exciting testimony!)
According to modern church practices, he was a failure—yet he was one of the most significant evangelists in the history of the church. What did he have that we’re missing?
In 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, Paul says,
My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
And a few chapters later he adds, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (1 Corinthians 4:20)
The western church is great at talking, with articulate preachers offering well-researched, theologically sound sermons. But so often that all that talking merely hides the fact that we have nothing more to offer. The words fill a void that should be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Very few churches are known for demonstrations of God’s power. Even worse, when a church does become noted for the miracles that occur at its meetings, all too often they are discovered to be faked! How tragic.
Most believers pray for healing, either for themselves or others. Yet, how many healings do we experience? How many people have we seen raised from the dead? Drive out any demons lately? Feed any multitudes? Yet, Jesus said we would do all these things and more. Theology has its place, but it’s the power of God that attracts the world’s attention and forms the foundation of our faith.
If you’ve traveled overseas, especially to South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of Asia, you may have seen God do some pretty incredible miracles. Missionaries often report healings, resurrections, and more. It’s no surprise that those are the same places where the church is rapidly growing.
We worship the same God—why don’t we see the same manifestations of power here? There are many reasons, but four issues come to mind.
Faith: Matthew 13:58 relates that Jesus could do few miracles in his hometown “because of their lack of faith.” Might we have a similar problem here? For example, we pray for people to be healed, but we don’t really expect God to say yes. Granted, lack of faith can be self-sustaining. When we pray and don’t see the results we want, we will have less faith the next time around. Alternately, people who see God do miracles will have great faith to pray for them.
Purity: The western church lacks purity, and unconfessed sin blocks prayer. I’m reminded of the charge Jesus had against the church in Laodicea: “You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” (Revelation 3:17) We want to be called Christians, but we worship at the altars of comfort and pleasure.
Adoption: We’re ignorant of our position in Christ. Jesus was able to do miracles because he is the Son of God. Well, guess what. We too are sons and daughters of God. Satan would love for us to remain powerless. Read over verses such as John 1:11-13, Romans 8:14-15, Galatians 3:26, and 1 John 3:1, then expect God to work through you in the same way the Father worked through his son.
The Holy Spirit: What (or rather, Who) is the source of power for the church today? According to Luke 24:48-49, it is the Holy Spirit who empowers our witness. Sadly, many churches have quenched the Spirit. As a friend quips, they worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Bible. Without the power of the Spirit living in us, Christianity becomes merely the mental assent to a list of beliefs and a doomed effort to obey a bunch of rules. No wonder people resist our efforts to convert them!
Remember, it is the enemy who blinds the eyes of unbelievers and keeps them enslaved to sin. When we talk to them about Jesus, we are fighting Satan. And, as one of my small group leaders recently said, “Our battle is spiritual. Right doctrine and right behavior will not conquer the enemy.” If we want to win disciples, we need to show them the power of God!