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And: Words and Deeds
Now we come to the critical issue of how to help people convert to Jesus. Once again, "And" is the key, holding together words and deeds.
Jesus Used Words and Deeds
Jesus attracted huge crowds of gawkers and graspers because of his remarkable deeds—healing the sick, casting out demons, and calming raging seas. While the uniqueness of these events was obvious to all, their meaningwas not. Jesus wasn't just a miracle-worker. He was also a preacher. In fact, he was so focused on preaching the gospel that he once snuck away from Capernaum in the middle of the night to escape his popular healing ministry. "Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out," he told his stunned disciples. (Mark 1:38) He's building his church by the same pattern. The first church exploded when he poured out the Holy Spirit in a remarkable display. Peter then preached a sermon to explain what it all meant. This words-and-deeds dynamic has been the game ever since (even when herds of pigs and tongues of fire aren't involved).
Not Just Preaching. Not Just Doing.
Unfortunately, we often make mission into a preaching-only event disconnected from the life of the church. In this scheme, "good deeds" are just hooks to gather a crowd, not genuine fruit of the gospel. Right now, I'm having flashbacks to a college mission trip where we swarmed a beach and lured unsuspecting tourists with a 50-foot banana split. Doped up on frozen sugar and cream, we sprung the gospel message. Jaded by such "evangelism," many people today suggest that mission is showing, not telling. The old Saint Francis of Assisi legendthat says, "Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words" is their mantra. The subtle implication, of course, is that words are rarely necessary.
How Words and Deeds Work Together
In reality, neither approach makes true converts; "And" knows a better way. Preaching is always necessary for genuine conversion because confusion and stubbornness are two of the biggest effects of sin. This means that even if spiritually disoriented people are attracted to the church's life, they won't interpret it correctly. Their questions must be answered, misconceptions cleared up, idols challenged, and objections removed. This requires words. But their obstacles to the gospel aren't just cognitive. They also need to see what life might look like if they become Christian. Will I have any friends? What about my sex life? Will I turn into a foaming fundamentalist? Will I have to listen to cheesy Christian music? The church answers these questions by inviting them in and showingthem what a gospel life looks like.
Avoiding False Dichotomies
Strangely, many emerging pastors say that if a church effectively embodies the gospel, then preaching becomes less important. Others fear that if we welcome unbelievers, we have to water down the message. In reality, just the opposite is true! The more a church embodies the gospel and welcomes unbelievers, the clearer its preaching must be if anyone is to know what a Christian truly is. Vigorous gospel preaching begets changed and attractive lives, which begets the need for more gospel preaching, and on the cycle goes. This words-and-deeds dynamic is the engine of a resurging church.