One of the greatest impediments to our growth and godliness as Christians is our individualistic approach as Westerners.
All Christians are made differently, but we’re also made to work together. As an individual believer you may be a foot or a finger or a follicle, but you are part of a body, the church, and it is as part of that body that you’re most yourself—and most useful—as you contribute to and depend on the rest of your church.
Forgotten and Crucial Word
One of the most forgotten and crucial words of the Christian life is “together.” As Paul says in Philippians 1:27, “Stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.”
As part of Christ’s body, you share his Spirit and you share his gospel—so stand together. And yet the question that so often undoes an enthusiastic young Christian is not “Do you love Jesus?” (they do), or “Do you love telling people about him?” (they do), but “Do you love his church?”
We need our church, and our church needs us: “God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (1 Cor. 12:18)
We strive together for the faith of the gospel.
Centrality of Evangelism
Now, part of the way we are to strive together is in evangelism. When Jesus gave his Great Commission (Matt. 28:19–20), he meant for us to cross the street to share the gospel with our neighbor just as much as he meant for us to cross the seas to bring the gospel to unreached people groups. Both are essential; neither are optional. And if you’re not called to do the latter, then you are commanded to do the former.
But again, we mustn’t allow innate individualism to hamstring our evangelism. We are to witness together, as a local church. Yet so often the indispensability of the church in evangelism is forgotten—not only by members but by leaders. In his book Our Guilty Silence, John Stott brilliantly articulates the centrality of the church’s role in evangelism:
The invisibility of God is a great problem. It was already a problem to God’s people in Old Testament days. Their pagan neighbours would taunt them, saying, “Where now is your god?” Their gods were visible and tangible, but Israel’s God was neither. Today in our scientific culture young people are taught not to believe in anything which is not open to empirical investigation. How then has God solved the problem of his own invisibility? The first answer is of course “in Christ.” Jesus Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. “No one has ever seen God, but God the only Son has made him known” (John 1:18). “That’s wonderful,” people say, “but it was 2,000 years ago. Is there no way by which the invisible God makes himself visible today?” There is. “No one has ever seen God” (1 John 4:12). It is precisely the same introductory statement. But instead of continuing with reference to the Son of God, John continues: “if we love one another, God dwells in us.” In other words, the invisible God, who once made himself visible in Christ, now makes himself visible in Christians, if we love one another. It is a breathtaking claim. The local church cannot evangelize, proclaiming the gospel of love, if it is not itself a community of love.
So it’s not only the individual Christian believer who is to let their light shine, a narrow beam of torchlight in the word; each local church is to be a lighthouse—a great, wide beam of gospel light illuminating the surrounding darkness.
God’s Intended Medium
If we are to stand firm in one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel, we must not see our local church as just our campaign headquarters from which we hear the gospel and go. And neither is it just our field hospital, where we return to be patched up. It is those things, yes, but it is so much more. It’s a loving community of Christian brothers and sisters that gives credibility to the gospel. Indeed, it’s God’s intended medium for his message.
You are called to share the gospel. And (especially if you’re in church leadership of any kind) you are called to encourage others to share the gospel. But don’t feel obliged to do it all by yourself. Use your character and gifts as part of the church in which God has deliberately placed you. Shine a gospel light in your office or factory and in your local coffee shop; join it with the beams of others as you meet mid-week in ways that include witnessing; and let it be part of the great lighthouse for your community that your church must be. As Jesus himself put it, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
Editors’ note: This is an edited excerpt from Rico Tice’s book Honest Evangelism: How to Talk About Jesus Even When It’s Tough (The Good Book Company, 2015).