“Not only the gospel” - why courses are here to stay
I have spent much of the past year helping to produce a new resource called Hope Explored, launching at the beginning of January. But, is there still be a place for course-based evangelism in small groups in the post-Covid world?
That is a challenging question. But I’ve found some answers to it as I’ve reflected on the apostle Paul’s ministry among the Thessalonians.
What made Paul’s evangelism strategy so effective? How was his teaching about Jesus so embedded in the lives of the new believers – and so compelling to them – that they continued on in the faith after he had been forced to flee?
“Not only the gospel”
Paul gives one answer in his first letter to them. He explains his model of evangelism and outlines why it had such an impact on the Thessalonian church. He says that his model is to share the gospel in the context of sharing life together. He writes, “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
Sharing the gospel of God is essential to evangelism. But Paul suggests that we can be tempted to stop short of sharing our lives with others. When we do both, the good news about Jesus is heard to be true in our words and is seen to be true in our lives.
“You know how we lived”
Paul could be bold in advocating that model of evangelism to the Thessalonians because it was the means the Lord had used to bring them to faith in him.
Through Paul’s evangelism, the gospel had come to the Thessalonians “with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5). The Thessalonians had “welcomed the message” and had begun to live differently as a result (1 Thessalonians 1:6). Their transformed lives, showing their faith in action, meant they had become a model for others to follow (1 Thessalonians 1:7).
Making disciples doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is modelled by lives of discipleship and faithfulness in following Jesus. That’s why Paul doesn’t just teach about what it looks like to put your trust in Jesus; he points to example after example of those who have made that commitment for themselves. “You know how we lived among you for your sake,” he writes in verse 5, because he had shared his life as he had shared the gospel.
“The Lord’s message rang out”
The remarkable thing about becoming a gospel-sharing and life-sharing disciple is that the Lord is at work through such witness to make himself known to more people. Each new follower of Jesus becomes a testimony to his grace and an illustration of the Holy Spirit’s work.
What is the result of such witness? Paul puts it this way: “The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere” (1 Thessalonians 1:8).
That is the goal of evangelism: that the Lord’s message would ring out. Paul’s model of evangelism, in sharing the gospel while sharing life, means that the truth of the gospel is illustrated as people’s lives are transformed and their faith in God is made known through it.
The future of courses
Amid the changes to people’s lifestyles and the developments in technology, some things continue to remain constant. People need to hear the good news of Jesus, they need space to discuss it openly with those who are convinced by it, and they need to see faith in Jesus modelled in the lives of his followers.
There is still a place for course-based evangelism in small groups, even after Covid. In fact, that may be true now more than ever. Good course content gives clarity to the good news about Jesus that is being shared, while the structure of sessions facilitates the sharing and modelling of the Christian life that proves to be so compelling.
Perhaps there will be a place for shorter courses – like Hope Explored with just three sessions – as people struggle to commit for longer straight away. Perhaps there will be a place for more digital content in courses as people engage more with multimedia.
But a model of evangelism that involves gathering with the Bible open to hear the good news about Jesus and to see it lived out? There will always be a place for sharing the gospel as we share our lives. It was the apostle Paul’s model, and it will continue to be ours.
By Alastair Gledhill | Product Development and Communications Manager