It was clear to Jesus’ disciples where He meant them to cast their nets.
All they had to do was step across the boat to reach the other side. It
didn’t make any sense according to earthly reason that casting their
nets there should produce a different result, but it was what Jesus told
them to do. That was what made all the difference. You may agree that
we should listen to what Jesus says now, regardless of earthly reason.
But how do we find the other side of the boat? What would Jesus have us
Each disciple of Jesus must listen for himself to the words of Jesus,
because He says many things. That’s another good reason for us to begin
our Christian life anew each day with repentance, prayer, and meditation
on His Word. We can’t distill what Jesus says into a 12-step program
that will apply to everyone. Each of us finds himself in our own lives,
in our own context, with our own challenges. The Word of God does not
change, but its application can vary according to need and
Still, here are some ideas for Christian individuals and churches.
Let’s define three categories of activities in which we may spend our
time. We’ll call them evangelism, outreach or advertising, and good
The one most talked about in the recent past is “evangelism.”
We’ll define that as narrowly as possible: the communication of the
Gospel message to another human being. It requires a medium, like the
spoken word, the written word, or visual art. It may be possible to
help communicate the Gospel using the medium of music or human actions.
The Gospel is essentially a fact or proposition, so its full expression
requires a medium that permits a high degree of articulation.
As communication, evangelism includes not only the expression of the
Gospel, but also the reception of the message. That does not
necessarily include a response of faith, but it does include
understanding. It is not evangelism to speak the Gospel in English to
people who only understand Spanish.
Jesus commanded evangelism to His apostles when He said (Mark 16:15
NKJV), “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.”
That command continues today for those whom Jesus has called into the
same pastoral office, and its most pointed and literal fulfillment is
found all over the world wherever the Church gathers for the divine
service. Every Christian participates in this through our connections
to the churches where the Gospel is preached and taught. There are
other ways the Gospel is figuratively “preached,” but we’ll leave those
for another time.
It’s important to realize that evangelism, as we define it here, is how
God the Holy Spirit causes the Church to grow and thrive, as Lutherans
confess in Article 5 of the Augsburg Confession:
1] That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel
and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word
and Sacraments, as through instruments, 2] the Holy Ghost is given,
who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear 3]
the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s
sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace
for Christ’s sake.
4] They condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy
Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through their own
preparations and works. (bookofconcord.org)
The second category has recently been called “outreach,” but we could
also just as well call it “advertising.” This activity seeks to
establish lines of communication between Christians and non-Christians,
or between the Church and the world. It is not a communication of the
Gospel, and so it does not have the power to save anyone from sin or death.
Advertising also involves communication, but as we define it narrowly,
its purpose is different than evangelism. Advertising conducted by
churches is really the same tool as used by businesses in the world.
Businesses advertise to entice or attract the attention of others, with
the aim of selling a product or service that the customer may not have
been considering. By analogy, churches advertise to entice or attract
the attention of others, in order to establish a line of communication
that can be used for the Gospel.
It may sound inefficient to communicate an advertising message (conduct
outreach) in order to later communicate the Gospel (evangelism). Why
not just cut straight to evangelism, and bypass outreach? The reason is
simple. The unbelieving world doesn’t like the Gospel. It finds the
Gospel to be offensive, foolish, and ridiculous. Just read the first
chapters of 1 Corinthians; Paul explains it there. Now, if churches
want to communicate something to the unbelieving world, we have the same
basic task before us as the secular businesses in our community. I’m
fairly certain that people in marketing would discourage us from
advertising a message aimed at recipients who will find that message to
be offensive, foolish, and ridiculous. We could do it anyway, and rely
upon the miraculous work of God to produce the results. We would even
see some results, eventually. But if we want to open channels to
communicate the Gospel, then we should probably distinguish between
outreach and evangelism, between simple advertising and preaching the
If businesses are trying to sell a product or services that their
customers may not have been considering, churches have it even tougher.
We are trying to communicate a message (the Gospel) that we know the
recipients don’t want to hear! So it’s important that we open the
conversation strategically with an outreach message that may gain the
ear of the unbelieving world. Even while we communicate the Gospel in
whatever ways we can, we should also conduct outreach by advertising.
This translates easily from churches to individual Christians. In fact,
the importance of outreach is even clearer in the lives of Christians.
We conduct outreach every time we speak to a non-Christian. The way we
speak and act can either open or close lines of communication for the
Gospel. We are living advertisements for our Lord’s Church. But then,
we are also breathing examples of the Gospel.
That leads us to one of the most powerful media for both outreach and
evangelism: the good works of Christians. James 2:18 applies (NKJV):
“Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by
my works.” On that topic, I recommend you read this year’s convention
essay from the Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s convention. Pastor
Obenberger treats it much more completely than I could do here.
These are some general ideas about the other side of the boat. Jesus
actually told His apostles to preach the Gospel, and He tells His whole
Church to love one another and perform good works. Why not cast our
nets there? But as I mentioned in the last blog post, we need to start
much closer to home. We need to begin with our own spiritual problems
before we can reach out to help our neighbor. Yes, Christians do have
spiritual problems. We require daily repentance as we live in our
Baptism, in the holy Name of our God and Savior. We to receive His
Word and meditate upon it so that it becomes the fabric of our lives.
That’s really where we begin to find the other side of the boat, and it
prepares us to reach out in godly love, with genuine good works.