Holistic evangelism: What on earth is the church for?

I am angry. I have been since 6th July 1980. At times the anger has burned brightly, but on other occasions it is just sadness. Nearly 34 years later and there is still anger and sadness.

I am angry with the church. Not with any particular local congregation, but with the chronic failure of The Church – the community of people claiming to be Christians in this country. The anger is specific: it took The Church 17 years to tell me about Jesus. It was in July 1980 that I became a follower of Jesus, this controversial, delightful, enigmatic and fascinating manual labourer from Palestine.  It was then that I found I actually mattered to God, that I was loved by Him and that my life had purpose and meaning. But it took 17 years for The Church to bother telling me about this Jesus.

That angered me then and angers me still.

And that is why I became an evangelist, for the greatest gift we have as the Christian community is this wild and distracting Jesus, and we –The Church – need to become much more enthusiastic (en=in; theo=God) about the gratuitous generosity that evangelism is.

Paul had something of this passion. Consider his 2½ years in Ephesus (in Acts 19 and 20) from late 52 through to the spring of 55. He was imprisoned, faced severe opposition, feared for his life; he wrote much of his correspondence from there. It was during this period the 7 churches of Rev. 1 & 2 were planted (probably). God worked special miracles through him, and there was a riot (Acts 19:23-41).

It was an extraordinary time in his ministry, perhaps the most fruitful of his entire career. Using more contemporary categories, Paul is engaging in educational, health and medical ministries, mental health work, church-based and sacramental work, teaching, fund-raising and charitable work, church planting, friendship building, and through his writing: pastoral work, discipling individuals and churches. All of this whilst holding down a job and causing a riot! All very exciting stuff – many missionaries would sacrifice much to see such activity of the Holy Spirit in and through their ministries.

But Paul’s theology is not focused on all of these exciting things: rather, he tells the church in Ephesus that his personal vocation and the “eternal purpose of God” come together in understanding the purpose of the church:

… through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord (Eph. 3:10).

I call this holistic evangelism: when the kingdom is enacted on the earth, amidst all the messiness of human existence with its sin, sickness and spite; when The Church takes the spiritual and social as of equal importance in showing salvation to a desperate world – and in showing ‘the rulers and authorities’ that Jesus is Lord!

And, please God, may my anger continue to burn until the church practices holistic evangelism as God has called it to do.


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John Baxter-Brown

John Baxter-Brown

Chief Executive Officer at Global Connections
John Baxter-Brown, or JBB as he is usually known, has previously worked as consultant to the World Council of Churches (on evangelism), World Vision International (on Church Partnerships) and Compassion International (on children and youth in mission). In addition to his role with Global Connections, he serves as Senior Advisor in Evangelism for the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance and occasionally lectures in mission and evangelism at universities and colleges. Throughout his ministry, JBB has worked in evangelism, youth and children’s work, theological education and training, and ecumenism, at local church through to global levels. He has edited and authored numerous books, chapters, journals and articles. He is married with two teenage daughters and two dogs and lives in Wiltshire.
John Baxter-Brown

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