What was Jesus's plan for world evangelization? Was it to teach a class or seminar? Did it involve memorizing a method? Could it be fully rolled out and implemented in just 8-weeks?
If this wasn't how Jesus operated then why is it how we operate?
I have great personal respect for Dr. Robert E. Coleman. I have had the opportunity to hear him preach and teach in person. His love for our Lord and for the gospel are evident.
The Master Plan of Evangelism is Dr. Coleman's most famous book. It's actually my second favorite book of his. I plan to write a review of my favorite Dr. Coleman book in the future. Today we'll look at the strengths and a significant weakness of this excellent resource.
1. The Aim
Many evangelism resources are built from the ideas, experiences, and expertise of the author. Often these resources focus on methods that the author employs in their own life that has brought some measure of success and/or notoriety.
The aim of The Master Plan of Evangelism is different. Certainly, Dr. Coleman could write about his personal experience. He has preached and taught widely.
Instead, this resource seeks to understand Jesus's plan for world evangelization. Coleman put it this way:
That is why this study has been attempted. It is an effort to see controlling principles governing the movements of the Master in the hope that our own labors might be conformed to a similar pattern. ... this is a study in principles underlying his ministry--principles which determined his methods. (p. 14)This is certainly a worthwhile aim. If we can understand what principles guided and shaped Jesus's activities and methods then those same principles can guide our activities and methods.
2. The Depth
Sadly, many resources that seek to equip and mobilize the body of Christ are shallow. Shallow methods have their perks. They are easier. They are faster. They can quickly cause a stir and allow us to check off "prioritize evangelism" from our agendas before moving on to the next item.
These flash-in-the-pan methodologies are short-lived by definition.
The Master Plan of Evangelism lays out principles that, if actually applied, are costly. They require great amounts of time. There is no doubt that if you compare Jesus's activity with His disciples and our activity with our disciples, we require seriously less time, commitment, and effort.
Shallow methods usually result in shallow fruit. Jesus's methods have made an impact in our world for millennia. Do we want short term or long term results? If we want deep, long-lasting results, the principles Jesus employed are what we're looking for.
As a study in principles instead of methods this resource is infinitely adaptable. The principles remain the same even though they can and will result in differing methodologies across different contexts.
This is the hallmark of good biblical exegesis. God's Word is always timely, always relevant, and always applicable. The working out of these principles is not always identical in all places, at all times, and for all people.
Methods come and go. Principles remain. This resource will remain helpful until our Lord returns because it focuses on principles that can be adapted and applied in any context.
There is only one weakness that needs to be discussed.
1. The Foundation is Off
As much as I love this book there is a significant weakness. It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of Jesus. However, when we focus only on what Jesus did with His disciples we are failing to build our theology on the fullness of what He has revealed.
Jesus wasn't just alive back then. He's alive right now. He revealed truth both during His earthly ministry and also after His resurrection and ascension. The Apostle Paul received much revelation from Christ that falls outside of the scope of a study simply on Jesus with His disciples. Paul was converted after Christ's ascension to heaven.
As the living Head of the church, Jesus no longer spends time with us the way He did with His disciples then. This doesn't diminish the importance of the principles of what He did while on earth.
However, we also cannot forget that Jesus gave gifts and leadership to the church for the building up of His body. These leadership gifts are listed in Ephesians 4:11.
The foundation of the church is Jesus as the cornerstone along with the apostles and prophets. When we forget the foundational role of the rest of those given by Jesus we are shifting the foundation. This is a mistake.
Here's where the flaw becomes evident: I am not Jesus. Neither are you. Your pastor isn't Jesus. Your small group leader isn't Jesus.
Unlike Jesus, we are all flawed. I have many strengths. So do you. But I also have many weaknesses. So do you.
When Jesus utilized these principles His disciples were submitting themselves to the sinless, perfect, Son of God. When we ask people to submit themselves to us (or we submit ourselves to other individuals) we are falling short of the ideal from the beginning.
People tend to take on the strengths and weaknesses of their leaders. Jesus said, " It is enough for the disciple to become like his teacher, and the slave like his master" (Matthew 10:25a).
Christians today are called to be conformed to the image of Jesus. Not conformed to the image of their pastor. In order to avoid being conformed to a single human leader Christ designed His church to be led by a plurality of elders. This plurality of elders is present in every church in the New Testament.
Similarly, when the Apostles started making disciples we see that people submitted themselves to the plurality of the Apostles, not just one of them. When people started focusing on one Apostle or leader over others they were rebuked for their foolishness (e.g., 1 Corinthians 1:11-13).
I really like this book. Even so, the flaw is a big one. If used by a singular leader to disciple people it will result in groups of people that take on both the strengths and weaknesses of that leader. It is a formula for creating disciples in the image of the human leader.
However, if these same principles are applied in the context of the leadership that Jesus gives for the church then we can see generations of Christians equipped and conformed more and more into the image of Christ by submitting themselves to the plurality of leaders Christ gave them for that purpose. In this way, the strengths of each leader can be magnified and the weaknesses can be hidden since the other leaders will be strong where they are weak.
In this way the depth of the model is retained, the body is edified, the world is evangelized, and the Head is glorified.