Lately, I’ve been reading an incredible book by John Teter titled, The Power of the 72, Ordinary Disciples in Extraordinary Evangelism. John’s goals for this book is to 1) provide a clear theological foundation for evangelism and the call to first preach the gospel to the poor; 2) present his theory of process conversion which has been field-tested in America and Asia for five years, so that we know how non-Christians come to faith; 3) call us to master four ministry tasks that are central to personal evangelism; 4) prepare us for daily rejection by providing the perspective of eternal joy (p. 14).
I appreciate that this book is well-organized by being divided into two parts. The first half is theology and the second half is application. The section on theology explains the theology of ministry flowing out of being, evangelism that prioritizes the poor, and a fresh understanding of persecution and suffering. The part about application provides practical input on how to “do” evangelism with real people (p. 15).
John Teter is the senior pastor of Fountain of Life Covenant Church in Long Beach, California. He and his wife chose to plant their church in West Long Beach believing that the mission of God is to create new communities of faith that are multiethnic and multiclass. John feels a passionate call to bring the gospel to the poor. He defines these people as the vulnerable because they should be seen in a way that includes lifestyle and not just their economic reality. He says on page 40, “To solve our deepest problems, we must dive deeper into Scripture. To put it plainly, the massive gaps between races, cultures, and economic classes are in opposition to the New Testament vision of a reconciled and reconciling church.” Evangelism today sinks or swims based on the strength of relationships. The way to build trust with people is to have strong friendships. Where you live and who you do life with determines the nature of the spiritual fruit in your ministry (p. 51).
The passage of Scripture John uses as a theme for this book is Luke 10:1-20 in which Jesus is training and deploying his disciples for ministry. John makes the observation that the lives of the 72 teach us that evangelism is not just for the spiritually gifted. The good and hard work of evangelism is a call for all disciples at all times (p. 10).
In making the point about evangelism beginning with our own faith in Jesus, John writes that Jesus trained the 72 for personal evangelism. He introduced the concept of opposition and persecution, and he taught them how to respond to unbelieving and potentially hostile people (p. 25). Ministry results can be very fickle, and Jesus doesn’t want us to base our joy on things that can be taken away. True evangelism always moves from the victory, never toward the victory (p. 26).
I appreciate how John referred back to Jesus’ teaching that the 72 should rejoice that God had written their names in heaven. This promise helps us keep our perspective as we continue to proclaim the message of the gospel.
In the theology section of the book, John spends time talking about ministering out of a vibrant relationship with Jesus. He says that evangelism is a grace and a means for more grace for those who keep their souls happy in God (p. 32).
I’m glad John spent time writing about rejection. He makes and interesting point that Luke wrote seven verses in chapter 10 that are instructive, but he spent the same amount of time teaching the 72 how to handle rejection. Those of us who love God and his kingdom can forget that there people around us who will choose rejection. Even though I should expect it, this choice always surprises and saddens me. John makes some helpful comments about the Greek word, thlipsis. He quotes another pastor to provide a definition: Thlipsis is the pressure experienced along the line where kingdoms clash; along the line where the kingdom of light clashes with the kingdom of darkness; along the line where the kingdom of justice clashes with the reign of injustice; along the line where the rule of life clashes with the rule of death (p. 60). An entirely different dimension of suffering awaits the 72. We are called to operate on the fault lines between two colliding kingdoms. Living out the deeds of the faith of the 72 is the catalyst for this collision (p. 61).
I love how John associates himself and all disciples with that first group from Luke 10 known as the 72. We share in this call to proclaim the gospel and to serve on the frontlines in advancing the kingdom. And then, whether accepted or rejected, successful or failing, our names are written in heaven. John returns to that point after sharing his own stories about relating to other non-Christians.
There is so much more in this book to enjoy, learn from, and process but I will end here and encourage you to get a copy for yourself and see just how practical personal evangelism really is and how accessible it makes the kingdom of God for the non-believer.