Book Review:The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert E. Coleman

 Introduction

            Today, when the church in North America is busy implementing many evangelistic models and strategies to evangelize the world, Coleman presents an argument for Jesus’s method of winning the world by focusing on a few. He states, “Merely because we are busy, or even skilled, doing something does not necessarily mean that we are getting anything accomplished. The question must always be asked: Is it worth doing? And does it get the job done?”[1] His thesis that, “One cannot transform a world except as individuals in the world are transformed, and individuals cannot be changed except as they are molded in the hands of the Master”[2] becomes the basis for the rest of the book in which he presents eight principles that characterized Jesus’ life in relation to His disciple making process and the Great Commission.[3]

Summary

            Tracking the footprints of Jesus, the Master Himself, Coleman highlights the Master’s plan for the salvation of the whole world through the individual discipleship method. Current church culture and practices in the United State seeks out strategies and models to grow the church without much investment in building relationships with non-Christians. The Master’s plan invites the church to focus on “the fundamental principle of concentration on those he [Jesus] intended to use.”[4] The Master’s plan follows eight principles: selection, association, consecration, impartation, demonstration, delegation, supervisor, and reproduction. These eight principles teach from Jesus’ life that “One cannot transform a world except as individuals in the world are transformed, and individuals cannot be changed except as they are molded in the hands of the Master.”[5] Coleman insists, men were His method of winning the world,[6] because, “His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow.”[7] Therefore, it is necessary for church growth “to see how Jesus trained his men to carry on his work.”[8] Current popular church culture and practices in the United State mostly focus on inward efforts to reach the masses who may come inside the church week after week and even fall prey to their own self-righteous routine and good works, but they will never be able to go out and make disciples. Coleman argues for Jesus’s model which focused on the twelve and, “literally staked his whole ministry on them. The world could be indifferent toward him and still not defeat his strategy.”[9]

Critique

            One of the strengths of Coleman’s work is the way that, without being critical of any particular technique, he disavows some of the most well-known models and strategies to evangelize the lost and brings the focus back on the Master Jesus Himself. This strength comes from Coleman’s focus on, “the underlying principles that consistently determined what Jesus’ action would be in any given situation.”[10]  He states that his work “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,”[11] he further argues, that “by emulating his [Jesus’s] pattern, you’ll be prepared to minister to the specific needs of those God brings into your life.”[12]  This means, Christians should follow Jesus’ plan of action, which is a divinely determined model of making followers of Jesus rather than merely converts. To make disciples is “to build people like themselves who were so constrained by the commission of Christ that they not only followed his way but led others to as well.”[13]

Another strength that might be perceived by some as a weakness is that the author does not present any new model or strategy for evangelization of the world. Today, when churches in the USA are looking for specific models or strategies that can help them to grow faster with less time commitment, Coleman argues for following Jesus’ model of spending most of His time with a few individuals. The issue with such a recommendation is that the church in the USA neither has the patience nor the time for such a slow paced strategy. They need a quick fix. Nevertheless, by not advocating for any human model or strategy, the author managed to avoid two errors that make his work stand out among other literature. Firstly, he avoided self-promotion and points to the Word of God which is “well-thought-through strategy of movement day by day in terms of the long-range goal.”[14] This strength, though might be perceived by some as a weakness, is unarguably the most powerful aspect of for the Master’s strategy. Secondly, by putting the focus on the model that Jesus shows in the Scriptures, he differentiates a convert from a follower of Jesus and reintroduce what a disciple should look like. Thus, his challenge to the church is, “Are we only making converts—or are we building leaders who can in turn build other leaders?”[15] Coleman says, “Through them [the disciples] and others like them it would continue to expand in an ever-enlarging circumference until the multitudes might know in a similar way the opportunity which they had known with the Master. By this strategy the conquest of the world was only a matter of time and their faithfulness to his plan.”[16]  He further argues, “Jesus had built into his disciples the structure of a church that would challenge and triumph over all the powers of death and hell.” [17]

Evaluation

            Jesus was not interested in converts whether a few or many, rather He was interested in a few disciples. This is not to say that Jesus was not interested in masses or He was not popular. According to the gospels, Jesus was a popular figure which caused His “accusers to capture him in the absence of the people.”[18]  He was simply “not trying to impress the crowd, but to usher in a kingdom.”[19] His ultimate goal “for his disciples was that his life be reproduced in them and through them into the lives of others.” [20]

This work contributes to the current literature on missions and evangelism as a reminder to follow Jesus. Coleman assesses accurately that, “Jesus did not expect that everyone would be saved (he recognized realistically the rebellion of men in spite of grace), but he did foresee the day when the gospel of salvation in his name would be proclaimed convincingly to every creature. Through that testimony his church militant would someday be the church universal even as it would become the church triumphant.”[21] Also, this work will contribute towards the literature that seeks to discover healthy church leadership. Coleman insists, “The multitudes of discordant and bewildered souls were potentially ready to follow him, but Jesus individually could not possibly give them the personal care they needed.”[22] Only healthy church leaders dare to refrain from measuring success by numbers and consider the personal care of each disciple a priority.

[1] Robert E. Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism (Grand Rapids: Revell Publishing, 2006), 13.

[2] Ibid., 21.

[3] Ibid., 93.

[4] Ibid., 21.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 89.

[11] Ibid., 13.

[12] Ibid., 89.

[13] Ibid., 89.

[14] Ibid., 13.

[15] Ibid., 161.

[16] Ibid., 89.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid., 21.

[20] Ibid., 161.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., 21.

 

Coleman, Robert E. The Master Plan of Evangelism. Grand Rapids: Revell Publishing, 2006.