In The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman seeks to take the reader back to God’s Word in general and the Gospels in particular in seeing how Jesus identified, developed, and sent his disciples to make new disciples. The Master Plan of Evangelism purposely ignores any current church trends in training the church for the task of evangelism. What the reader gets is eight focused chapters rooted in the gospels and rich in identifying how God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, the Master developed men to continue his work after his ascension.
The eight chapters are Selection, Association, Consecration, Impartation, Demonstration, Delegation, Supervision, and Reproduction. Each chapter is rich in Biblical support describing how Jesus was explicit in pouring himself in to a few men, so that those few could reach the many. It is through all eight chapters that the author lays out in grand detail what exactly the Masters plan was for evangelism. The beauty of this book is that it completely void of Christian culture trends like being, “missional,” “gospel centered,” “contextualized,” or “saturated.” Instead Robert Coleman spends each chapter laying the foundation on which all of our current evangelism trends are built upon. The Master Plan of Evangelism goes back to the basics with the precision of a surgeon, and the heart of a pastor. Within eight chapters Robert Coleman takes the reader through Jesus’ relationship with his disciples, while adding keen insights along the way. For anyone who desires to get back to what God’s intentions are for his church to evangelize to the ends of the earth there is no better book than The Master Plan of Evangelism.
One of the most obvious strengths of this book is that it’s only source is the Bible. It is completely understandable that in 21st century Western culture using only the Bible could be interpreted as lazy or unsubstantiated by multiple sources. In a world where more information than a person can consume lives in our pockets, this books focus on the Scriptures is refreshing. By focusing solely on how God’s Word reveals the why, how, and what of Jesus’ relationship with his disciples it allows the reader an opportunity to grow in the sufficiency and depth of God’s self-revelation.
The three remaining strengths that will be discussed in this section are; practical wisdom, clear call and expectation to obey, and the relevance to a wide audience. Beginning with practical wisdom presented in the opening paragraph of the preface the author begins with a prophetic word when he says, “Merely because we are busy, or even skilled, doing something does not necessarily mean that we are getting anything accomplished.”(p. 13) For this writer this is the fourth reading of The Master Plan of Evangelism, and this quote has been convicting every time. Especially for those who serve in full time vocational ministry it is incredibly easy to allow “the stuff” of ministry to be mistaken for accomplishing the Great Commission. Robert Coleman from the preface to the epilogue presents insights that convict, encourage, and guide the reader, in order to equip them to put into practice the Master’s plan. One great example of the author providing practical wisdom is, “Here is where we must begin just like Jesus. It will be slow, tedious, painful, and probably unnoticed by people at first, but the end result will be glorious, even if we don’t live to see it.”(p. 32)
The clear call and expectation to obey adds a much-needed weightiness to the book that forces the reader to earnestly count the cost that comes with following Jesus’ plan. In this writer’s opinion, the weightiness is directly tied to the sole use of the Scriptures as the primary resource. So much of Jesus’ ministry was calling people from all walks of life to count the cost of being his disciple. This book accomplishes the same thing. In all eight chapters, there is a line of thought woven through them that subtly reminds the reader, “this will require sacrifice.” In the epilogue Robert Coleman goes so far as to say, “Everything that we have done then depends on the faithfulness of the workers. It does not matter how many people we enlist for the cause, but how many they conquer for Christ. That is why all along our emphasis must be on quality of life.”(p. 107)
Finally, because the author focuses on the methods Jesus used it enables the book to be understood and innovated upon in a wide variety of cultures and contexts. Even within my own ministry as a Pastor there was consistently areas in every chapter that pushed me to think more critically about how I invest my time, talent, and resources into developing quality disciples that are trained and equipped to make new and mature disciples. The book does an excellent job helping the reader see the goal as obeying Jesus in taking the gospel to the far reaches of the earth. However, it is equally clear we will never accomplish that goal if we are not selective and faithful in calling Christians to “come and see,” and then holding them accountable to “go and do.” By keeping the focus on people and not projects, campaigns, or extravagant connection events Pastors and lay Christians all around the world can effectively implement the principles discussed. Robert Coleman even goes so far as to use the rise of Communism as an example of Christ’s methods working in secular society. In speaking of Communist leaders in general he says, “They are a modern-day example of what Jesus demonstrated so clearly in his day that the multitudes can be won easily if they are just given leaders to follow.”(p. 31)
There are two main weaknesses I’ve observed in The Master Plan of Evangelism. They are the title of the book and the balance between the strategies discussed and the role of the Holy Spirit.
Though the title of the book is emphasizing evangelism it can be argued that it is actually the Master Plan of Discipleship. The majority of the book is focused on how Jesus invested himself in twelve disciples from spiritual infancy, to maturity and reproduction. In one sense, it is completely clear to see the main thrust of the book is how Jesus prepared twelve men to take his gospel to the far reaches of the earth, evangelism. However, on the other hand the means Jesus uses in ensuring those twelve men would be equipped and capable of obedience is through discipleship. Having been a part of multiple conversations about the title of the book it has been observed that people tend to go one of two ways with this. The first is that the end result of discipleship is to raise up believers to look more and more like Jesus and who reproduce themselves in making new disciples. Essentially discipleship and evangelism are two sides of the same coin, so the title should be explicit about both. The other argument believes this book is only teaching about evangelism because from the outset Jesus’ primary concern is equipping people who will be able to demonstrate and declare his gospel to the ends of the earth. This argument believes the title works perfectly as is.
The other weakness of the book is that the author at times seems to contribute the fruit of evangelism to the Holy Spirit while at other times he attributes it to the implementation of the Master’s plan. With attributing the work to the Holy Spirit Coleman says, “From beginning to end, experiencing the living Christ in any personal way is the work of the Holy Spirit.”(p. 57) That’s a very clear statement where it is solely through the work of the Holy Spirit that any fruit will bear through evangelism. However, later in the book Coleman says, “This is the essence of the plan-to let them see us in action so as to feel our vision and to know how it relates to daily experience. Evangelism thus becomes to them an intimately practical thing that has ramifications in everything else. It is seen as a way of life, not a theological dogma. What is more, by being with us, their involvement in the work is inevitable.”(p. 102)
The Master Plan of Evangelism is a special resource for God’s Church. From seasoned Pastors to new believers this book is written in a simple, bible saturated and easy to understand way. It is because this book is so practical and rich with Scripture that it is a timeless resource.
Despite a few issues this books strengths incredibly outweigh its weaknesses. For most the title is not something they will ever pause to critically process through. While a more precise clarification on the role of the method and work of the Holy Spirit would be beneficial, the work as a whole is incredibly valuable in growing and making new disciples.