The primary source of this critical review is Robert E. Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism. Dr. Coleman is the Distinguished Professor of Evangelism and Discipleship at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. Prior to this, he was the Director of the School of World Mission and Evangelism at Trinity International University, and also served as the Ministry Associate of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He discussed in this book the principles and methods in which Jesus employed in His plan of world evangelism. Coleman argued that the basic means that the Son of God Himself used was through concentrated and purposeful discipleship. Jesus ministered to the multitudes and received whosoever was willing to follow Him, but He predominantly gave attention to the twelve apostles. He stayed with the chosen Twelve almost twenty-four hours a day, and taught them through His deeds and words incessantly (Mark 3:14). He spent increasingly more time with them in His second and final year of earthly ministry. During the period between His resurrection and ascension, He particularly appeared to the Twelve and instructed them things pertaining to the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:1-3). Clearly, His method of conquering the world with the Gospel message was through focused and carefully planned discipleship. As expected from the Master’s strategy, these relatively few individuals not only, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God, birthed the church and perpetuated the Evangel that their Master had begun to preach, but also caused the turning of the entire known world upside down in less than a century (Acts 17:6). In like manner, therefore, Coleman exhorted churches and believers today to mimic Jesus and the early church’s approach to evangelism, for this is Christ’s way of building His church as laid out in the Scriptures. In this brilliant written presentation, Coleman has revealed the underlying principles of biblical evangelism—the way it was done by the Master and His disciples in the early church.
The subject of evangelism will always be relevant and important in all ages. Coleman engaged in this writing because of the lack of teaching material on this crucial topic, as well as hoping to bring encouragement and light to those who experienced evangelistic frustrations thereof. It is a fact that many churches and Christians have laboured vigorously without seeing much long-term spiritual fruit that last. Surely it is not supposed to be like that if they have followed the way of the Lord. Hence, in an attempt to outline the way Jesus evangelized, Coleman has observed eight guiding principles from the life of Jesus: 1. Selection 2. Association 3. Consecration 4. Impartation 5. Demonstration 6. Delegation 7. Supervision 8. Reproduction. The assumptions and logics of the author’s position seem to be firmly grounded on the inspired texts of the Gospels, as well as other New and Old Testament passages. Therefore, the “scriptural accounts of Jesus constitute our best, and only inerrant, Textbook on Evangelism.” In the selection of disciples, the author argued that “people” were the Master’s method, as His concern was not with “programs to reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow.” Men and women who are willing to learn, teachable, and have a sincere hunger for God are the instruments that He uses to transform the world (Luke 9:23). Moreover, Jesus chose a certain number of disciples whom He would spend most of His time with, namely the Twelve. He even spent an entire night sleepless praying and discerning God’s specific choice of the twelve apostles (Luke 6:12-16). From among the Twelve, there are three that related closer to Jesus: Peter, James, and John (Mark 5:37; 9:2; 14:33). Out of these three, John seemed to be the closest to His Master (John 13:23-24). The principle Jesus practiced here is that of concentrated discipleship. While not neglecting the masses, the priority of discipleship must be given to the relatively few. This is merely the sensible method of training and not partiality; it will not cause significant problems if carried out in the right spirit and manner. Since growing takes time, this process will be slow and tedious—sometimes the impact will only be evident from eternity’s perspective. However, the result will be glorious and it is the means in which our Master had proven effective.
In Association, the primary way Jesus brought up His close disciples was by staying and living with them (Mark 3:14). Coleman argued persuasively that Jesus “actually spent more time with His disciples than with everybody else in the world put together.” The system of occasional school-like equipping classes will be far from sufficient. Rather, the principle is to be like spiritual parents or older siblings to personally nurture the spiritual young. The principle of spiritual family fostering being true (1 Tim 5:1; 1 John 2), it inevitably implies the spiritually mature spending good quality time with those being trained in a constant and tender way. Moreover, this nurturing must not be by compulsion but willingly, and by being examples to the flock (1 Pet 5:3). In Consecration, the disciples needed to be obedient to Jesus. To obey is to learn. In order to be fit vessels of the Kingdom, the disciples needed to take up their cross and follow Jesus daily and pay the price. Although love starts from the heart, the ultimate proof and perfection of love must be evidenced by one’s actions in line with what he/she says in time (John 14:15, 21, 23, 24; 15:10, 12). Coleman has put it well: “no one can ever be a leader until first he has learned to follow a leader.” Furthermore, the leadership style in the Kingdom of God must be that of genuine servanthood (Matt 23:11).
Jesus imparted to them. He gave Himself to them entirely by His own will, including His life (John 10:17). In this Jesus showed them God’s kind of love and gave it unto them freely and readily. Coleman’s statement was taken right from the Bible: “Love—Calvary love—was the standard. Just as they had seen for three years, the disciples were to give themselves in selfless devotion to those whom the Father loved and for whom their Master died… love is the only way to win the free response of men” (John 17:23; 1 John 4:19). In addition to imparting His life to them, Jesus demonstrated both how to live and how Kingdom businesses are accomplished. His deep prayer life triggered the disciples to ask Him how to pray. The Master’s thorough understanding and application of the Old Testament Scriptures were foundational to His life and ministry. As Jesus served both the crowds and individuals in proclaiming the Good News, healing the brokenhearted, recovery of the sick, deliverance of the demon-oppressed, and providing for the needy, He showed them how the work is done. As Coleman described aptly:
In the last three steps of biblical evangelism, Jesus delegated them work in accordance to their maturity, while kept supervision on them, and finally expected them to reproduce His method of evangelism. Jesus continued to remind them that one day they will go on their own, but it is interesting to notice that they did not do much for a year or more but only watched Jesus work. Even when they were assigned more work, Jesus still gave constant check on their progress. He evaluated what they did and corrected their attitudes, methods, and teachings that they have missed or not understood fully (Mark 6:30; 9:17-29; Luke 9:10; 10:17-22). From these principles, Coleman has contended that seminaries, Bible schools, and churches in general have oftentimes sent out workers who are unprepared for the task of the ministry. They are equipped with mental knowledge most of the time, some of which are confusing and conflicting. The truthful intellectual understanding is essential and indispensable, but it alone is far from sufficient. The shortage of top-graded personal mentorship has contributed to this grave weakness. The mentality that disciples can be “mass produced” with assembly-line type of training, such as feeding on Sunday sermons or attending Bible school classes only, is failing to see that each individual is unique, thus, require regular personal spiritual oversight and coaching. Even after the disciples have reached a satisfactory level of maturity, they still need to be monitored by spiritual elders to make sure their growth will continue and pride is kept out. In the last step of spiritual reproduction, Jesus expected His close followers to apply what He has done to them to others. When this is successful, multiplication will result in time, albeit a considerable time with uneasy challenges (Acts 6:7).
In practical terms, with these eight principles in view, Coleman urged churches to see the paramount importance of building a good concentrated leadership team. As Jesus built His core group laboriously, we too, need to focus on the relatively few leaders-to-be. Hence, much prayer and discernment must be exercised like Jesus in order to identify God’s specific will in each circumstance. As Coleman stated plainly, “it is not better methods, but better men and women who know their Redeemer from personal experience—men and women who see His vision and feel His passion for the world—men and women who are willing to be nothing so that He might be everything—men and women who want only for Christ to produce His life in and through them according to His own good pleasure.” The author’s argument, therefore, is that biblical evangelism means that spotting and training a concentrated number of committed disciples should be prioritized over emphasis on methodologies and programs. While mentoring style and organization may vary, the listed principles of the Master are the fundamental cause of effective evangelism. Coleman especially noted that this making of men and women of God would take a up a substantial amount of time and strenuous efforts, we will not lose heart if we view “success” in God’s terms. The rewards and victory will be immense, grand, and eternal in the most literal sense. Jesus left neither written material nor organization when He ascended to the Father’s right hand. The most precious asset that He bequeathed was a company of ordinary men whose lives have been irrevocably changed by an intimate walk and relationship with Him. These common folks went on to shake the world with the Gospel message just like their Master did, but the effects were multiplied.
In assessing Coleman’s presentation and logic, they seem to be intensely biblical and thus valid. The development of his arguments is derived from one biblical foundation upon another. The underlying premises and assumptions are generally sound, and the conclusion reached is on the whole valid and tremendously useful. In the introduction of the book, he went straight to the problem of evangelism faced by the contemporary churches today and raised the right question—why many churches and believers are not seeing results despite arduous ministry work input. The attempted solution was taken directly from the Gospel accounts. It was highly persuasive and irrefutable. In evaluating the New Testament and the whole of Scriptures, the eight principles outlined by Coleman are on firm biblical grounds. Besides the well-studied and interpreted Gospels on the life of Jesus, elsewhere in the Bible also supported and confirmed his view. Paul the Apostle mentored a personal spiritual son Timothy, as well as other co-workers who stayed with him throughout his ministry, such as Luke the physician and author of the third Gospel (1 Tim 1:2; Philem 1:24). Paul’s relationship with Timothy was a close and lasting one, much like that of Jesus to the Twelve. He urged Timothy to mimic him as he imitates Christ, and he in turn also instructed Timothy to commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others (1 Cor 11:1; 2 Tim 2:2). Even prior to Paul’s encounter with Timothy at Lystra, the young man’s spiritual foundation was finely established by his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice, whose bond with him was obviously affectionately personal (2 Tim 1:5). John Mark was individually coached by Peter and Barnabas, as well as Paul in the apostle’s later years (Acts 15:39; Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11; Philem 1:24; 1 Pet 5:13). When the adversaries to the Gospel arrested Peter and John, they marveled at their boldness and power since they were uneducated and untrained in the Jewish rabbinic school. They recognized that the reason for their mighty witness in words and deeds was due to the fact that they “had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). In the incident where Peter raised Dorcas to life, he followed the same principles as His Master by driving away the presence of doubt and sought for the will of God (Mark 5:35-43; Acts 9:39-41). Jesus had truly imparted and reproduced His life to and in these men.
These principles were already in force even before Christ in the Old Testament. The most prominent example is that of Elijah and Elisha. Elijah has obeyed God’s command to pick out Elisha to be his personal entourage. Elisha followed the great prophet for years and he became his successor in the prophetic office, inheriting a double portion of the anointing that his master had (1 Kin 19:19-21; 2 Kin 2:9-15). In a similar manner, we see Elisha tapping on the same principles and even methods in raising the dead (2 Kin 4:32-37). In the years he was following Elisha faithfully, he must have observed and learned how Elijah operated in the prophetic-miracle anointing of God in his life that has now been imparted to him. In the law of mentoring a concentrated group of close associates, it was the company of loyal mighty men and later also the wise counselors, prophets, and faithful levitical priesthood that helped David build up his army and the Kingdom of Israel (2 Sam 23; 15:12; 24:11; 7:1-17; 12:1-15). When Jesus saw the multitudes like sheep without shepherds, He told His disciples to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send out laborers into His harvest (Matt 9:35-38). We see again and again that leadership was the emphasis, and there is no shortcut in training up Christlike leaders. The biblical model of discipleship, therefore, is more of an apprenticeship style than purely academic classroom type of education. To keep in the balance, the Master clearly stressed the key to discipleship is teaching (Matt 28:20); however, the ways in which the Word of God is taught is by a combination of personal lifestyle, close association, teaching sessions, demonstration, and delegation with supervision, as Coleman has effectively argued. In this process of teaching, the life of God is imparted so it is not merely the transference of intellectual knowledge, and many truths pertaining to the Kingdom of God are “caught” rather than directly taught. For example, the disciples did not fully understand every word that Jesus told them. Nevertheless, as they continued to be with Him and see Him minister, gradually they caught on to the principles with the help of the Holy Spirit (Mark 9:32; John 14:26).
In the contemporary church scene, there are vivid instances where discipleship evangelism was practiced and have produced stunning results over time. David Yonggi Cho pastors the largest church in the world, Yoido Full Gospel Church in Soul Korea, with about 830,000 members (2007). One of the main breakthroughs came when God showed him the cell church patterns. The cell group, sometimes also called small group or home group, structure provides a framework where the cell leaders are the core under-shepherds of the church trained by the pastoral team. As they are being equipped to lead the cell meetings, they in turn train up new small group leaders. This methodology makes the principles of discipleship evangelism possible. As a result, Yoido Full Gospel Church has experienced enormous growth. Although we need to take into account all the other factors of church growth and also the call of God for the specific pastors and churches, the principles applied have been proven to be highly effective as promised in the Word of God. However, the success of the cell structure depends largely on the spiritual maturity of the pastors and mentors. The same principle works both ways. If the discipler is someone with much experience and Christlike temperament, the benefits on the trainee will be invaluable and life changing. On the other hand, if the discipler is rather undeveloped in spiritual things, the structure and organization of the cell model will not work no matter what. As Coleman explained, “disciples” are God’s instruments and methods, no amount of fancy programs, advertisement, or natural talent can ever make up for the lack of consecrated men and women (Matt 28:18-20). More recently, a different cell model has emerged, namely the Groups of 12 or Government of 12 (G12) paradigm. The International Charismatic Mission in Bogota, Colombia (ICM), the founding church of this strategy, has grown from 70 small groups to 20,000 small groups in just eight years (1999). The gist of this cell format is that the senior pastor will pick twelve specific disciples and they in turn will try to establish twelve disciples of their own and so on. There are various forms of the G12 model and different churches have adopted either the entire or parts of the structure depending on each unique setting. The core value behind the G12 model is based on discipleship evangelism, the principle endorsed by the Scriptures. However, one needs to note that in both the standard cell structure and G12, it is the principles behind that make them effective, and not the methodologies per se. Furthermore, if churches just implement the entire system without taking consideration of the different cultural, congregational, personal setting and the specific Will of God for them, many problems will undoubtedly occur. Therefore, one should not focus on the specific method, but rather the discipleship-evangelism principles mentioned in this review. The Bible has prescribed unchanging principles but gives room for different methodologies inasmuch as the application of the principles will vary depending on different circumstances. For example, the Bible does not mandate that one must find literal twelve disciples such as in the G12 model. The G12 model merely provides the framework in which the principles of determined discipleship could be applied. Thus, as long as the laws of biblical evangelism are exercised, the structural forms can be different from churches to churches. It is arguable that some organization of small groups or similar type of structure is almost necessary for the successful implementation of close fellowship and efficient administration (Ex 18; Luke 6:12-16). I have been personally involved in both the regular cell group and G12 pattern and have seen both the huge advantage that these systems supply, and also the disadvantages when all that is left is the outward shell of endless programs and meetings when the underlying truths are not functional. There is also the danger of legalistic practices of methods that ruin the principles. One such example is the Shepherding Movement that emerged in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. This movement had the right Bible discipleship and accountability beliefs but they were pushed to the extreme that caused its own demise. Hence, it is absolutely essential that all the other principles from the whole counsel of God, such as servant leadership, honoring of personal free choice, humility, and biblical submission, mesh in with discipleship evangelism to keep it in the proper balance.
If the Body of Christ is to preach the Kingdom message to the world with power and effectiveness, she must embrace the means of the Kingdom as demonstrated by her Master—Jesus Christ. The Son of God not only evangelized the masses, but the bulk of His time and energy was spent on a close group of disciples, namely the Twelve. These in turn changed the entire known world with the Gospel of Christ. Along with other passages of Scriptures, we learn that this practice of concentrated discipleship evangelism is the primary strategy of both regional and world evangelism. As Coleman has argued biblically, the principles involved are selection, association, consecration, impartation, demonstration, delegation, supervision, and finally reproduction. Yielded human vessels were and still are God’s method (2 Tim 2:21). Evangelistic programs, organizations, and advertisement in themselves will never “get the job done” no matter how seeker-friendly, extravagant, or well-thought-out they may be. This is the problem of many churches today—focusing too much on evangelism curriculums instead of biblically planned discipleship. These are like the branches trying so intensely to produce fruit without being on the Vine in the parable that Jesus spoke to the disciples in John 15. Spiritual fruition is the natural outcome of being on the vine; therefore, the emphasis should be on being in union with Christ, and not on producing results in itself. Only changed lives can beget changed lives (1 Cor 11:1). Since every one of us has limited time and capacity for work, we need to devote them on a small number of committed disciples in the precise Will of God. This timeless truth of the Master’s plan of evangelism is excellently described in Coleman’s book. There may be minor differences in the interpretation of certain passages in the book, but they do not affect the overall thesis. Jesus, through the Word of God, has revealed the way evangelism should be. If churches and believers will trust and appropriate the Master’s words seriously and persistently, revival on a personal and regional level will take place eventually. Even when no clear outward results are manifest, our attitude is adjusted to see things from God’s perspective, that is, evaluating things from eternity and wisdom’s standpoint. We do not need to receive the glory and recognition, but God does, as we are being faithful to carry out His Word in love for Him and all the people in this broken and fallen world—the heart of biblical evangelism is the pure agape love of God.
 Coleman, Robert E. The Master Plan of Evangelism. Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1993.
 Coleman, Robert E. The Master Plan of Evangelism. Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1993, pp.19-21.
 Ibid., p.22.
 Ibid., p.27.
 Ibid., p.45.
 Ibid., p.58.
 Ibid., p.64.
 Ibid., pp.74-75.
 Ibid., p.80.
 Ibid., pp.105-106.
 However, both Elijah and Elisha must first be foreordained to
stand in the office of a prophet in the first place (Jer 1:4-5; Ps
139:16; Rom 8:29; Eph 1:11), for no men or human organization can ever
ordain someone to a ministry or secular role that God has not
predestined and still function properly. In the worst scenario, serious
troubles may arise. For example, King Uzziah was called to be a king,
but as he tried to act as a priest adamantly, calamity befell him (2
Chr 26:19). Depending on each case, consequences may be weighty or
light, and they may manifest within a short period of time or only be
evident in the long-run (Gal 6:7). It is important to note, however,
that God’s grace, wisdom, guidance are always extended to us before,
during, and after the choices are made, as long as our hearts love God,
He can still work out all things for good tremendously for those who
love Him to the best as they know how (Rom 8:28).
 Principles will always be the same, but methodologies may vary
from person to person depending on the call and particular phase of
one’s life (Ex 4; John 15).
 Comiskey, Joel. Groups of 12. Houston, TX: TOUCH Publications, 1999, p.9.
 Coleman, Robert E. The Master Plan of Evangelism. Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1993, p.27.
 Comiskey, Joel. Groups of 12. Houston, TX: TOUCH Publications, 1999, pp.13-17.
 Although we should carefully pray and discern God’s choice of
people in discipleship training as Jesus did handpicked the Twelve, the
Bible does not emphasize the number twelve as a must-have that is to be
applied under all circumstances. All of Jesus’ twelve disciples were
men, but it obviously does not imply that all of our disciples today
must also be of the male gender. No other parts of Scriptures endorse
this numerical literalness, and neither Paul nor Peter, or any other
prominent early church leaders such as James, had twelve definite
disciples of their own. In biblical numerology, the number twelve is
symbolic of “governmental perfection,” as Israel also had twelve tribes
(see E. W. Bullinger’s Number in Scripture). However, the principle of
raising up a concentrated few disciples still do apply, I am simply
pointing out that the number “twelve” is not necessary as it is not a
 Scripture quotation is taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.
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