Fulfilling Christ’s command to preach the gospel to all nations and make disciples of all peoples (Matt. 28:18–20; Mark 16:15) is an enormous task, and it requires the contributions of all believers to the effort. In fact, as we look at the earliest history of Christianity, we find that even lay Christians, those who have not been ordained to a specific office in the church, have been instrumental in the spread of the gospel. Consider today’s passage, which tells us that after Stephen was stoned, persecution broke out against the Jerusalem church. Consequently, the early Christian community, except for the Apostles, was scattered (Acts 8:1b; see 7:54–60). But something remarkable happened as they fled Jerusalem. “Those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (v. 4). Persecution caused the gospel message to begin spreading in earnest, and the rest of the book of Acts explains how both Apostles and lay believers such as Priscilla took the gospel beyond Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. From the very beginning of the church, laypeople have been instrumental in the spread of the gospel.
The book of Acts indicates that the Apostles and other Christians followed a two-step process in reaching the world for Christ. Generally, it seems that they preached a basic gospel message with a simple outline focused on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (see Acts 17:1–3, for example). This core gospel message, sometimes called the kerygma, or “proclamation,” did not contain everything Jesus taught His disciples but only the basics of salvation. After people believed the kerygma, however, the Apostles would remain for some time and give further in-depth teaching in God’s Word. Acts 19:1–10, for instance, tells us that Paul spent two years in Ephesus instructing people in “the word of the Lord.” Discipleship followed evangelism.
Not every Christian has the same evangelistic gifts. However, all believers can learn the basic kerygma—the holiness of God and what we deserve for our sin, the atonement, and the resurrection of Christ—so that they can be ready to share it with others. Many people find programs developed to help Christians know and share the basic gospel message, such as Evangelism Explosion, to be helpful in this regard. Moreover, all believers can also take part in the work of discipleship. They can support the church’s teaching ministry and come alongside other believers who are less knowledgeable in the faith and help guide them in knowing God’s Word.