The Church and Evangelism
Desiring God 2009 Conference for Pastors
The following is notes taken during the session, not a manuscript.
Tonight we want to talk about the church and evangelism. I want to cover two things:
1. Two things we pastors must teach on evangelism
2. Two things on evangelism we pastors must lead our congregations in
Two things we pastors must teach on evangelism
1. We need to understand the congregation’s responsibility for evangelism
We must teach them that every Christian must evangelize. Does your congregation think that evangelism is something only for those with the gift of evangelism, or do they understand biblically that it is for all Christians? The people of God have always been called upon to testify to the Lord’s goodness.
In all we do, we should try to glorify God by bringing the great news of salvation to others. Luke 6:45 teaches that the overflow of the heart informs the mouth. If the heart is grateful to God for reconciliation with him through the gospel, then it will want to testify to that.
2. Pastors should teach the history of God’s displaying himself through a people
God has repeatedly displayed his character in a corporate people. He didn’t just create Adam. He created Adam and Eve. God promised to make Abraham into a great nation. God displayed his character through Israel. Then in the New Testament God purchases the church through the blood of Christ.
It is the Spirit-created society in the midst of this fallen, cursed world that is to bear witness to the gospel.
Jesus talks about how we Christians, as a distinct group, evidence his love as we love one another, in a way that the world should only be able to understand as supernatural. There’s something in the quality and texture of that that is inexplicable to the fallen world.
Two things on evangelism we pastors must lead our congregations in
1. Pastors should lead in equipping a congregation in evangelism
We pray and work to develop a culture of evangelism. We want to equip the congregation that God has called us to serve. We want the practice and mindset of the church to be described as a culture of evangelism, so that you can taste it in the conversations.
We do this by being faithful pastors. But it begins by seeing that Scripture is the primary tool God uses in evangelism.
Here is how we try to make the gospel central in our church. At the beginning when you try to join the church, you get our statement of faith which makes the gospel very clear. From the very beginning we try to lift up the gospel and make it the central and most important thing.
As useful as it can be to have programs, the program-centered generation isn’t what should be in our church.
I wanted our services to be joyous but also marked with the utmost earnestness and seriousness in light of the wrath of God.
In our concern with evangelism, we want to be able to present our church as an assembly of people who have in mind the great things of God. We don’t want things that are light and trifling.
We don’t do much door-to-door visitation at our church. We have no altar calls at the end of the service.
If that’s all the stuff we’re not doing, what are we doing? I’ve concentrated on praying, on modeling, on teaching and working to create a culture in the church of faithfulness and prayerfulness in relationships and friendliness and spiritual conversation among the members of the church. I pray through our membership directory regularly.
I try to plan our services deliberately to make sure we do not artificially hype emotion. Don’t misunderstand me. The gospel engages our emotions, but there are things that people do in the name of evangelism that are not helpful. One of the things we do that I get comments on is having corporate silence after the sermon.
I deliberately refer to Christians and non-Christians in my sermons. I want that open and public. That can help me introduce to people that they might want to question their salvation. I think that draws attention to the gospel.
When I first came to the church, I had to figure out what to do with all of these churched people. Don’t go first to preaching Paul’s letters. Go right to the gospels and preach Jesus. Preach how he interacted with the religious Pharisees.
I think part of what we want to lead our congregation in is talking about the cost and difficulties of the Christian life.
We can do baptismal testimonies. We encourage members to stay around after the services to talk with each other and with other people. We encourage them to have deliberately spiritual conversations. We shouldn’t be embarrassed to talk to one another about spiritual matters. As we are built up, the body of Christ will be attractive to people. We build this community, not just for ourselves, but for those outside. The discipleship is what makes you shine like a star in the dark night and that affects your evangelism.
As a pastor, as we cultivate a serious approach to church membership, that cultivates a culture of evangelism.
The more our people understand the basics of the faith and live them out in their lives, the more every aspect of life is shown to be related to the gospel.
We also do a series of lectures called Henry Forums. Whoever is coming through and has interesting lectures that might attract people in the community, we have them come and we are sure to include the gospel.
We encourage our people to come up with their own ideas that they are excited about.
As a pastor, you want to lavishly encourage the brothers and sisters in your congregation who have a heart for the lost and want to try to reach them. Brothers, encourage the saints to whom the Lord has given a heart for evangelism.
We deliberately keep our church calendar stripped down so we don’t clog our people with responsibilities with the church. We want to encourage people to live the Christian life individually with their families, with their Christian friends, and with their non-Christian friends.
One very simple thing we want to do is encourage people in our congregation to talk about evangelism. It seems like Christians feel awkward talking about that. Talk about evangelism openly. Talk about evangelism with your non-Christian friends. Be open about what you are doing.
We want to not think the main thing we are doing Sunday mornings is bringing people to Christ. We want to build our people up so that when they are distributed throughout the world during the week they are healthy, happy, and evangelizing.
We have certainly had disappointments. We have had discipline cases that have broken my heart. But praise God that we have seen many people find new life in Christ.
2. You want to lead your church in evangelizing congregationally
The way we evangelize is not just individually. The corporate witness of our churches will make our evangelism either easier or harder depending on whether that witness is a help or a hindrance. You want to be able to invite the person you’re witnessing to to church.
Our lives are to give credibility to our words. Not that any of us can live perfectly, but we can live lives that commend the gospel. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Our lives are the confirming echo of our witness. We are God’s billboard in our city. “Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (Philippians 2:14-15).
You want to be able to invite your non-Christian friends into the network of relationships that is your congregation. Non-believers can become morally visible to themselves as they move among us. They can see conversions in front of them. They can see life change really happening.
We have had so many people come to our churches who think they are Christians and are converted when they sit under the preaching of the Word.
Talk to your congregation about times when you have tried to be faithful in evangelism and the person has blown up in your face.
The Word of God is full of statements of the certainty of the victory of God. As we evangelize, we are inviting people into the triumph of Jesus Christ.
Spurgeon, with his wonderful God-given combination of confidence in God and tender compassion for his sheep, put it like this:
I am occupied in my small way, as Mr. Great-heart was employed in Bunyan’s day. I do not compare myself with that champion, but I am in the same line of business. I am engaged in personally-conducted tours to Heaven; and I have with me, at the present time, dear Old Father Honest: I am glad he is still alive and active. And there is Christiana, and there are her children. It is my business, as best I can, to kill dragons, and cut off giants’ heads, and lead on the timid and trembling. I am often afraid of losing some of the weaklings. I have the heart-ache for them; but, by God’s grace, and your kind and generous help in looking after one another, I hope we shall all travel safely to the river’s edge. Oh, how many have I had to part with there! I have stood on the brink, and I have heard them singing in the midst of the stream, and I have almost seen the shining ones lead them up the hill, and through the gates, into the Celestial City. (from Spurgeon's Autobiography, II, 131)