The Pastor and Evangelism

Desiring God 2009 Conference for Pastors

Commending Christ

A lot of times as pastors we have to admit that we are not exempt from the challenges that people in our congregations face. Some of us come from places where evangelism is illegal or so socially awkward that it feels illegal.

And we have excuses for why we don't evangelize. We need to know about ourselves that the heart that doesn't want to share the gospel will use any excuse.

Pray that God will use these sessions to inflame your heart and give you more ideas for how to be a better evangelist yourself and a model for the flock.

Things We Can Mistake for Evangelism

1) Imposition

We mistakenly take evangelism to be manipulation. But that's what the world says. In truth, we're not trying to impose our beliefs on anybody. Biblically, we can't impose our beliefs on anybody. Force and coercion cannot finally bring about the change that God demands. You can't expand Christianity by the sword. Evangelism is not some sort of intellectual imposition.

To believe that something is true and to share that with others is not coercion. We don't impose when we evangelize. We freely offer it to all and do not, cannot, force it on anybody.

2) Personal Testimony

A personal testimony is a wonderful thing. The Bible is full of examples of it, and we should testify to the wonderful experience of receiving God's mercy.

But consider John 9 and the man born blind. He gives his testimony but doesn't even know who Jesus is. His words glorify God, but they don't present the gospel. This is not evangelism.

Unless you're explicit about Jesus Christ and the cross then it is not the gospel.

3) Social Action / Public Involvement

Mercy ministries display God's kindness, and they are good and appropriate for the Christian to do. But such actions are not evangelism. They may commend the gospel to others, but only if someone has told them the gospel. They need to have the gospel added to them. Helping others or doing our jobs well, whatever they are, in and of themselves are not evangelism.

4) Apologetics

Apologetics are valuable, but they have their own set of dangers. You can get bogged down in talking about purely intellectual or peripheral matters and never get to the gospel.

It's fine for us to talk with unbelieving friends about questions that they have, but our attempts to try and answer them without setting the gospel as the foundation does no good. Jesus must set the agenda for evangelism.

5) The Results of Evangelism

2 Corinthians 2:15

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?

Note that the same ministry has two different effects. It's like the parable of the soil: same seed, different results.

We cannot finally judge the correctness of what we do by the immediate response that we get. The need for numbers puts an unnecessary stress on pastors and misunderstands the way that God saves.

We must practice our ministries realizing that some of us will be like Adoniram Judson or William Carey, who had no converts until after seven years of faithful gospel ministry. It's a fact that most people don't believe the gospel the first time they hear it.

Don't let the gospel that you preach be molded by what it is that gets an immediate response. Preach the gospel, trying to persuade—pleading for your hearers to believe—but knowing that you cannot convert a person. And then let God do with it what he will. He alone can call the dead to life. The gospel is powerful, and God is committed to using us to spread this good news.

What Should Pastors Be Like As Evangelists?

We don't fail in our evangelism if we faithfully tell the gospel and the person is not converted. We fail when we don't tell the gospel at all.

Evangelism itself isn't converting people. It is telling people the gospel. We don't hope to evangelize. We do it, knowing that God is glorified in it. It is not a guilt-driven burden, but a joyful privilege.

What should the pastor-evangelist pray that God would do in him?

1) Make sure that you are yourself a Christian.

2) Be humble in your evangelism. Don't paint a picture that you are perfect in your faith. Be humble about your weaknesses. God loves to use weak things. He gets more glory that way.

3) Pray for compassion. This was Christ's disposition when he saw the crowds who were like sheep without a shepherd.

4) Know the word well. Be Bible-saturated.

5) Be gospel confident. God loves evangelists. Knowing that we have his pleasure in it, we should be bold, like the apostles.

This shows itself in your response to people who don't repent when you share the gospel with them. Consider Jesus' example in Matthew 11:20-29. When people rejected his calls, he prayed, reaffirmed God's sovereignty, and continued to invite all to come, repent, and believe.

6) Recognize some of the glory of what we're doing when we evangelize. We're speaking the truth about him, and he uses that to bring glory to himself.

7) Be provocative. One way to do that is by asking honest questions. Even in my own sermons I sometimes have questions that are purposefully designed to undermine the faith of non-believers. Randy Newman's books on evangelism are good on this point.

7) Be hospitable. Use the credit that hospitality gives you with unbelievers to say a word about Christ.

8) Preach the gospel from the pulpit. We pastors shouldn't feel guilty that our primary way of evangelism is preaching.

When God calls us to be pastors, he calls us away from the front lines of evangelism in order to make us those who equip others to occupy the front lines. Someone who just wants a church desk job in order to get away from the front lines is not fit to be a pastor.

We need to present the gospel in every sermon. Preach the whole gospel in every sermon. Visitors need to hear it. When we speak to non-Christians, we also model evangelism to our people and re-expose the weightiness and depth of sin to them.

People need to hear that God calls them to admit their sins and confess them to him. We don't ever want to teach people that an outward physical response is a sincere response.

9) Regularly pray for non-believing friends and family. Encourage and model praying for non-Christians.

10) Keep your gratitude for your own conversion fresh.

11) Visit the same restaurants, barbers, dry cleaners, banks, so that you can build relationships and share the gospel with people. Be a good tipper at restaurants. Be willing to give people time in conversation.

We don't want to have so much a program for evangelism but a culture of evangelism. The pastor should make sure that others in the congregation are equipped for evangelism. Do this by the books you give out, by the way you admit new members, etc.