In the midst of a discussion at one of our recent pastors’ meetings, one of our pastors asked a critical question: How do we build a congregational heart for evangelism? We had been discussing our outreach efforts, particularly our GRACE outreach ministry, and the simple fact that the vast majority of our members are not active in sharing the gospel. We know that everyone cannot participate in a particular outreach ministry like GRACE, but we are all called to be witnesses of Christ wherever we may find ourselves — in school, at work, at family gatherings, and at any other community venue we may frequent. So why are most of us not bearing witness to Christ?
This lack of evangelistic fervor characterizes most of the evangelical church in America. In our denomination alone, it takes almost 50 Southern Baptist church members to reach one person for Christ in one year. We certainly believe that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation, and we likewise believe that every believer has the responsibility to bear witness to the Gospel. So where is the disconnect between our theology and our practice?
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article for you that was entitled, “Why I Don’t Do Grace Outreach.” In that article, I responded to the six most common personal excuses for not participating in our church outreach ministry. Tom then wrote an excellent article last week where he asked and answered the question, “Is ‘Knocking on Doors’ a Good Method of Evangelism?” I don’t intend to plow the same ground again, but I do want us to back out to a wider perspective and consider how the evangelical church as a whole can develop a congregational heart for evangelism.
Step #1: We must make our evangelistic practices a matter of prayer. Like any other issue of disobedience, we need to pray prayers of repentance for how we have disobeyed the Great Commission. We also need to be praying for the church in America, for our particular churches, and for each other. Pray that our hearts would be changed by Christ in regards to our personal evangelism, and that we would aspire to have His perspective of lost people.
Step #2: We must seek to discern the reason that our theology is not being born out in our practice. Is our strong belief in the sovereignty of God diminishing our evangelistic fervor when it should be what drives it? Are we allowing an emerging cultural ethos that deems proselytizing to be rude or politically incorrect to be a barrier to our sharing? Are we excusing ourselves from obedience in this area on the basis of our own fears, discomforts, or plain lack of interest? Are we excusing ourselves from obediencebecause we disagree with common evangelistic methodologies?
Step #3: We must not allow church ministries or programs to be viewed as the only means of gospel witness. In some ways, having a specific church outreach program has become an excuse for not fostering a lifestyle of evangelism. We reason in our minds, “I do ‘evangelism’ when I go on “Faith” or “Grace” visitation with the church, not when I’m out doing my own thing.” Such thinking “professionalizes” witnessing and removes it from the very day-to-day activities in which our witness should be present.
Step #4: We must recover a zeal for God. Zeal for evangelism is often lacking because our walk with the Lord is not healthy. And if our minds are not set on the things of God, how can we expect to be aware of and zealous for the witnessing opportunities that exist all around us. Having a heart that is continually being conformed to the person of Christ through Scripture reading and prayer will foster within us a heart for the Lost.
Step #5: Read Christian works that stoke the passion for evangelism. John Piper’s “Let the nations be Glad” or J.I. Packer’s “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God” or Charles Spurgeon’s classic work “The Soul-Winner” are all great works that will biblically instruct as well as inspire you to the joyful duty of evangelism.
Evangelism is not a spiritual gift that some Christians have and others do not. The Great Commission is a calling entrusted to every one of us. So let us be found faithful. Join me in praying that God would develop at Morningview a congregational heart for evangelism. I love you all dearly!