Seven Things I/m Learning about Evangelism by John Starke

So here are seven things I’m learning about evangelism. Some are reflections on my own life and practice and others are on trends:

1.To my surprise, there are a lot of great books on personal evangelism. I’ve been critical of books on evangelism, and many of the popular ones give me good reason to be. I thought there was a huge drought between J. I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (original edition, 1967) and Mark Dever’s The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (2007). Not so! Unbeknownst to me there has been a good steady flow of great books over the last 30 years. Some of my favorites are Harvie Conn’s Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace and Michael Green’s Evangelism in the Early Church.

2.Many pastors and leaders are thinking hard about evangelism and doing exciting things. From university campuses in Chicago, Boston, or Tacoma, to the neighborhoods of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, pastors and church leaders are spreading the gospel and engaging with skeptics. From all accounts, there’s lots of fruit. Though there doesn’t seem to be any creative new method, other than spending time with unbelievers and inviting them to spend time together. Local churches are planting in strategic places in the United Kingdom, New England, and the Northwest parts of the United States where the population is sometimes less than 2 percent evangelical. Organizations such as Redeemer, NETS, Soma Communities, and the Crowded House are equipping them. Here and there, some churches grow large in size, but mostly there is a steady growth of new churches that do not grow as a consequence of membership transfers from other churches, but from welcoming new believers.

3.There are lots of different methods out there, but many steadfastly focus on the same Good News. Evangelistic methods are always controversial. And I don’t mean to undermine the importance of those debates. But while many Christians and churches allow context to shape their method, they proclaim the same gospel message. This is exciting to see. We should be encouraged that many are thinking critically and creatively on how to bring the gospel of justification by faith alone through grace alone to bear upon their community. To cite just one example: David Helm’s preaching at Holy Trinity Church not only edifies believers with the gospel but also engages the unbelief of the downtown Chicago neighborhoods that the church ministers in.

4.Blue collar, industrial areas are neglected in church planting and evangelism efforts. That is not to say that there is a complete neglect; there are certainly some great churches doing encouraging things that get overlooked. But by and large, it’s just not as appealing to go plant a church in places like Pontiac, Michigan. As far as I know, there is no exciting movement to engage mill workers with the gospel. People write more articles about evangelism to people in sky-rise apartments than people in manufactured homes. Young pastors should consider these areas of need, even if they don’t have a thriving arts community, shopping centers, or houses built after 1974.

5.I’d rather practice evangelism than read about it. Maybe that sounds obvious or overly pietistic of me, but reading and listening to others talk about the sweetness of the gospel and the realities of hell for that amount of focused time put a unique urgency in me to get to the labor of sowing and reaping souls. Still, I need to continue to read more and think harder on sharing the gospel.

6.I should think more strategically about being around unbelievers, or I’ll never be around them. This is probably more of a problem for pastors and seminary students. It’s difficult to practice evangelism when our schedules are filled with being around other church leaders, seminary students, and those we are discipling. The shepherd impulse to be around sheep is not a bad one, but if we want our congregants to be active in evangelism, we should lead the way. I’d love to hear how readers who are pastors have strategically made time for personal evangelism.

7.I need to pray that I would have the eyes to see opportunities to share the gospel. I probably spend a good 15 hours a week doing work at coffee shops around town. Rarely do I pause what I’m doing, turn around, and talk to the person next to me. Let me guilt myself even more—I ignore those around me while reading a book or listening to a talk on personal evangelism! There are lots of reasons to pray concerning evangelism—this one, I think, is a good one.

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How do we help our churches to accomplish their mission statements fully?

So how do we start truly making evangelism a priority church-wide?

1. Pray!

Prayer is the supernatural precursor to proclamation. In Acts 4:31 Luke writes, “After they prayed the place where they were meeting was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and went out and spoke the word of God boldly.” If we want to get our churches to evangelize then we must pray for them to start evangelizing. We must pray that God would make it a priority in our own lives as the same time.

Samuel Chadwick once said that Satan laughs at our priorities and mocks at our plans but he trembles when we pray. We must pray for each other when it comes to the “e” word otherwise it will never happen in a way that is going to produce lasting change in the lifeblood of our congregation.

2. Live!

If you aren’t living THE Cause of evangelism then how can you ask our church to live it out? We must set the pace with our lives and our lips and then call those around us (including our spiritual leaders) to join us. Jesus blasted his followers with a don’t-be-a-hypocrite reminder in Luke 6:42 when he said, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Before we try to pick the speck of evangelistic failure out of our church’s eye let’s take the plank out of our own! Then let us humbly challenge our church to do the same!

3. Inspire!

Whether it be through stories of changed lives, unveiling the eternal realities of what is at stake (heaven, hell, Judgment Day, etc) or focusing on passages of Scripture that command or compel us to share the gospel, we must inspire those in our congregations, small group, Sunday school classes and youth group to relationally and relentlessly share the gospel in their spheres of influence.

Richard Baxter, great Protestant preacher of five centuries ago, once said, “Satan will seek to do the most harm to those who seek to do his kingdom the most damage.” One of the ways the Evil One will seek to do damage to those who are seeking to do his kingdom evangelistic harm will be to discourage them. He will whisper lies in their ears that they can’t make a real impact. He will peddle his lies in their hearts that evangelism doesn’t work in a postmodern culture.

How do we counteract his lies? Through prayer and inspiration! We tell stories of changed lives. We drench the congregation with inspiration by baptizing the newly converted as a visual and visceral testimony of God’s saving power. We create a round-the-campfire church culture where we consistently swap stories of people we are seeking to reach with the good news of the gospel. That same story-based inspiration that encouraged the 1st Century believers throughout the book of Acts can inspire believers in the 21st Century as well!

4. Equip!

As you pray, live evangelistically and inspire those around you they must be equipped to actually do it. According to Ephesians 4:11-12 the purpose of the evangelists in a congregation is not to do all of the evangelism but to “equip God’s people for works of service….”

5. Deploy!

How do you make sure that boots are on the battlefield and the bayonet hits the bone (so to speak) when it comes to evangelism? Maybe it’s through accountability on a small group level. Or maybe you get an accountability partner to keep encouraging you when it comes to sharing your faith. Whatever you choose to do to make sure you and your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are deployed for evangelism you must do something. As James 1 so bluntly reminds us we are called to be doers of the Word and not hearers only. Because if we hear about God’s command to “make disciples” but don’t do it we are just fooling ourselves.

How do we help our churches to accomplish their mission statements fully and truthfully? We pray, live, inspire, equip and deploy! And we do it with gentleness and respect

Who Gets The Credit?

Jeremiah 9:23-24

(ESV)

23 Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”