This is part three of my chapter in the Simon Manchester book…whilst everyone agrees that a minister should be a pastor and a preacher, not everyone thinks that they should be an evangelist. This essay argues otherwise. Parts 1 and 2 are here.
2Tim. 4:5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist discharge all the duties of your ministry.
One of the great needs in the church today is to understand and practice the role of evangelist. The word brings to mind images of a Billy Graham like figure filling stadiums at one end of the spectrum, or the eccentric man with the sandwich board yelling at passers by that the end is nigh. Evangelism is something that most Christians and Churches will in theory approve of, and in practice find difficult. In many churches it is a peripheral activity, reserved for those few who have an interest in ‘that sort of thing’. I have met few ministers who also consider their role to be that of the evangelist.
One former leader of one of the few UK megachurches summed up an increasingly common attitude.
“Christians dislike evangelism because we feel awkward and non Christians dislike it because we are awkward. Many of us should’ve received a medal for surviving evangelism .. It was more like an assault because it was more about our guilt than their souls. You don’t have to evangelise anyone, just love accept and serve people. I didn’t build my church on evangelism (in fact I banned the word) but on love and service and we flourished.”
This is a misunderstanding both of what evangelism is and how we should do it. The important factor is not whether non-Christians or Christians like evangelism. It is what Jesus thinks about evangelism. He doesn’t like it. He loves it! That’s why he came – to preach the good news to the poor.
Matt. 9:35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. He set up his church so that it would be advanced through the proclamation of the message “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message. (John 17:20). The early disciples, rather than being embarrassed by the message and seeking to replace it with “loving, accepting and serving everyone”; proclaimed the Good News as much as they could; Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. (Acts 5:42).
If evangelism is misunderstood; rather than banning the use of the word, we should seek to reclaim it. I wonder if one of the reasons that we are embarrassed by its use is not just the example of poor evangelism, but rather that we are embarrassed by the biblical Gospel and would prefer to have our own watered down, contextualized, safe version. Jesus does not give his people that option.
Christ is not interested in how we build our churches. He is interested in building his church, against which even the gates of Hell don’t have a chance. His church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. It is the pillar of the truth. It is founded in truth and grows in truth. Jesus doesn’t need a PR company, spiritual psychobabble, a new communication strategy or evangelism programme. He just needs us to believe what he has said and pass on the Good News about him, ‘adequately, intelligently, enjoyably and powerfully”. We don’t want people to see how nice we are – we want them to see how beautiful Jesus is, and how his beauty overcomes our ugliness. Our society and our churches desperately need more, not less, of that evangelism.
In today’s world, evangelism is something that ministers must encourage and exemplify. On the heart of every pastor should be the lost. Proclaiming the Good News should be in the DNA of every single local expression of the Body of Christ. It is not our responsibility to convert people, but it is our responsibility to ensure that all around us actually hear the Good News and have the opportunity to respond.
In evangelism there are three main areas of activity. Breaking up the ground, sowing the seed and reaping the harvest. The Lord alone gives the increase but he uses us in all the other activities. Breaking up the ground includes challenging the presuppositions of the predominant culture, asking people to think about where their default beliefs lead, showing the church how to engage. Sowing the seed is the communication of the Gospel through every biblical means possible. Reaping the harvest often comes years after such patient ploughing and sowing. Sometime in the providence of God I have witnessed instant fruit – it is a rare thing!
Even as I write this I have just read a letter from Simon in the Sydney Morning Herald, gently challenging one of the cultural presuppositions that prevent people from hearing the Gospel. As I enter his church I observe a series of evangelistic contemporary booklets written by Simon. And I have met people who have been converted through his ministry. The fact is that whilst every minister may not have the office of the Evangelist, every minister must be evangelistic and encourage and teach their congregations to put their hand to the hard work of the plough, sow the seed in tears and eventually reap with songs of joy (Psalm 126).