Many people respond to the word evangelism like they respond to ‘begin fitness regime’. It is important, does good, and we want it, but getting going has so many hurdles.
Conversion is God’s great work, and He continues to be active in it. Look around church – where every week we are blessed by being surrounded by those He has saved. Every church in our Diocese desires to see people saved. At Moore College, our students voluntarily gather in groups to explore how to reach different pockets of society, and students, faculty, and staff regularly request prayer for people they are evangelising. Yet evangelism still seems so fraught with difficulties.
To think through how we might enhance our evangelistic efforts Phil Wheeler, director of Evangelism & New Churches, Elliot Temple, mission director at Christ Church St. Ives for the last nine years, and I discussed lessons we have learnt on evangelism.
Phil reminded us that Dave Jensen, the new Associate Director of ENC speaks of three conversions that grow evangelism:
- The individual’s conversion from darkness to light
- The Christian’s empowerment and encouragement that they can reach people, and that God uses them in this
- The local church’s conversion to develop a program and provide resources that declare mission matters.
Here are some of the insights that flow from this conversion.
Elliot reminds us that ‘it is the gospel that is the power of God for salvation. You don’t need to be smart or funny or winsome. When you constantly open the Bible with people who don’t have faith, that’s when God turns the lights on in people’s hearts’.
But Elliot continues ‘many distrust organised religion, so Christians can’t picture our friends being interested in Jesus or imagine God using us’. We urge you not to believe the secular lie that no one is interested in Christ. Phil speaks of two pastors who walk the streets chatting with people in their front yards and many want to talk about Jesus. ‘Fili walks the streets of Redfern housing with both its wealthy professionals and people in difficult circumstances, asking ‘can I pray for you’. He never receives a ‘no’.
Prayer, humility and persecution is what we are called to. Begin praying for yourself, others and the church to clearly proclaim the truth. But do it not with superiority but as slaves of Christ and servants of those we speak to. And expect persecution so that you don’t shy away from confessing Christ at the first sign of difficulty. Phil reminds us of Psalm 126 ‘you sow with tears and you reap with joy’. Success always comes with persecution. He goes further – ‘maybe God is answering our prayers for others by giving us persecution because everywhere in church history when persecution has come, the church has grown. So, ask “what is the cost to me of sharing Jesus”.
All three concurred that our congregation members know way more than they think they do and are more able to evangelise than they imagine.
Evidence from around the western world agrees that about 15% of Christians actively look for opportunities to share their faith. This is not to fill the remaining 85% with guilt, but to ask them to partner in prayer. Look for those who push the evangelism envelope and ask them who to pray for, and then pray! Too easily we can leave evangelism to the 15%, or even wish they weren’t so ‘out there’. It is common to speak of personal evangelism, but why must it be one to one? Pack or group evangelism is no less valid. Are there things we can do together that aid in evangelism of both an individual and a group?
Tell the stories to each other and from the front at church about your evangelism, especially the failures. It says we are all trying, and it normalises both success and failure in evangelism.
Have you thought of partnering with other churches and organisations in your evangelism? There is excellent support from Anglicare in establishing ESL classes, and a constant list of people who have come to know Jesus through this church-based ministry. Phil spoke of a church that thought they had too few contacts to conduct an Investigating Jesus course, so they teamed up for the first time with another nearby church. Both churches prayed, and 80 people attended!
Structures and ‘trellises’
We are familiar with the concept of trellis and vine. Vines grow best when there is a good and supportive trellis. So it is with evangelism. The structures our churches develop can enhance individual and group evangelism.
Every church should have a plan for its evangelism, that is obvious in time commitments and church budget. We agreed that even a bad plan was preferable to no plan. Any plan, no matter how good or bad should be regularly re-assessed, modified and sharpened. It is important that our congregations have some good tools at their disposal that assist with confidence in evangelism, but also to expect God to surprise us in how he draws people to Himself through unexpected means.
Elliot says ‘daily habits can be changed through weekly programs. A lady who had been at church for 70 years excitedly said, “I’ve never invited anyone to church, but this year I did and they said yes”. She did this because of what happened in church and in her small group’.
Beware of limiting our activities to ‘in-drag’, where we think our task is to invite people to our gatherings expecting the preacher to do all the work of evangelism. The aversion to organised religion is best overcome by a person knowing and trusting a believer who cares for them. Research has shown that those who have experienced care from Christians are very likely to listen to the truth of the gospel. And so, make sure you tell the gospel story and invite people to surrender to Christ.
Commencing a fitness regime depends on you. Evangelism is God’s glorious work that He continues to do, in the company of and partnership with other believers. What an honour to partner with God and His people in evangelism.