Advice to a New Elder: Evangelism

shepherd3For a while now, there’s been in the back of my mind a feeling that I’d overlooked something really important in this series. Finally, it occurred to me that I’d not directly addressed evangelism. And there’s a reason.

I’m not much of an evangelist. I have some gifts that are useful in church work, but evangelism is very difficult for me.

First, I’m an introvert. INTJ according to Briggs-Myers.

Second, I’m a third-generation Church of Christ member. I live and work in the middle of the Bible Belt. I went to a Christian college. My friends are all Christians.

And I’ve got several more very persuasive excuses. My situation is also pretty typical of church elders. For a man to have the exposure and experience in church leadership to be an elder, he likely is deeply embedded in church life — and so he likely has few friends who aren’t Christians. In fact, most of his friends will be members of his congregation.

Now, this is not wrong — but it’s a problem. It’s especially a problem when an elder advocates for greater emphasis on evangelism. Someone (typically a minister) will say, “I don’t think we can be an evangelistic church unless the elders lead by example.” At that point, the elders change the subject.

Well, that’s a problem. And I don’t have any great, brilliant answers, but I do have a few thoughts to consider —

  1. Several books have been written denying that there is a “gift of evangelism.” The author obviously wishes to take a lack of giftedness away as an excuse. But good intentions don’t justify bad theology. Yes, some people really do have gifts that make them better evangelists than the rest of us. I’ve seen it. They should be identified, equipped, and encouraged to use those gifts to build the Kingdom.
  2. Whether you intend to or not, how you organize your ministries either encourages or discourages evangelism. If you tell your small groups to take turns cutting the grass, you are plainly saying that evangelism is neither required nor expected. If evangelism is never preached from the pulpit, people will figure out that the preacher has no heart for evangelism. If the elders plan the worship to please the members, especially the older members, with no concern for guests, they’ve obviously given up on evangelism.  And the church will follow their unspoken priorities.

These realizations lead to certain conclusions:

  1. You can encourage evangelism by how you manage your ministries. If you’re evangelistically sensitive in what you do — and if you explain this as you go — the church will catch your vision.
    1. That is, if you ask small groups to make a point of inviting friends and church visitors to their meetings, you’ve make evangelism a part of small groups without having to do anything terribly elaborate.
    2. If you plan worship with visitors in mind, and tell members when you are planning a special service and encourage them to invite friends and family, they’ll be glad to do so — and they’ll see that their leaders have a heart for evangelism.
  2. You should invest time in training all members in the very basics of the basics. That is, remind them to give up their seat for a visitor. To look for visitors to speak to during the “meet and greet” and before and after services. (My congregation is very good at this.) To invite visitors to lunch. (Most will say no, but all will be impressed.) To invite visitors to your Bible class and small group — and to escort them to the classroom. To help the visitors get their kids to the children’s wing. To greet visitors — even though you’re not part of the greeter team. (Not one sermon every five years. This should be covered over and over.)
  3. It’s fashionable to be opposed to being an “attractional church” — if you’re a young minister. They need to get over it. I’m all for getting out into the community to serve, but you’ll never be too wise and holy to be friendly to a visitor.
  4. The preacher should personally call all visitors immediately after church (not family from out of town who aren’t moving to town — actual membership prospects). Sunday afternoon is a great time. This is not written in the Bible, but the churches where the minister cares enough to call grow.
  5. I know of a church that makes a point to train its members how to act like Christians in order to invite others to Jesus. The pastor (it’s a Baptist Church) encourages his members to tip 20% every time they eat out. He wants every restaurant in town to know that members of XYZ Church care about waiters and waitresses. He coaches the members to initiate spiritual conversations: “Is there something going on in your life that I could pray for?” Somehow he got the idea that people should be glad to see a member of XYZ Church coming because they are never rude, always thoughtful, and always striking up pleasant, friendly conversations with perfect strangers.
    1. Patrick Mead tells a convicting story of a mission trip to Scotland. One of his missionary companions was upset with a local merchant and hatefully chewed out the cashier over a $5 error. Patrick confronted the man saying, “You just sold her soul to the devil for $5!” The following Sunday, they ran into her visiting at the congregation they’d flown across the Atlantic to help. They’d paid $5,000 to do mission work, and then threw it all away for $5! (I may have some of the details wrong. Patrick’s sermon was a very long time ago.)
  6. Please ask your members to stop posting hateful political material on Facebook — regardless of party. After all, NO ONE has ever been persuaded by Facebook, and it makes Christians look petty and uninformed and mean-spirited. If you need an outlet for your anger (and, trust me, I sympathize), join the Republican or Democratic Party in your town and get involved in politics. Or set up a weekly breakfast meeting with friends to talk politics. But please, please, please, stop reposting (and retweeting) political materials. It reflects badly on Jesus — and will hurt your ability to evangelize. (This would be a great sermon topic: how social media will use you for Satan unless you use it for Jesus.)

A few more ideas to kick around.

  1. Matt Dabbs has posted an excellent series on how a church can become evangelistic.
  2. Benchmark. Find a Church of Christ that has been effective at evangelism — rather than transfer growth — as much like you as possible. Then interview the elders or preacher and ask how they do it. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Learn from others.
  3. Testimonies. Have the member who is rarely gifted in evangelism speak on how she does it. Have a member who felt incapable of evangelism share how he brought a friend to Jesus despite his fears. Have a new convert tell his story of finding Jesus — and how your congregation helped him do that. Share your stories.
  4. The idea of reaching out into the community to seek and save the lost is not wrong. It just shouldn’t be considered opposed to inviting people to church. Do both.
  5. When you do good works in the community, give God the glory. Don’t blend in. Let it be known that you’re there for the sake of Jesus. (Read The Church of Irresistible Influence.)

In conclusion —

A while ago, I wrote a brief series on Direct Hit. Read the series, or better yet, buy and read the book. It’s a good one.

The Future of the Churches of Christ: Direct Hit, Part 1 (Leadership, Barriers)

The Future of the Churches of Christ: Direct Hit, Part 2 (Communications, Courage)

The Future of the Churches of Christ: Direct Hit, Part 3 (Wisdom, Exegeting the Community)

The Future of the Churches of Christ: Direct Hit, Part 4 (Urgency)

The Future of the Churches of Christ: Direct Hit, Part 5 (Developing Resources; Bringing in a Consultant)

Direct Hit: A Follow Up Question from a Reader

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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10 Responses to Advice to a New Elder: Evangelism

  1. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    Jay,

    I have been in congregations that range the evangelistic spectrum. I grew up in a small East Texas church of about 70 members. Our idea of evangelism was inviting friends to church and hoping the Preacher brought a stirring message that day. It never worked. Occasionally, we had a Gospel Meeting, and the members mailed flyers or placed flyers on cars / mailboxes. Garland Elkins spoke once. Again, it wasn’t effective.

    Years later I attended a highly evangelistic church in Oklahoma, and I was very impressed with their zeal and commitment. The church of about 250 taught a Bible Study method to its members one quarter per year, every year. Each summer, they traveled to a community in OK, TX, KAN, or NEB and knocked on every door in the community. The sponsoring local church provided lunch and dinner every day and also knocked doors and taught Bible Studies. It is pretty effective. And not just during the campaign week…the building has a dedicated room for conducting studies, and the room is frequently occupied throughout the year. The biggest takeaway from my four years in OK is that most of our members do not know how to teach or present the Gospel. They haven’t been taught a method, or they haven’t self-developed a method. Think about it…far too many members will talk a little about Jesus and invite a friend to church hoping that the Preacher or Elder can reel the fish into the boat. There is nothing wrong with that; it’s just not terribly effective. I am a third-generation Church of Christ member too (until recently), and to my knowledge neither my parents, my grand-parents, nor my great-grandparents ever brought someone to Christ.

    I have attended several CoCs since leaving OK: Japan, Virginia, NW Florida, Japan again, Georgia, and St Pete, Florida. Only 1 of those 6 locations had any semblance of evangelistic spirit. I love the church in St Pete. It’s progressive, but they don’t DO very much in terms of evangelism or even outreach.

    Consequently, I have been recently attending a large Baptist church in Tampa, and the church is on fire for the Lord AND the community. Small groups study the Bible of course, but they also reach out to the community in a number of different ways. Just as a data point, the college age class meets on campus on Tuesday nights for about 15 minutes, and then they scatter across Tampa to the hospital, to a maternity ward for teenage girls, to the South Tampa University campus, to the mall, & to other locations…and they share love and the Gospel. Other groups minister to the homeless, the addicted (Celebrate Recovery), the depressed, the mentally & physically challenged, and the list goes on and on. The King, the Kingdom, and bringing heaven and earth together in community is part of both their lexicon and their action.

  2. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Kevin,

    Thanks for the note. My observations line up pretty well with yours. Progressive Churches of Christ, on the whole, aren’t very evangelistically effective. They tend to grow and thrive by drawing existing Church of Christ members and existing members of other denominations who like that particular congregation or preacher. In fact, they often do so well with transfer growth that they imagine they are evangelistic, when in fact they are just providing a better church for people already saved. This is not a dreadful thing by any means — but it’s a short-lived thing. Pretty soon, the transfer growth will end, the younger members will transfer to other towns as they take new jobs, and the church will plateau or even decline. Being a better Church of Christ is an effective but short-term growth strategy. Eventually, you have to save souls or you die.

    The trouble we all struggle with is that the methods of our youth have all been discredited. We can’t just teach Baptists to be rebaptized. We progressives have to learn how to convert people who are actually lost — and that’s a much harder thing to do than hammering Acts 2:38 to a Baptist. And so we find ourselves totally unprepared for evangelism after we’ve learned a better gospel. Ironic, I know.

    Of course, churches of all stripes are struggling with how to reach Millennials and young people in general regardless of denomination. We are not alone in having to rethink how to present the gospel in today’s world.

    But blocking and tackling always remain important skills in football, and the basics always remain true in church. Being friendly and genuine and truly formed into the image of Jesus may not be enough but they’ll always be essential. All the community service in the world won’t bring the lost to Jesus if the church is socially closed and unwilling to incorporate new people into their lives. (I’m not intending to disagree with you in the least.)

    So, to me, it’s one of those “process” things. Being focused on the process is more important than being focused on the goal. That is, if you preach evangelism, evangelism, evangelism — you’ll tend to push your members into using others, befriending the lost just long enough to see if they’re conversion prospects. It’ll be all about getting them to confess and be baptized rather than seeking to be Christlike and to make disciples.

    So (and I’m hardly an expert) it seems that if we focus on living like Jesus — the SOTM, the Kingdom, etc. — then when we go into the community to do good works, it’ll be because we love the people in the community and enjoy being a blessing in their lives — not because we plan to leverage our charity into evangelism. We have to be authentic. We have to truly care.

    Then our community work will bring people both by impressing those we serve but also those who see us serve. The service will demonstrate to a very skeptical, cynical world that people still care and can still make a difference.

    And all that gets us a hearing regarding Jesus. Of course, as you point out, few of us have been trained about how to present the gospel to an unbeliever. Our training is in converting a believer to our denomination.

    PS – I would love to hear anyone’s suggestions for the best way to approach teaching an unbeliever about Jesus in today’s world.

  3. Johnny says:

    I like this story about DL Moody. A critic told Moody what he thought was wrong about Moody’s style of evangelism. Moody asked him when was the last time he had shared the gospel and the man couldn’t give an answer. Moody replied “Then I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”

    The point being even if we aren’t perfect in technique we should be sharing. I fail at that but I have friends who are good at it, especially with those with no Christian background. They engage them in conversation, ask probing questions about what others believe, they listen. They ask if the person lives up to the standard their religion sets (almost no one says they meet the standard 100 percent). Then he, in conversation shares what he believes about Christianity and how we aren’t perfect as well that is why we need a savior. Be engaging in conversation, building a relationship and listening he earns the opening to tell what he believes.

    He is good at it. I am not

  4. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Johnny,

    Thanks for both stories. Some people have a gift. Others are just highly motivated and through trial and error figure how to talk to people about Jesus. I’ve known several who really had the gift. And a few that got it done through hard work — which I really respect.

    From a leadership perspective, I think if the leaders set the right tone, many church members will be become effective evangelists. So if the church is truly filled with grace and the Spirit, evangelism happens — sometimes despite ourselves.

  5. Mark says:

    What kind of unbeliever?

    I know Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, and others. Each one would have to be taught differently. Arguing for the existence of the God of Israel would be a start. Perhaps understanding some of what the person believes believes would help in the approach. Paul preached to the men of Athens on the unknown god after walking around the city looking at the idols.

  6. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    Jay,

    I think you are spot on: “All the community service in the world won’t bring the lost to Jesus if the church is socially closed and unwilling to incorporate new people into their lives.” Sharing the Gospel is the easy part; adopting culturally different, socially different, ethnically different people into our lives is significantly more difficult. Too often, the goal of evangelism is to get someone into the baptistry rather than assisting a new disciple into the community of Saints. Perhaps this is because Westerners, particularly American evangelicals, have made “going to heaven when we die” the sole goal of Christianity. The Kingdom of Heaven / God is so much more than that:

    And the popular frustration with the overall rule of Rome and the local rule of the priests and Herod brought together what we must never separate if we are to be true to the biblical witness: religion and politics, questions of God and of the ordering of society. When they longed for the kingdom of God, they were not thinking about how to secure themselves a place in heaven after they died. The phrase “kingdom of heaven,” which we find frequently in Matthew’s Gospel where the others have “kingdom of God,” does not refer to a place, called “heaven,” where God’s people will go after death. It refers to the rule of heaven, that is, of God, being brought to bear in the present world. Thy kingdom come, said Jesus, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven. Jesus’ contemporaries knew that the creator God intended to bring justice and peace to his world here and now. The question was, how, when and through whom?

    Wright, N. T. The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999. Print.

    We need to wrestle with what it means to be in the Kingdom. We frequently forget that a Kingdom necessitates the presence of a King. As Wright suggests, Jesus prayed for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. What does it mean for heaven and earth to come together, and how does this inform our roles for evangelism and mission?

    Write continues:

    …I have been particularly concerned to put into the minds, hearts and hands of the next generation of thinking Christians the Jesus-shaped model of, and motivation for, a mission that will transform our world in the power of Jesus’ gospel. Those in the universities and professions of our world who desire to be loyal Christians need to think afresh through the issues of what allegiance to Jesus means in practice. It is not enough to say one’s prayers in private, maintain high personal morality and then go to work to rebuild the tower of Babel. The substance and structure of the different aspects of our world need to be interrogated in the light of the unique achievement of Jesus and of our commission to be for the world what he was for the Israel of his day.

    Wright, N. T. The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999. Print.

  7. Mark says:

    Of course “adopting culturally different, socially different, ethnically different people into our lives is significantly more difficult.”

    This sounds like people so close to us as the next generation even those baptised Christians of the next generation.

  8. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    Mark, I don’t quite understand. Can you clarify?

  9. Mark says:

    Sometimes the culturally different, socially different, ethnically different people are merely the next generation. Basically, the average congregation does not look like it did 30 years ago. If you have a problem adopting the next generation of Christians into your life, how can you go on to everyone else?

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