Evangelism – it’s something we should be about as evangelicals, right? It’s perfectly logical, that’s what we’re named after: the euangel, the good news of Jesus. It follows that we should be about getting the word out about that thing we are saved by and define ourselves by.
Perhaps when you meet with a brother to read the Bible and fellowship you talk about people you want to invite to church. Perhaps you keep each other accountable to be praying for and inviting to church those friends on your “Prayer of Three” or “Five Friends” list (a common practice in many churches). Ask someone in your church about evangelism – “how do you evangelise to your friends?” I guarantee you, “Invite them to church” will be a very common answer.
What I hear and see to be the situation in many, if not most (perhaps even all), churches in the Sydney area is an understanding of evangelism as “invite your friends to church/this event.” This message is everywhere, coming down from the pulpit, in the leadership meetings, through the small groups, by encouragement in one-on-one contexts – invite, bring, and other various verbs – just get your non-Christian family and friends along to church or to this event so they can hear the gospel and get saved!
Wait up – that’s evangelism? Really? That’s a legitimately biblical form of evangelism? That’s God’s master plan for evangelism? And the church grows like that?
Pastors, be real. Think – how has your church grown numerically over the past year or two? “Oh, we’ve had a great season of growth – we’ve had 20 people become members and do our members course!” Great! More hands at the ready for mission. But how many of those people are fresh conversions? I’m willing to bet that in most cases that very few of these souls are fresh, radically transformed and born again followers of Jesus. They are instead “transfer growth,” the product of a house or job move or dissatisfaction with one’s old church. And transfer growth is no growth at all; it adds no one to the kingdom of God.
When did our ecclesiology wander so far from the New Testament that the meeting of the church has become about attracting non-Christians and making them feeling comfortable? Comfortable? You’d be doing an unbeliever a disservice making them feel comfortable.
It’s the Easter weekend right now. I’m sure you were encouraged to invite your friends and family along to the Easter services. Maybe you even got given some leaflets to give to people. Perhaps your church put an advertisement in the local paper. Is that really biblical evangelism?
My concern is that we have lost biblical evangelism – gospel declaration has left the people and become the clergy’s task (returning to Roman Catholicism, perhaps?), evangelism is suppressed as a synonym for invitation. Whatever happened to “and three thousand were added to their number that day,” and “their number was added to each day”? Whatever happened to the radical preaching of the world-upheaving good news of God’s love and justice in Jesus Christ coupled with the moving of the Spirit in power validating the preaching of the word with signs and wonders and regenerating people’s hearts and bringing faith and repentance to the ignorant (I just did a Paul the Apostle right there), like he has done with us and with millions of others?
I propose that there are at least eight reasons (though there would be countless others) that the church, at least in Sydney, is not growing and is failing in its’ current understanding of evangelism:
- Quenching of the Spirit – we’ve suppressed the work of the Spirit to lip-service about how he saves and changes us but don’t understand or experience his power and leading in living and evangelism
- Invitationism – evangelism is now understood across the board in churches to be primarily (though never in creed) inviting your friends to church/evangelistic events
- Clergyvangelism – the work of telling people the gospel, of ministering the good news to the lost, has fallen on the pastors and “ministers,” so-called, quite contrary to the Scriptural prescription (walks hand in hand with number 2).
- Gospel-vaguefulness – if a non-Christian family member asked you what the central message of Christianity is, what would you tell them? Could you tell them? Do you know and can you tell the gospel?
- Misecclessiology – we’ve misunderstood church and the purpose of meeting together, which affects the way we do church, causing church to become anthropocentric, centred on man instead of on God.
- Knees Unscrapped and Unbruised – we are not a prayerful church. And why should we be? We get our daily bread handed to us on a platter. And it’s usually three days worth. Why pray for revival and its’ accompanying disarray with broken, messy souls to deal with when you can have comfort instead?
- The Great Trap of the West – comfortableness (part of the cause of number 6). O, we’re a comfortable bunch, aren’t we? Right now as I type this I am sitting on a lovely couch and typing this on a Macbook. Seriously – why the hell do I have all this?
- Church is Fine Tuned for Goats – false conversions abound and many churches facilitate this by being soft on sinners. For this there is Christendom, sinners-prayerism, and worldliness to blame. We use carnal means to attract carnal people. This means that “the church” isn’t on mission because many in the church don’t see the need to be because they have not put their faith in Christ alone to save them from their sin. I mean, you’re a pretty nice person already, right? And so are most other people, right? It’s not like there’s any urgency to telling people the gospel as though Jesus could come back any day, right?
I don’t doubt that what I’m saying will come across as arrogant and prideful to some. I have foreseen some potential misunderstandings (such as, “there’s not much Scripture here, my heresy-sense is tingling,” or, “this is a huge generalisation”), and I’ve chosen not to address them, though Paul the Apostle would probably advise that I do. Perhaps there is truth to such accusations and misunderstandings.
Regardless, this is my prayer and hope: that this would open up the floor for conversation, for biblically facing the facts, and ultimately for biblical reform.
Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei. The church reformed, always being reformed according to the word of God. Can we carry on this vision of the medieval reformers who left the apostate Roman Catholic church? Can we have the humility to wound our pride and rethink our practice to be orthodox (no, I don’t mean denominationally, hence the lower case “o”), maybe even our theology where necessary? Are we willing to sacrifice face for the salvation of souls through the renewal of strength of our witness, to the glory and renown of God on this earth?
I said a little while ago on Facebook, “Jesus didn’t say, “Bring your friends to church so they can hear the gospel,” he said, ‘Go!’” That’s what I’m on about – I don’t see the church going.
Don’t let this Easter pass without thinking about this glorious gospel and how we can better declare it to a lost and ever darkening world. Please, don’t stay comfortable. For the sake of the world and the glory of our great God, Christ and gospel.
So, how do you think we should do evangelism? Are we on the right track? How can we improve? How can we be more biblical?