Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Consider Your Church

I posted previously on the place of evangelism in the local church, suggesting that it is a primary focus of the church. Several people, as I suspected, objected to that, and argued for the priority of worship. They believe that worship should be the primary focus of the church.

I challenge that on several grounds, but most simply on the grounds that how will we worship if we don’t evangelize? I will certainly agree that worship may be said to be the ultimate priority of the church, whether gathered or not. All of life is to be about worship. But worship must begin with the primary thing … that is the recruitment of worshippers—evangelism.

Consider your own church. At your current rate of evangelism, how long will you be able to maintain worship? Is there any actual recruitment of worshippers going on? The dangerous part in most churches of “our type” is that we are able to maintain worship for another twenty to thirty years at the current rate. The “old timers” won’t die off in substantial numbers until then, and we can trip over a couple of younger people along the way to help out. We are not faced with a “live or die” situation. We have learned we can survive on the meat of previous years of ministry, whether through those we inherited at our church, or those that come from other churches. They will give enough to pay the salaries and keep the lights on. And if we can see a few people a year saved and baptized, we move on with some sense of satisfaction.

Now, consider your own church in thirty years. Who will be worshipping? Who will be serving? Who will be the deacons? Where will they come from? Who will be on pastoral staff? Where will they come from? Who will be the teachers and small group leaders? Where will they come from?

If your answer to those questions is anything but “this local church’s evangelism,” I fear that we have completely missed the point of church on earth. But there is a big difference between how we answer the question and how we undertake to accomplish the task.

Consider again your church now. Where did the pastor come from? That church, or another? Count your deacons. How many were saved and baptized in that church? Count your teachers. How many were saved and baptized in that church? How many of your current leaders were people who didn’t transfer in, and didn’t grow up in the church?

In fact, just look at the people in the church. How many did not grow up in your church, or in another church. In other words, what is the evangelism quotient in your church? What percentage of your Sunday morning service only knows “church” through their experience in your church? (As a side note, the great thing about these kind of people is that they don’t compare you to “Brother So and So.” All they know is what you have taught them and modeled for them.)

If you had to start completely from scratch in a new city, with your current philosophy of ministry and evangelistic strategy, how long would it take you to build a fully-functioning church?

I fear that we have accepted far too little in this area of evangelism and cannot help but wonder if our worship does not ring a little hollow. We proclaim that Jesus is the great and glorious God, the Savior of the world, the hope for mankind. We proclaim it loud and clear … to a group of people who are already convinced. Certainly they need to hear it again and again. But is that enough? I say no. We have not figured out how to grab the ear of those who need to hear it on the front side of belief.

I fear too many churches fill their churches with things they like, things that satisfy the “tried and true” members. They believe it is what God likes so they perpetuate it. They are willing to live comfortably with the group that they have and blame the lack of growth on “doing it God’s way—it won’t appeal to unbelievers.” I am not suggesting that they are unconcerned for the unbeliever. I am merely observing a lack of desperation for evangelism. They have no need to be desperate.

I am not suggesting an “evangelism only” church. Too many churches have gone down that route, and have recruited people to programs, humorous messages, great music, small groups, and the like (none of which are inherently wrong). On the other hands, some churches have gone down the “worship only” route or the “worship primarily” route, and have recruited virtually no one. They have created a little club where “anyone is welcome” but it only makes sense if you understand the lingo, the traditions, the patterns, etc. Neither have not recruited people to God-honoring, cross-bearing, self-denying, dead-man-walking, kind of living.

What’s my challenge of this somewhat disjointed stream of consciousness? We need to be people who “figure it out.” We must figure out how to quit living on the spoils of past victories, on the backs of past generations. We must figure out how to communicate the timeless gospel to a new generation who, for the first time in world history, does not share our presuppositions. We must quit trying to perpetuate mid-20th century traditions and figure out how to reach the 21st century in its own language and style.

We need to figure out an evangelistic strategy that works … that understands its hearers and their worldviews, that understands their objections and can meet them with the truth of Jesus in Scripture. I am not suggesting that the logic and persuasion can bring regeneration. Only God can do that. But he will not do it apart from his word clearly communicated in ways that the hearer can understand.

I am not driven by pragmatism. I want to be driven by the biblical command (make disciples) that springs from divine authority (all authority has been given to Jesus in heaven and on earth). It was modeled in Acts. Yet rarely seen today, it seems.

We have to figure it out.


Scott Aniol said...

Larry, I definitely agree with your criticisms of "our kinds of churches" and our need to evangelize. Again, I think we agree here mostly, and our church is doing some of what you suggest (specific times of evangelistic outreach, etc.) I would just word it differently, and we do have a focussed time of congregational worship on Sunday mornings.

Thanks for this, though. It's good to think about.

Wendy said...

Larry, I think a big problem is that many view evangelism as something they do at a predetermined time in a predetermined format. They aren't OF the world, but neither are they IN the world (except during the predetermined time). We really need a vision for Christ's model of evangelism and discipleship. What does it mean to be a friend of sinners? What theological underpinings equip us to minister to those who most need Christ without being drawn into their lifestyle? And once those who most need Christ start hearing and responding, how are we going to handle the mess that accompanies them into our churches? Evangelism and discipleship are a messy business. It's not for the faint of heart.

DAD said...

Right on. Unfortantly, the Devil has seduced many churches into what I call the "Calvanism error" that teaches that people will be saved anyway and there is no use in the church even trying to win them. They will naturally show up with out any effort. I don't find this in the Scripture. The Bible says "go ye". This denotes effort.

Larry said...

As you know, I believe that that is not Calvinism, but disobedience. Calvinism per se does not teach that there is no need to go and evangelize. Those are disobedient Christians who teach that. Calvinism teaches that God uses means to accomplish his ends, and where he has ordained the ends, he has ordained the means. Paul clearly models this in many passages such as 2 Tim 2:10 where he talks about enduring all things for the sake of hte elect so that they might be saved. Clearly, there are chosen, and they are chosen before salvation, and the gospel needs to be preached so that they will hear and respond.

As one person said, far from being a detriment to evangelism, calvinism is the only thing that gives evangelism any hope. Were it not for God's sovereign election and enabling of sinners, guaranteeing their repentance and faith, no sinner would come. They would not want to.

Calvinism is not the problem. It is the lack of it that has resulted in all kinds of evangelistic heresies because people doubt the power and willingness of God to convert people. They think that they have to make a hard gospel palatable and persuade people to believe in it.

We don't. We need to present the gospel clearly in terms that can be understood.

Chris Anderson said...


I appreciate the heartbeat of your post & agree with your "desperation" evangelism emphasis.

However, when discussing whether worship or evangelism is the "primary focus" of the church, I feel like you're asking whether it's more important for people to "eat" or "breathe." Um...both?

At TCBC, we say that our reason for existance is to glorify God. Nothing unexpected about that...duh. However, we believe that it is impossible to do so outside of the 2 Great Commmandments. Thus, our focus is both God-ward and man-ward. In fact, it's not just 2-tiered, but 3, because our obedience of the 2nd Great Commandment must address both our love of Christians and our love of the lost. Anyway, our "purpose statement" reflects all of this in more succinct language:

"Tri-County Bible Church exists to glorify God by exalting the Lord, evangelizing the lost, and edifying the body of Christ. Every ministry we carry out is designed to meet that objective, and every member is essential to it's fulfillment."

That's not to say that we're doing "it" well or accomplishing each of the 3 "means" well, but I think it's a biblical focus & philosophy. Exaltation is up-ward and fulfills the Great Commandment...at least partially. Evangelism is out-ward and fulfills half of the 2nd Great Commandment. Edification is in-ward and fulfills the other half of the 2nd Great Commandment.

As for our church, by God's grace, I had dinner tonight with 3 generations of one family who have come to Christ directly or indirectly through TCBC's ministry. An Italian Catholic Grandmother(!), her son and her grandson. They've been evangelized, they are being edified and they are joining us in exaltation...all to God's glory (Psalm 115:1; Ephesians 1:12). Praise the Lord!

FWIW. Thanks for the post.

Dave Vawter said...

Calvinism is not the problem. It is the lack of it that has resulted in all kinds of evangelistic heresies because people doubt the power and willingness of God to convert people. They think that they have to make a hard gospel palatable and persuade people to believe in it.

This is right on. Talking about this a couple weeks ago in our ABF class. A proper view of God's sovereignty and man's role in evangelism actually should make it easier for the Gospel to go out.

Look at it this way. I understand that I am not responsible for how someone responds to the truth. God has promised that it will not return void, but the reality is that some will not accept it, and that is in his court, not mine.

My ONLY responsibility is to speak the truth. I am to obey the Great Commission, and let God sort the rest out. When I don't share the Gospel with someone who I come into contact with, it is disobedience. It has nothing to do with the person, their potential response, or how eloquent or persuasive I am.

More theological damage has been done by the lack of a proper view of God's sovereignty than by the teaching of Calvinism. People will look for any way to justify their own disobedience, even if it comes in the form of any undeniable biblical reality.