For Such a Time as This
Thank you for saying yes to the call of leading your congregation in the area of evangelism! There is no aspect of the church that has more importance. Unfortunately, over the years evangelism has moved from central focus in the church to being one of many programs. In some congregations, it is simply seen as the job of the pastor.
The good news is that neither you nor your committee carries the sole responsibility for making new disciples. This is the entire church’s privilege and task. You and your team are more like a catalyst than a committee. Think of your ministry as inspiring, promoting, and encouraging the ministry of evangelism throughout the entire life of the church. As a leader, your role is to help shape a congregation that will reach out, welcome, and invite others to commit their lives to Jesus Christ and then help to equip and empower them to live as Christian disciples.
In this context, the importance of your role as the chair of evangelism cannot be overstated. Perhaps the words Mordecai spoke to Queen Esther capture the sentiment best, “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14b NIV)
The Aim and Definition of Evangelism
Before you begin the process of setting goals and measures for evangelism ministry, you need to have a clear idea of what evangelism is and its ultimate aim. The rest of this section provides a definition of evangelism. The aim of the ministry of evangelism, simply stated, is to relate people to God so that they will begin a relationship with Jesus Christ. And yet, evangelism does not end with a person’s decision to begin a relationship with Jesus Christ. Effective evangelism leads new Christians into a process of ongoing discipleship and spiritual formation. Ultimately, disciples become actively involved with helping to make other disciples. Evangelism without connection to disciple formation often results in church members who quickly become inactive. With this aim in mind, let us focus on what evangelism is.
TELL GOOD NEWS
Evangelism has become a problematic term for some in the 21st century. Unfortunately, scare tactics coercion, and “bad news that has an escape clause” has become synonymous with evangelism in some people’s minds. In reading the gospels (the word gospel means “good news”), though, we do not see any of these approaches used by Jesus. Evangelism is good news. It is also not a program about membership recruitment or increasing budgets. Evangelism is the good news of God’s healing and saving love in Jesus Christ.
What was the good news that Jesus shared? The first proclamation of the good news is found in Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus recites a lesson from Isaiah 61:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
The “year of the Lord’s favor,” also called Jubilee, represents a time of complete forgiveness of past burdens and a fresh start. This passage underscores care and concern for the poor and marginalized people in society. The good news promises relief and release.
The early church emphasized two key elements of the good news: (1) repentance (turning away from evil and turning to good—through salvation in Jesus Christ) and (2) the announcement of the kingdom of God (God’s reign on the earth).
Discuss the following with your pastor, leaders, and congregation:
- How do we talk to people about repentance?
- The invitation to repent or turn away from evil is still relevant today. Just as in addiction recovery programs, admitting that one is, or has been, participating in evil is the first step toward healing. How do we teach people to resist evil and live better lives?
- What testimony of repentance can we share individually with others from our personal walk with Jesus Christ?
- Read the following Scripture passages. List several characteristics of Christian behavior found in them. These passages help us realize the need to repent and embrace a God-directed life. Discuss ways in which your congregation teaches and demonstrates these characteristics.
- Galatians 5:22-23 (the fruits of the Spirit)
- Matthew 5 (the Beatitudes)
- 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter).
THE KINGDOM (REIGN) OF GOD
How do you talk to people about the reign of God? The announcement of the kingdom of God is another key point of the good news. Many churches and traditions emphasize conversion—“in order to get into heaven after one dies”—as the point of Christian faith.
By contrast, Jesus Christ’s foundational message is, “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” (Matthew 4:17). His emphasis is on conversion that leads to radical change in behavior, thought, and action. These changes indicate that a person chooses to live daily as a new citizen in God’s reign (kingdom).
There is a marked difference between the two approaches. Salvation with heaven as the only goal has a distant, future orientation. To emphasize a single future benefit can leave new Christians wondering what should be happening to and through them in the present. By contrast, salvation that invites us to be participants in God’s kingdom and reign has an active, present orientation. The focus is on how to live in this new reality, right now.
Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, he compelled and expected his disciples to reach out to others. He expected his disciples to partner with God to expand the reign of God. Each of the Gospel writers—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—describes how Jesus sent out his disciples to make other disciples. The best-known example is the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20:
Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
Obeying the Great Commission is not one option among many for a congregation; it is at the very heart of the Christian enterprise. Christianity is a missionary, evangelizing faith.
From Membership to Discipleship
For decades, we have emphasized and put countless dollars and energy into attracting people to our churches. We have equated church membership with discipleship. While we believe that the local church is the best vessel for discipleship, having people join our churches is not our ultimate goal. Growing congregations receive new people on profession of their faith, not just transfers from other churches.
As our denominational mission states, the reason we work to help make disciples is to bring about the transformation of the world. Effective congregations develop a disciple-making system that welcomes and invites, equips, and sends disciples forth in ministry.