There is much discussion on the challenge of evangelism in the North American church, particularly among church planters. Strategies and tools designed to aid the church in this work are seemingly a dime in a dozen, though most recognize that the problem has far more to do with apathy than it does aptitude. Only the Spirit of the living God can compel His church to live out their core missionary identity.
Yet, pastors are tasked with “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry”; meaning, at least in part, that we are to exhort, model and facilitate the work of evangelism in our people (Eph. 4:11). But how should we go about this?
Common answers to this question are often too broad. They attempt to mobilize all of God’s people through wide-sweeping emphases and campaigns. In contrast, my experience suggests that a better alternative is to target those who are uniquely gifted and passionate evangelists and elevate their role in the local church. Rather than target all people in hopes of reaching some, we can target some people in hopes of reaching all over time.
Within any local church, there are those who are uniquely predisposed and gifted to press out into culture and contend for Jesus in the hopes of seeing people repent and trust in Jesus. Why is it important for us to recognize these individuals and elevate their roles in local church ministry?
The Church Needs These Gifts
Gifts are meant to be used and enjoyed. If God has given His church gifts in people who manifest unique zeal and aptitude as evangelists, then we would be well-served to spend time discerning His intentionality behind such gifting. Sadly, it’s more common for these individuals to be seen as a problem to be managed rather than a gift to be embraced.
There’s nothing wrong with campaigns and methods that foster evangelism, but these should be supplemental tools used alongside the far greater gift of men and women in whom the Spirit dwells and who are given by God to foster the mission of building up the church.
Internal Church Pressures Tend To Dominate
Many church leaders face ongoing pressure to attend to the internal needs of the church—staffing, budgets, buildings, programs, member care and the like. The internal needs of the church are not optional—pastors must care for the sheep, counsel the disheartened, ensure the effectiveness of programs, manage those tasks with leadership and a host of other duties. While these needs may foster strategic mission through the church, they are not inherently external in orientation.
It’s easy for leaders to grow consumed with running the organization and lose sight of the need for the church to reach, expand and press out into the harvest. Empowered evangelists can protect the church from allowing internal needs to dominate the church’s (and the pastor’s) focus.
Discipleship Is Holistic
It’s easy to think of the work of disciple-making as equipping people to obey Christ’s teaching in areas like personal prayer, Bible reading, church attendance or generosity and avoid equating evangelism as a spiritual discipline that we must cultivate in novice disciplines. Who better to train young believers to share the gospel than those who are gifted and passionate about this work?
Such discipleship is vital, considering the fact that gospel proclamation often runs along relational lines, so new believers are often the best people to share the gospel with their family, co-workers, friends or neighbors. Gifted evangelists have the unique ability to walk with new believers in their work and model how to share their faith effectively.
The Local Church Matters
Parachurch ministries are often designed to aid the church in her mission, such as those intent on translating the Scriptures or reaching college students with the gospel. These groups can focus singular attention on a specific missionary task and throughout history parachurch ministries have served as a blessing to God’s church. However, at times, those with pioneering, evangelistic gifts have bypassed local church ministry for evangelistic work with these groups.
Sometimes this is due to the fact that these leaders find outlets to use their gifts that they do not find in the local church. As a result, some of the best catalysts for the church’s work in evangelism are missing and various mission emphases of the church lose their leading catalysts. If, however, the local church is at the center of God’s missionary activity in the world, then we need to provide on-ramps for evangelists to steward their gifting there.
The World Is Accessible
Access to the practices of missions around the world is at an all-time high. With a few clicks, the North American church can see the fruit of God’s work through His people in the world. Many have the ability to go and serve—for short-term stints or long-term ventures. Some who go, return to interface with a North American church that often lacks the same zeal and intentionality around pressing out, sharing the good news and starting churches.
We, as church leaders, need to empower these laborers to utilize their gifts rather than stifling their passion, or else it will be easy for those wired in this way to fall prey to a spirit of deconstruction and critique that zaps the vitality out of their passion to make Jesus known. And, it’s these very people who are most likely to launch out from our churches to go and share the good news in hard to reach places around the world. Since the world is accessible, we should encourage evangelists to refine their gifts in the church in preparation for being sent to the nations.
Perhaps our best gifts for creating an evangelistic culture in our churches is not programs, but people.