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evangelism

October 11, 2011

Jacob’s Well. That’s a place and a context I had not thought about too much until I read Richard Phillips’ book Jesus the Evangelist. Based on a series of expositional sermons, this book teaches the principles and practice of witnessing by looking at the model of Jesus in the first four chapters of John.

When he turns to the practice of evangelism, Phillips teaches from the fourth chapter of John which is, of course, the well-known story of the woman at the well. This chapter falls immediately after Jesus’ late-night encounter with Nicodemus and the contrast between the two characters is striking. James Montgomery Boice says:

It is difficult to imagine a greater contrast between two persons than the contrast between the important and sophisticated Nicodemus, this ruler of the Jews, and the simple Samaritan woman. He was a Jew; she was a Samaritan. He was a Pharisee; she belonged to no religious party. He was a politician; she had no status whatever. He was a scholar; she was uneducated. He was highly moral; she was immoral. He had a name; she is nameless. He was a man; she was a woman. He came at night to protect his reputation; she, who had no reputation, came at noon. Nicodemus came seeking; the woman was sought by Jesus.

A great contrast. Yet the point of the stories is that both the man and the woman needed the gospel and were welcome to it. If Nicodemus is an example of the truth that no one can rise so high as to be above salvation, the woman is an example of the truth that none can sink too low.

As Phillips looks at Jesus’ encounter with the woman, he draws out several features of Jesus’ evangelistic approach. The first is caring for the lost. Jesus cared for this woman so much that he made a great detour in his route simply so he could encounter her. He was weary after his journey because he expended himself in journeying to her. “For many of us, the first step in doing evangelism is simply to care enough for the lost to become weary in the gospel.” Phillips says also “Realizing [Jesus’] sacrificial care for your soul ought to inspire you to care for the salvation of people you know and love, that He might send you as His witness to them.” It seems obvious but it still made me pause and think about whether I love other people enough to share the gospel with them, even at the cost of inconvenience to myself. Or is it possible that I love myself more and thus work to protect my dignity, my reputation?

CY
July 19, 2011

SOUL Christianity ExploredYou have probably heard of Christianity Explored, an evangelistic course that uses DVDs and workbooks to lead people through the gospel of Mark and ultimately to call them to become followers of Jesus. What you may not know is that there is also an excellent version of the course that targets a younger demographic. It is called CY.

CY is a life-changing journey through the Gospel of Mark. In seven interactive sessions, young people will explored what Christians believe, discover the Bible’s answers to the big questions of life and find out what Christianity is all about. CY is for older teenagers and young adults and works perfectly with the SOUL DVD. For 11-14’s, there is a special edition, CY Nano.

I led a group of teenagers through the course last year, using both the workbooks and the accompanying DVD, and was very impressed with it. It does a very good job of explaining the gospel in a way that is specially geared toward a young audience. It manages to avoid being hip and trendy even while still managing to appeal to that younger demographic. It focuses on the message, never letting the message get lost in the activities or presentation. Along the way it very powerfully pleads with participants to turn to Christ, whether they are church kids or people with very little church background.

You may be interested in taking a look at the trailer: 

This is a time of year that many church leaders are pondering activities for the fall. Might I suggest that you consider CY? I am confident that you will find it a great resource and one that will be a blessing to all of those who participate.

You can learn more about it right here.

July 11, 2011

There was a time when Christians used militaristic language without shame. Only one or two generations ago, Christians often spoke of being part of an army fighting against the forces of darkness. Hymns like “Onward Christian Soldiers” were sung often and were sung proudly. But in recent years, this type of language has fallen out of favor in the church. Many feel that this language serves to deter the unchurched from responding to the gospel. Unbelievers, it seems, do not respond well to the idea that they are to be conquered by an army.

Brian McLaren discusses this metaphor in his book A Generous Orthodoxy: “The human race has been conquered by an alien power or powers (Sin, the Devil, and Death are the most common antagonists, although Paul’s more ambiguous ‘principalities and powers’ could also be included). Jesus goes to battle with the alien power(s), and appears to be defeated in death, but his death turns out to be the undoing of the antagonist. In this metaphor, military terms such as battle, defeat, and conquering are predominant.” McLaren advocates rejecting this type of language and replacing it with something more appropriate for our culture. Such language, he argues, is contextual, which means that Christians are under no obligation to use it.

But other people believe that we need to rediscover this kind of military language. Stanley Gale, author of Warfare Witness: Contending with Spiritual Opposition in Everyday Evangelism, is one of these. Warfare Witness is a book dealing with spiritual warfare, a topic that has received surprisingly little attention in Reformed circles. Gale seeks to remedy this.

He believes that it is beneficial for Christians to have a militaristic understanding of the spiritual battle that rages around us. He bases his argument on the fact that this is exactly the kind of language God chose to use in the Bible. He writes, “Some might not feel comfortable with the military concept and terminology. Yet…this is exactly the way our King and Commander would have us understand the nature of evangelism and approach to the work of witness…All of us enfolded into the king of God, as children of God and heirs of life, are servants of the Most High and soldiers of the cross.”

January 31, 2011

A couple of years ago I was asked to submit an article to Compassion International’s magazine. The article was to answer a single question: What is the greatest hindrance to the gospel today? I stumbled across that article today and thought I would share it with you.


You know the oft-told story, I am sure. G.K. Chesterton, along with other prominent authors of his day, was asked by The Times to answer this question: “What’s Wrong with the World?” His answer was beautiful in its simplicity and brilliant in its profundity.

Dear Sirs,
I am.
Sincerely yours,
G. K. Chesterton

As I ponder the greatest hindrances to the gospel today, I can’t help but feel that Chesteron’s words are applicable to this question, too. And yet, at the same time, I feel as if they are wrong; dead wrong.

I Am

I, as a Christian, hinder the spread of the gospel and hinder its power in the world.

I hinder the gospel when I lose confidence in the gospel—in the powerful simplicity of the good news that Jesus Christ has died to save sinners. Our age has seen more gospel innovation than any other. We have unprecedented access to programs, teachings and technologies that claim to be able to further the gospel’s spread. But how easy it is to find that my confidence is in the programs or in the teachers or in the technologies, rather than in the gospel message itself. How quick I am to prefer my own message and my own methods above those given to me by God.

I hinder the gospel when what I do fails to match what I say. When I claim to follow Christ but allow my actions to betray my words, a watching world scoffs at the gospel, and rightly so. When I claim to have been transformed by God’s grace but live as if God has made no change at all, I cause others to heap contempt on the gospel. Robert Robinson said this so eloquently in his great hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing:” “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.” Living in the constant tension of being both saint and sinner, I am prone to wander away from the One I love; prone to live as if He is nothing to me. And in this I hinder the gospel.

I Am Not

From my human perspective, I am the greatest hindrance to the gospel. But the Bible tells me to look higher. It tells me with glorious clarity that nothing, no one, is able to hinder the gospel. It tells me to place my confidence in the God whose plans cannot be stopped. My lack of confidence in the gospel, my indifference to it, and my unfaithfulness in spreading it, cannot truly hinder the work of God. God reigns supreme over all.

his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34b-35)

Not one person who truly seeks after God will be hindered from embracing Christ as Lord and Savior. Christ, the Good Shepherd, has sent His Spirit to gather a people to himself. Christ knows his own and his own know him. He will draw them to himself and not one will be lost; not one can be lost. Far be it from me to think that I can stand in the way of God, the Creator and Sustainer of all that was and is and ever will be.

What is the greatest hindrance to the gospel today? I am, but nothing is. God reigns supreme.

June 24, 2009

June 19 marked the beginning of Toronto’s annual Pride Week. Now in its 28th year, this is a week-long celebration of diverse sexual and gender identities. Here is how the organizers describe it: “Pride Week celebrates our diverse sexual and gender identities, histories, cultures, creativities, families, friends and lives. It includes a three-day street festival with over eight stages of live entertainment, an extensive street fair (including community booths, vendors, food stalls), a special Family Pride program, a politically charged Dyke March and the infamous Pride Parade.”

My friend John Bell pastors New City Baptist Church right in the heart of Toronto and has an active evangelistic ministry within Toronto’s gay village. I asked him if he would write an article reflecting on some of the joys and challenges in this unique ministry.

*****

It is Gay Pride week here in Toronto and Tim has asked me to write a guest post detailing my evangelistic efforts in Toronto’s LGBT-oriented community [LGBT stands for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender). I would appreciate any helpful insights or criticisms the readers of this blog can offer me, as well as your prayers.

I began this ministry two years ago while working as an intern in a downtown Toronto church. I was told that part of my internship duties would involve three hours of evangelism every week in a coffee shop or pub. This was not happy news. To be honest, I find this kind of evangelism very intimidating. “Cold call” is not my style; I’m too polite! As the pastor explained what he expected of me, a likely scenario played itself out in my mind: I approach somebody at Starbucks who is reading a book and drinking a latte. I introduce myself and ask if I may sit with them and talk. Naturally, they want to know my business, so I straightaway introduce the topic of religion or Jesus, probably sounding like the Mormons who came to their door the previous week while they were eating dinner.

Personally (and God uses all types, so I’m not making an absolute statement) I find this kind of evangelistic tactic less than ideal. I don’t know anything about this person, yet I have just interrupted their morning coffee to talk about what I want to discuss. I wanted my evangelism to get off on a better foot, to be more natural; I wanted to initiate the discussion in a way that was neither “rude” nor by way of a specious pretext (conducting a poll on spirituality, etc). Moreover, if I asked to sit and speak with a woman, she might think I was hitting on her. Of course living where I do, a man might think the same thing. Better to take the bull by the horns, I thought. I had never been to a gay coffee shop before but I thought (correctly) that gay men would want a complete stranger to sit with them and chit-chat, so that’s what I decided to do.

Toronto’s gay village is just a ten minute walk from where I live. The first time I ventured out, I prayed to the Lord that he would show me where to go and what to do and what to say. I was very nervous. I had no plan. I was certain I was going to see all manner of disgusting things and that I was going to be thrown bodily out of the establishment for disseminating fundamentalist hate. But I had to tell my pastor that I had evangelized for three hours that week, so I was stuck.

The Lord went ahead of me. I stepped into the first coffee shop I saw, a Timothy’s at Church and Alexander. I found out later that this is the gay coffee shop in all of the Greater Toronto Area. (See the Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_and_Wellesley). Its clientele is mostly middle-aged men. I bought my coffee and looked around for a place to sit. The tables are very small and the seats are close together—perfect for evangelism, though I’m sure that was not the original intent!

The gay community in Toronto is very close-knit. Most of the men have known each other for years and everyone is on a first name basis. Many men are fixtures at this coffee shop. I have become friends with four of these fixtures: A– , who has severe cerebral palsy that confines him to a wheel chair (that does not impede his sex life, however; he told me he’s had hundreds of partners); D– , an HIV infected drag queen who was molested by a Catholic priest; J– , a civil servant, recently relocated from Ottawa; and C– , who works in the credit department of a national bank. These men have accepted me as their friend and have introduced me to other gay men, although they know I’m a straight, born again conservative Christian who does not condone their lifestyle.

I have talked to quite a number of gay men now—almost all of them white and middle aged. Many of them came out of the closet after having been married with kids. For whatever reason, 85% have come from Catholic backgrounds. That means that much of my evangelistic groundwork has already been covered. There is no need to explain that the bible has two testaments, or who Moses or Abraham were, or convince them of the historic factuality of the resurrection; for the most part, they believe it. I’m finding it’s the authority of scripture that I need to deal with the most.

When I first meet someone at the coffee shop and they ask me what I do (which is a natural “in” to introducing the gospel) they assume that I must be a liberal gay Baptist minister, because otherwise what would I be doing in their coffee shop? (The first man I talked to had only just broken up with his boyfriend, a Methodist pastor.) I begin by asking them questions. I get them to do all the talking for the next 45 minutes. I ask them about their job, their background, their family life, their personal life and what they believe and why so I can get a picture of their epistemology and worldview. Needless to say, I frame my questions in an inquisitive, slightly naive, polite fashion, not in an interrogative, formal way. Gay men love to talk (at least the ones in this coffee shop seem to) and people in general today enjoy discussing “spirituality”. Then, out of politeness, they will inevitably ask me what I believe. So I tell them the gospel, starting with Genesis 1, laying out for them the biblical storyline and worldview.

I have been able to share the gospel with many men over the past two years, even though I am saying things highly offensive to the gay lifestyle—which is actually their identity. I base everything I say on the authority of the word; that is, I make it clear to them that that is what I am doing, that I believe the bible is authoritative for all peoples in all cultures and times because it is God’s authoritative revelation to human beings. I stress this emphatically. And I tell them that the Bible condemns me, it condemns everyone. It condemns me as an idolater, someone who is selfish and sinful, who has de-godded God and installed himself in the position of “The Ruler of John’s Life.” I have done things in my life that I am ashamed of and oftentimes what I am ashamed of the bible calls my “sin” (I have found that gay men can relate very well to shame). I do not zero in on their homosexuality (which is what they expect me to do) but rather the fact that they are sinners. Now, more often than not, they will push me and ask if practicing homosexuality is a particular expression of their sinful disposition and I will not hesitate to tell them “yes.” When asked, I tell gay men that, personally, I have a “live and let live” approach to everyone’s sex life, but my personal opinion doesn’t count for anything if God, our creator, has declared otherwise. I tell them I know that I am sounding very intolerant and bigoted when I tell them that they are sinners and that their lifestyle is not pleasing to God. Who am I to tell another human being such a thing on my own authority? But then I explain that it is not on my own authority that I am saying these things. Rightly or wrongly, I am utterly convinced that the bible is the revelation of God. I am banking my eternal soul on it being so. It condemns me, but I have found salvation in Christ. It condemns you. I am here to tell you about the salvation that I have found in Jesus, that I believe you need, that the bible says he needs.

By presenting the gospel in this fashion (which is the same way I present it to heterosexuals) I have yet to have someone become outraged over my perceived intolerance—though I am sure that day is coming! In fact, being straight and conservative has worked in my favor because they see that I must really care about them to come into an environment where I’m a fish out of water to tell them a message that I know they will find offensive. And I do really care for them. Many of them come from backgrounds where they would have believed something similar to what I believe about the authority of God’s word, from a Catholic perspective, but have since “moved on.” Perhaps I am young and deluded in their opinion, but I’m a nice guy and they put up with it, because they can see that I love them, and often times they will say, “We will hear you again on this matter”. They like the fact that I am willing to be their friend, even if I don’t condone their beliefs. I think that shows an integrity and respect; they respond to it and are willing to reciprocate.

I do all this because I love the LGBT community. They are a community comprised of individual eternal souls. Sadly, they are culture that has almost no contact with biblical Christianity in any form. How many drag queens can count a born again Christian amongst their friends? Very few, to our shame.

I’m the pastor of a new church plant in downtown Toronto and it is my earnest prayer that God would use our people to impact this spiritually needy community. I pray for the day when transvestites can walk through our church doors and be greeted with genuinely warm smiles and Christian love. But before that day is likely to happen, they will need a Christian friend whom they have grown to trust; a person they know would never invite them to a place where they are going to be hurt or embarrassed publicly; a place where everyone is on level ground before the cross of Christ because all are sinners; a place where no one person’s sin is made out to be more repugnant than another’s; a place where all sinners can sit under the uncompromised preaching of holy Scripture and hear of the world’s only Savior and salvation in his name alone.

I pray that we would be more deliberate in this regard; that as God’s sovereign grace works through his faithful witness, the church, we would see more gay men and women come to Christ.

May 25, 2009

Some time ago a friend sent me a little gift she knew I would enjoy. It is a small book, published in 1959 titled Soul-Winning Made Easy and subtitled (The Encounter Method). It was written by C.S. Lovett who founded Baldwin Park Baptist Church (which, strangely enough, was later renamed Personal Christianity Chapel).

This book is a guide to personal evangelism and it is one that is a classic example of technique-based evangelism. Now obviously I appreciate the man’s desire to share the good news of the gospel and to train others to do the same. But what he offers is a method and one that needs to be followed with near religious fervor. He insists that anyone who would seek to evangelize must have a plan since “Every successful operation needs a plan. … One does not dare build a house without building-plans; the walls might not meet. Why, even a trip to the market requires a planned list to insure that items are not forgotten.”

September 29, 2008

One of the joyful challenges I face in maintaining this blog is answering the questions of Christians who are wrestling with issues related to Reformed theology. I receive many questions from people who are new to the doctrines of grace or who are fighting through them for the first time. I try to answer as many of these questions as I can, though admittedly, a few do get away. Some time ago a reader asked about Calvinism and evangelism. He wrote this: “Given the tenets of total depravity (the spiritually dead are unable to choose God), unconditional election (saved through God’s sovereign choice) and irresistible grace (once God chooses you and regenerates you, you can’t NOT embrace Him)… what does a Calvinist see as the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel? Does a gospel presentation simply provide the context in which God ‘pulls the trigger’ of regeneration and faith for those He has already chosen? (cf Acts 13:48.)”

I understand the confusion many Christians feel when they consider evangelism in a Calvinist context. After all, if God is entirely sovereign, and if His grace is irresistible, what possible use can God have for us? Why would He bother using us in evangelism? This question introduces an apparent antinomy—an appearance of contradiction between conclusions which seem equally logical, reasonable or necessary. The antinomy we face is what we perceive as tension between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. In short, how does our responsibility to evangelize interact with God’s absolute sovereignty in the salvation of souls?

I went about answering the question by first looking at several things that, according to Scripture, God has not called us to do in our evangelism.

We cannot help others realize the desperation of their situation or convince them that God exists It is the Holy Spirit who must do these things. Men are willfully ignorant of them. 2 Peter 3:5 says “For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God.” The hearts of men are hard and only God can soften them.

We cannot convince unbelievers of their sinfulness. It is the Spirit who convicts men of sin. Before He died Jesus foretold the coming of the Holy Spirit and said “When he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). I believe this is one area we tend to get wrong. We often feel it is our job to convict others of their sin. But while we can tell people that they are sinful, it is only the Spirit who can actually convict them.

We cannot convince them of the necessity and wonder of Christ. A man needs the grace of the Spirit in his heart before he can see this. Isaiah 53:2 prophecies about Christ saying “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” Sinful humans can neither appreciate nor desire Christ without the Spirit first working in them.

We cannot produce repentance or faith. Once again, those are God’s works and His alone. We can speak of the reality and importance of them, but cannot bring them about in others.

The Bible also teaches us several things things that we must do in regards to evangelism. These are things God tells us we must do if we are to obey Him and faithfully represent Him.

We must pray for the lost. God delights in using our prayers to accomplish His purposes. We should pray for salvation and pray that God would grant the person a heart of flesh; pray that God would use circumstances, either specific or general, to bring people to a realization of their desperation; pray that God would confirm what we are saying through other people or circumstances; pray that God would remove the peace they have in their unrepentance; and pray that God would put people in our lives that we can share our faith with.

We must show our faith in our lives. We need not only to speak about God and what He has done, but we also need to show in our lives that we have changed. Our day-to-day lives are a great testimony to unbelievers.

We must share our faith. When opportunities present themselves we are to act as the messenger to deliver the message, free from our prejudices and opinions. We are to present the purity of the gospel, not our spin on it. This, of course, requires knowledge of the Bible and of God’s character. A prerequisite to sharing our faith is strengthening our faith by learning about God and growing closer to Him.

We must invite others to hear the message. We are to invite people to church and other evangelistic occasions. I Corinthians 14:25 speaks of the potential of church services where it speaks of an unbeliever hearing the “secrets of his heart [being] disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” The Bible asks how a person can believe unless he hears the message. It is our job to share that message.

So here are the things we need to do—the things God invites and commands us to do so that He might reach His people.

To be consistent with Reformed theology we must say that if a person is one of the elect, he will come to faith and repentance. It is divinely predestined that this will happen and it is impossible for it not to happen. But God has not shared with us two vital pieces of information. He has not told us just who the elect are and how they will be brought to repentance. He has decreed that we are to share the message with everyone, in every way possible (within the bounds He sets in His Word). Charles Spurgeon once said “if all the elect had a white stripe on their backs I would quit preaching and begin lifting shirt tails” (or something to that effect). God has not put a visible mark on the elect, so we are to treat all men as if they are among the elect, and are to share the Gospel far and wide. We need to share it with a sense of urgency.

It is critical that we realize that we are not to measure success by the visible results. A convincing response to evangelism does not necessarily indicative of a biblical method of evangelism. Perhaps this was best proven by the Catholic Church during their “convert or die” campaigns among the native populations of South America. Allow me to post a length quote from J.I. Packer’s wonderful book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.

If we forget that it is God’s prerogative to give results when the gospel is preached, we shall start to think that it is our responsibility to secure them. And if we forget that only God can give faith, we shall start to think that the making of converts depends, in the last analysis, not on God, but on us, and that the decisive factor is the way in which we evangelize. And this line of thought, consistently followed through, will lead us far astray.

Let us work this out. If we regarded it as our job, not simply to present Christ, but actually to produce converts—to evangelize, not only faithfully, but also successfully —our approach to evangelism would become pragmatic and calculating. We should conclude that our basic equipment, both for personal dealing and for public preaching, must be twofold. We must have, not merely a clear grasp of the meaning and application of the gospel, but also an irresistible technique for inducing a response. We should, therefore, make it our business to try and develop such a technique. And we should evaluate all evangelism, our own and other people’s, by the criterion, not only of the message preached, but also the visible results. If our own efforts were not bearing fruit, we should conclude that our technique still needed improving. If they were bearing fruit, we should conclude that this justified the technique we had been using. We should regard evangelism as an activity involving a battle of wills between ourselves and those to whom we go, a battle in which victory depends on our firing off a heavy enough barrage of calculated effects. Thus our philosophy of evangelism would become terrifyingly similar to the philosophy of brainwashing. And we would not longer be able to argue, when such a similarity is asserted to be fact, that this is not a proper conception of evangelism…

…It is right to recognize our responsibility to engage in aggressive evangelism. It is our right to desire the conversion unbelievers. It is right to want one’s presentation of the gospel to be as clear and forcible as possible. If we preferred that converts should be few and far between, and did not care whether our proclaiming of Christ went home or not, there would be something wrong with us. But it is not right when we take it on us to do more than God has given us to do. It is not right when we regard ourselves as responsible for securing converts, and look to our own enterprise and techniques to accomplish what only God can accomplish…only by letting our knowledge of God’s sovereignty control the way in which we plan, and pray, and work in His service, can we avoid becoming guilty of this fault.

It is not difficult for a Christian to know if he has, indeed, evangelized. He has done so if he has proclaimed the message of sin, death, Savior and forgiveness. If he has done this he has evangelized successfully. He cannot and must not evaluate his efforts in the light of who responds to the message. Don Whitney likens the evangelist to the mailman. The mailman has fulfilled the obligation of his job when he has delivered the mail to me. The measure of success in his job is to carefully and accurately deliver the message. How I respond to the letters I receive is none of his concern. And the same is true of the evangelist. He faithfully delivers the message and leaves the results to God.

Ultimately we need to understand that God has not seen fit to share with us exactly how human responsibility and Divine sovereignty interact in evangelism. While we need to always remember that God is the only one who can bring about salvation, He has decreed that we will be the instruments He uses to take the Good News to the world. And that is what we must do, all the while asking God to equip us to be worthy ambassadors for Him.

August 18, 2008

The Westminister Shorter Catechism asks the question, “What is the chief end of man?” Many of us know the answer. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” While this is not a phrase drawn directly from Scripture, the wisdom behind it surely is. The Bible tells us with great clarity that man was created primarily to bring glory to God. Thus the chief end, the overwhelming purpose, of Christians and of the church is to bring glory to God. There is no higher calling. And as John Piper has told us repeatedly in his books and teaching ministry, we do so by enjoying Him forever. “The great business of life is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.”

I believe, though, that many evangelical churches would have to disagree with this. They might not say so, but their actions would prove that they feel man has a higher calling. I believe many evangelical churches would have to say, “Man’s chief end is to evangelize the lost.” For many Christians and for many local churches there is no higher aim than to bring others to the Lord.

Before I continue I will affirm that I place great value in evangelism and regard it as a Christian duty and privilege. A church that does not care to evangelize cannot be a healthy church and likewise, a Christian who never shares his faith is, in all likelihood, spiritually ill. Evangelism is a privilege and an honor and I admire those who have dedicated their lives to sharing the good news with others.

But, having said all of that, I do not believe that evangelism should be our highest goal.

A few years ago I spoke to a pastor of a small church that had been formed largely on the basis of Purpose Driven principles. I asked what their discipleship process involved. I was shocked when the pastor told me, without any remorse, that “if you are really looking to grow as a Christian this isn’t the church for you.” He went on to explain that his church was geared almost entirely towards evangelism. The Sunday morning services were stripped of almost anything that might offend: congregational prayer, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and so on. The music was done in the style of what was most popular in the town (or what had been most popular in that town in the 80’s) and the preaching always presupposed almost no knowledge of biblical principles. There was a small amount of discipleship training, but only on a very basic level. In other words, this church was driven by unbelievers. Their tastes, their likes and dislikes and their desires were considered the foundation for all the church was and did.

A church I used to attend used the motif of a journey to describe the Christian life. The journey begins somewhere and ends somewhere and along the way there should be continual growth. But according to the pastor I spoke to, he would lead people into the fledgling stages of this Christian life and then abandon them in order to focus on people who were still on the other side of that starting line. He would lovingly take people from point 0 to point 1, but then turn his back on them to look for others. This pastor showed that, in his opinion, there was nothing greater than evangelism. He could not honor God more than if he was leading people to recite a sinner’s prayer. Not surprisingly, the back door of that church was as wide open as the front door. Many of those who were saved through that church’s ministry quickly left to look for a church where they could be better fed.

A person like this pastor tends to interpret everything in the Christian life through this false assumption of man’s chief end and applies guilt to those who do not constantly evangelize. He may regard theology as something evil—something that detracts from the ability to witness. I have often had discussions with people who feel that theology is actually opposed to evangelism. If we are learning theology, they might say, we are missing opportunities to evangelize.

I believe that, to a great extent, this belief is based on an unbiblical assumption—that we are ultimately responsible for the spiritual state of our fellow man. It fits well with the oft-repeated warning that “there are people in hell right now who are there because you did not preach to them.” It assumes too much of our responsibility and our ability (and the ability of the one who hears). It speaks too little to the work of God in predestining some to eternal life and certainly speaks too little to the fact that until the Spirit opens hearts, every person is blind. “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). It ignores the fact that no one can hear and accept the message accept those who have been so privileged by God.

[An interesting note: as I got this far in the article a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses dropped by to evangelize me. They seemed nice enough and said they’d come back once I’ve had time to read their Watchtower. This edition is all about global warming.]

Theology, if it is an end in itself, can be bad. It sounds strange but it is true. Theology is not intended to be an end in itself. Rather, our theology should drive and motivate our lives. Our theology informs our evangelism. I have little doubt that, having studied theology over the past couple of years, I am better equipped to evangelize now than I was two years ago. I know more of God, more of His character and more of His Word. I have come to see the mistakes I used to make when I evangelized and know how to correct them in the future.

In speaking to people like the aforementioned pastor I have often been told, implicitly at least, that God holds a giant clipboard on which he takes notes on the amount of time we spend learning about Him and compares it to the amount of time we spend teaching others about Him. If we do not maintain the proper balance (as defined by these people) God is displeased with us. I have come to realize that this is simply not the case. We are responsible to take opportunities presented to us in which to evangelize and are even responsible to work towards creating such opportunities, but I see no biblical evidence that these need to be equal pursuits in terms of time and attention. Our primary responsibility is to ensure that we are bringing glory to God through our lives as we use the gifts and talents God has given us and that we constantly submit our time and our talents to Him.