Evangelism Essentials

Leadershift

“How are you today?” the cashier asked politely in the checkout line at the local grocery store. “Saved!” my ministerial colleague replied, beaming with an angelic smile. “How about you?” Ugh. I cringed as the cashier faked a little smile.

Out in the parking lot I said, “Buddy, you’ve got to get a new line—that one is embarrassing to Jesus.”

“Hey,” he shot back, “I’m just engaging in a little evangelism.”

Funny though, when you stop and think about people who helped you take steps towards faith in Jesus, did they use such an over – the – top approach to sharing the gospel?

As part of our “leadershift” in the Reformed tradition, I suggest we need to have teaching and ruling elders shepherding congregations that are evangelical, entrepreneurial and effective. This month we look at the critical practice of evangelism. Confession: I love evangelism. The opportunity to share the joy of the gospel with others (1 Peter 3:15 – style with gentleness and respect) is gold. To share our faith and watch as the Holy Spirit helps people take steps towards faith in Jesus is better than front row seats at the Canucks game. It’s amazing to know that in the sharing of who Jesus is for us, we too can be converted again and again. Often, however, people can’t hear until they’ve been heard. It takes time. It requires real relationships.

So, I don’t mean “evangelism” like my friend’s hit and run tactics in the grocery store; no, if we confess God to be Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we know deep in our hearts that relationship is critical. The ultimate goal of evangelism is not conversion. That’s the penultimate goal. The ultimate goal is that a transformed, redeemed Christ follower goes on to bless and mend God’s broken yet beloved world. We help people get there by understanding evangelism to be a congregational process that helps people place their trust in Jesus, and by the Spirit’s power, transforms them within community into disciples of Christ who participate in God’s saving mission for the world.

Peter Drucker, the guru of 20th – century management theory, used to ask two critical questions of leaders and organizations: 1) What is your main business? And 2) How’s business? I love that. What is the church’s main business? One way to find out is to engage leaders in a question: “What is the gospel?” How one answers makes a huge difference in one’s ministry and leadership. For example, if one says, “The gospel takes nice Canadians and makes them nicer,” you get one kind of focus. If you answer, “God so loved the world…” or “God was in Christ reconciling the world…” you get a different leadership direction.

Furthermore, two of the critical questions every Christian leader must answer clearly in light of the gospel are, “What does Jesus save us from?” and “What does Jesus save us for?” If the answers to those questions are compelling and urgent then the need to engage as a missional leader in an evangelical ministry is clear.

Recently I was driving along with legendary professor of evangelism George Hunter III. “What holds people back from being evangelical in their leadership?” I asked him. Hunter, retired now from Asbury Seminary, replied, “It’s a complex pathology. Increasingly, clergy are reluctant to move outside of their comfort zone. And that becomes more and more difficult as the perceived distance between the secular and the sacred becomes larger. The secular world no longer understands or values what it means to be a Christian leader and those who choose to remain in their comfort zone find it getting smaller and smaller.”

As we live further into the new reality as a post – Christendom nation, the need for a compelling and urgent witness to pre – Christians will be a critical part of leadership for the church in the world. That testimony will be all the more effective if we build loving relationships with all those around us where we live, work and play. This is not the work of a few “religious professionals;” rather, it is the ministry of each and every human being washed by the dying of Christ and rising with him through what the church calls baptism. The leadershift that is coming will help faithful and polite Canadian Christians move from being tongue – tied to testimony—until the Kingdom comes.

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About Ross Lockhart

Rev. Dr. Ross Lockhart is director of ministry leadership and education at St. Andrew’s Hall, Vancouver.