8-26-12 is Pentecost 13B – Evangelism

1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43 – Solomon’s temple.
or Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 – Choose this day whom you shall serve… as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Psalm 84 – How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts.
or Psalm 34:15-22 – The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous. (Ps. 34:15)

Ephesians 6:10-20 – Put on the full armor of God.
John 6:56-69 – Eat my flesh for eternal life. This is a difficult teaching; who can accept it? Does this bother you? Do you also wish to go away? Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…

 

This week you can preach on Solomon’s temple, from 1 Kings, or putting on the full armor of God, from Ephesians 6, or on the last bread text, in which Jesus says, “All who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.”

This week I am going to take a detour. Today I want to talk with you about evangelism and the Great Commission. Evangelism is the top priority of this synod. This fall, we are going to train over 100 evangelists at our Fall Leadership Gatherings. I am writing to ask you to:

  1. Come to the Evangelists Training on October 13 (New Orleans), 20 (Brenham) or 27 (Houston). Register now!
  2. Bring one or two others with you to evangelists training, above.
  3. Return from that training  prepared to work with the various teams at your church (evangelism, outreach, technology, worship, property) to help the entire congregation do their part in evangelism.

If you’re like most people, you might cringe when you hear the word “evangelism.” Many people immediately think of that annoying person who thinks they are right and others are wrong. They will engage in manipulative, arm-twisting debate to bring you over to their worldview. If someone turns and says, “I want to talk to you about GEE-sus,” many people (even Christians) starting looking for an exit strategy.

But Jesus gave the Great Commission in Matthew 28: “Go therefore and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, for lo, I am with you always, even to the close of the age.”

There is nothing about arguing or arm-twisting in the Great Commission. Jesus’ final words to his disciples in Matthew’s gospel are a call to

  • Make disciples
  • Baptize
  • Teach
  • And trust that Christ is with us

So, evangelism is more than a conversation. It involves making, forming, developing followers of Christ. It involves baptism and teaching. It is the work of the whole church. No one does it alone. Evangelism is a community endeavor. It is a team sport.

So, an evangelist is someone who is a team leader in evangelism. An evangelist is someone who leads the church’s work in making disciples. The evangelists we will be training will help our congregations organize around the Great Commission. Of course this is part of the pastor’s job description as well, so I hope that we will eventually train every pastor. But this is not, and can never be, the work of the pastor alone. Too many congregations operate as if the pastor is the only evangelist in the congregation. The laity are the primary evangelists. Pastors are the coaches.

This fall we will train two or three evangelists in every congregation that is willing to send people to the training. This Evangelist Training will take place at our Fall Leadership Gatherings:

  • Saturday, October 13 in New Orleans at Hosanna in Mandeville
  • Saturday, October 20 at Salem in Brenham
  • Saturday, October 27 in Houston, at Faith in Bellaire

Every baptized Christian is an evangelist. We are all called to witness to the love of God in Christ through our words and our deeds. In Acts 1:8 Jesus said, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Our evangelists are going to equip the saints to be witnesses in ever-expanding circles of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. NOLA/Brenham/Houston, America and the ends of the earth.

Does that sound like a big job to you? Welcome to my world. But did you hear the promise? You will receive power. I’ll come back to that in a minute.

Ephesians 4:11 – “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry.”

Five roles, or five charisms:

  1. Apostles
  2. Prophets
  3. Evangelists
  4. Pastors
  5. Teachers

Think about our church. What are we missing here? Think of apostles as missionaries. Notice the word “post,” in apostle. An apostle is one who is sent out. Think of prophets as preachers who call the church back to the work of justice, as did the Hebrew prophets. To prophecy is to preach. Pastors care for the people of God. Teachers teach the faith. We have all these, except one: Evangelists. Why don’t we have those? Perhaps that is because in Europe, in a state church, where everyone is baptized, the mission front was considered to be elsewhere. What happens when the mission front is in your back yard?

Many of our global companion churches have evangelists. The Lutheran church in the Central African Republic has them, and they’re growing. The early church had them, and they were growing. Could it be that evangelists are an indispensable part of being a network of growing congregations passing the faith to the next generation?

Pastors, be thinking about who you are going to send to evangelists training.

  • Pastors, I hope you’ll come. We need pastors who think like evangelists. And you’re going to need to understand what these evangelists are doing.
  • Consider your formal leadership. Who has been charged with evangelism and witness in your congregation? Is there someone on your church council who has been given that responsibility? We have a gift for you, we will help you train them. Is there an evangelism committee? Bring them. Don’t send them. Bring them.
  • Then, think about the people in your congregation who care about welcoming strangers, even if they are not part of the formal leadership structure. Think about those who are particularly attuned to newcomers, those who have a heart for skeptics, seekers, outsiders. Who in your congregation is uniquely passionate, called and gifted to equip the congregation for evangelism? Who are the healthy, mature leaders who could lead the charge in reclaiming the Great Commission in your congregation?

What are these folks going to be taught?

  1. Empowering Prayer: Unbinding the Gospel

They are going to be taught prayer. Prayer is not just a nod to the spiritual. Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…” When groups hold back a little bit, and instead of barging ahead, take time for prayer, something builds up in the body. Rather than rowing like crazy until we all fall from exhaustion, prayer unfurls a sail, so the wind of the spirit blows and fills it and lifts it. If we march ahead organizing in a dry fashion, without the wind of the Spirit, we have nothing spiritual to give those who come. Unless the Lord builds the house they labor in vain. Martha Grace Reese in her workbook, “Unbinding the Gospel,” gives us a beautiful model for engaging in prayer around evangelism. If you do nothing else, do this, and see what happens.

  1. Dual Focus: Personal evangelism and team evangelism.

Secondly, evangelists will be taught a dual focus: both personal evangelism and team evangelism.

Personal evangelism is one-on-one. It is learning to tell your own faith story in a way that is honest and compelling. What’s your life journey been like? How has being a follower of Christ made a difference? Where has God shown up in your life. We aren’t called to convince, just to witness to what we have experienced.

Personal evangelism is like Philip and the Ethiopian official in Acts. They have a conversation, just the two of them in a chariot, and finally the Ethiopian asked, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?”  But here’s the problem. I’ve had a lot of conversations and not many of them end with the other person saying, “What is to prevent me from being baptized, right here, right now?”

Team evangelism – This is why we need team evangelism: Evangelism is more than just a conversation. Evangelism is inviting people into a relationship with God and with God’s people. It is making disciples. This is a process, not a one-time event. It often involves the work of the Spirit over years, and the involvement of many people.

Team evangelism is organic. When I’ve seen it happen it often looks like this. A group of people meet in a small group. They eat together, pray together, study together, serve together. They invite friends, who come and hang out. At first they’re quiet, but slowly they build trust and take part. This group is real. They have real problems, real families, and they talk about it all. Newcomers learn to pray in this setting, they hear Scripture, they find a caring community. This isn’t one-on-one evangelism. It’s a process, and a team effort.

Other times I’ve seen it work like this: A friend invites another friend. Most people visit a church because a friend invited them. That’s the number one reason. And did you know that if you invite someone to church, 80-something percent will say “yes?” Those are great odds. Wouldn’t you love to have those odds in your business? And if the church is welcoming and caring, they might come back, and start asking questions, and connect with new friends (which is the number one reason people say yes to coming to church in the first place). Maybe they get invited to a class, or a small group, or a choir, or some team.

We’re going to help people learn to tell their faith story one-on-one, but even more importantly, we’re going to train evangelists to help the church do evangelism as a team. That takes a little bit of coordination and savvy, which leads me to the third and final thing evangelists will be taught.

We are going to teach these evangelists some practical tactics. They will receive tools that will help them organize the whole congregation around the great commission. As I outline some of this, consider: What are your gifts? How might God use your gifts to reach others?

Attract – Jesus said to the fishermen Peter, Andrew, James and John, “Follow me and I will show you how to fish for people.” Evangelism is fishing for people. Evangelism is inviting people to be in a relationship with God and with God’s people. The first step is inviting them in.

I don’t know of one single person who has ever joined a church without visiting first. So how do you get visitors? We know what attracts people to churches. We’ve already talked about friends inviting friends. We know what people are looking for. We know that most people check out your website before they visit. These evangelists will be trained in how to help the congregation generate visitors, because no one becomes a member of the body of Christ without checking it out first.

This is not just the work of the pastor or evangelist. It will involve training people how to invite. It involves having a building that is welcoming. It involves property, signage, web page, bulletin, buzz, ministry. This is the work of the whole congregation and all its leaders.

Welcome – When people do come, what happens is very, very important. We know that how they are received by the very first person they meet has a huge effect on whether they will return. We know that most people decide within 10-12 minutes whether or not they are going to return, which is, in most congregations before they hear the sermon or meet the pastor.

Evangelists will learn how to organize the congregation around welcoming, with hospitality that begins in the parking lot, and continues on into the fellowship hour. They will discuss how to craft worship in a way that a word of hope is heard, and visitors are drawn in. Evangelism is the work of the Worship Team and the Pastor as well. It is the work of the whole church. Evangelists will learn how to engage the congregation in fishing for people, so that visitors want to return.

Engage – After newcomers have visited, what happens next is very important. Someone has got to call and find out why they came, listen to them, care. Evangelists will learn how to collect contact information gracefully. They will learn how to identify and train callers, and in some cases, visitors. Evangelists will equip the congregation to prepare a

brochure or packet of information that tells people about the congregation’s ministries. Evangelists will learn how to use social media to connect with younger visitors in a way that leads to connecting them with friends, ministries and new member classes.

Evangelists will learn practical tactics to Attract, Welcome and Engage people, in other words, to fish for people.

Now if this sounds like a big job, it is. But remember, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And remember, evangelism is not the work of one person, or a committee.  It is the work of the whole church and if we do it together, connecting people according to their gifts – the things they are good at and love to do, it can be a blast. And when you see them coming, and then coming alive, and finding joy in connecting to a ministry that really matters, that’s when it gets really exciting. Because fishing is fun. Seeing people find faith is rewarding. This happens when we work together.

So be thinking about who your congregation is going to send to Evangelist training. Preach a sermon or twenty on evangelism. And plan on being with us on October 13, 20 or 27 for an event that could change your congregation’s life and ministry.

About michaelrinehart

Bishop of the Texas Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
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