Ed Stetzer: Live First, Lead Second

If you want a church that’s exercising outreach, you’ve got to model outreach.

You can’t lead what you don’t live.

As pastors and leaders, a good part of what we teach others should come straight from Scripture. We look to biblical models and mandates to be the launching point to teach those in our churches how to live well as followers of Jesus.

Unfortunately, this isn’t enough. If our lives don’t reflect what we teach and the calls to action we offer, then our ability to lead well is severed from the start. Really, it’s a variation of the old adage we teach our children: “Do as I say, not as I do.” Do as I do and as I say.

In outreach, the same principle applies. We can tell our people to show and share the love of Jesus until the cows come home, pointing to the life of Jesus and others around us as examples, but until we live it, we are but clanging cymbals.

I like to tell the truth, and truth be told, one of the key components to getting our congregations on fire for outreach and evangelism is modeling personal outreach. As a pastor, I’ve always tried to do this. You also may have heard the example of Bill Hybel’s sailboat. The reason he mentions his sailboat quite a bit is because it is a place where he’s done a lot of his evangelism.

Now I don’t have a sailboat, and likely you don’t either, but what we all need is a similar example to share. What is your sailboat—the place where you are having the critical conversations with non-Christians?

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For me, it’s my neighborhood. At the last church I served at in Tennessee, I had the opportunity to map out my neighbors on paper in order to share the gospel with them one by one. Over the course of three years, I shared the gospel—not just inviting them to church, but sharing the gospel—with seven of the eight families. I had the privilege of baptizing four adults and leading one family to Christ as well.

The reason I tell this story is because when I pastored this church, I would regularly share with my congregation what I was doing to show and share the love of Jesus where God had me. They could model these real-life examples—and this is just one example of how to move our congregations to outreach. It’s interesting that based on the research released exclusively in the July/August issue of Outreach magazine, we found that the pastor has a significant impact on the evangelistic temperature of the church.

If you want a church that’s exercising outreach, you have to model outreach. Let me share a few ideas that might help you get started.

1. Map out your neighborhood. Make a list of who lives where and be intentional to get to know each and every family individually. Large social gatherings are great for camaraderie, but they do little for building invaluable trust and friendship that is often necessary for those who feel isolated or wounded.

2. Make a list of people you are praying for, and encourage your church to do the same. The more we pray for our non-Christians friends and neighbors, the more our hearts beat for them to know the love of Christ and the more likely we are to start talking about Jesus with them.

3. Hold your staff accountable. When we gather for staff meetings at the Billy Graham Center, I ask, “Who have you shared the gospel with in the last week?” This serves as a reminder that we’re holding one another accountable. You can do the same with your church staff as well.

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4. Ask others to hold you personally accountable. I have people in my life who ask if I am sharing the gospel on a regular basis. For you, this person could be your spouse, a friend or a fellow staff member. Regardless of who it is, knowing that someone will be asking you how you have prioritized evangelism and outreach will keep you on your toes.

As leaders in Christ’s church, integrity should be part of our DNA, and integrity extends well beyond personal purity, financial accountability and the like. Integrity means that when we instruct our congregations in how to “go and make disciples,” that we have first walked that path. Live first, lead second.

Read more from Ed Stetzer »

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham distinguished chair of church, mission and evangelism at Wheaton College and the Wheaton Grad School, where he also oversees the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.

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Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach magazine, and a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He currently serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and teaching pastor at Highpoint Church in Naperville, Illinois.

He is also regional director for Lausanne North America, and is frequently cited in, interviewed by and writes for news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. He is the founding editor of The Gospel Project, and his national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates.