Tim Keller discusses preparing and equipping the people of the church to live missionally.
Excerpted from “Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City” (Zondervan)
Part 1: Lay Ministry Dynamics and Evangelism
Part 2: Pastoral Support, Safe Venues and Discussion Questions
There is a way to pastor that promotes this every-member gospel ministry, just as there is a way to pastor that kills it. Whatever else they do, pastors and other church leaders must be aware of the importance of lay ministry and intentional about preparing people for it. They must be personally involved in the lives of lay ministers. The reasons so many Christians lack relational integrity—lack of motivation, lack of compassion, or lack of ability and knowledge—are often overcome through a strong pastoral connection with the lay ministers.
This connection does not come primarily through formal, content-heavy training sessions on “how to share your faith” (though this is vital and can be very helpful; at Redeemer, we are producing such materials to fit an urban environment). Instead, it is formed through informal teaching and support and ongoing advice from pastors and ministry leaders. Pastors must constantly remember to encourage and push lay people to use their relationships for the ministry of the Word.(16)
It is important for a pastor to model how to both talk to people about faith issues and pray for them. In my earlier years at Redeemer, I did this in two ways: through the sermons I preached and in the Q&A sessions I held after every morning service. I modeled how to pray for people through regular prayer meetings with leaders in which we prayed for our nonbelieving friends. This modeling instills a sense of courage, compassion, and responsibility in people and encourages them to reach out to their friends.
A pastor and his team must be models of Christian relational integrity for the rest of the congregation. David Stroud, a London church planter, shares how his wife, Philippa, became deeply involved in the local public school while he started a neighborhood watch program on their street. These endeavors got them immersed into the life of the city and brought them into many relationships with their neighbors.(17)
In addition to modeling, it is also important that pastors maintain a practical and simple vision for a relational ministry of the gospel. It should be clear that reaching out to friends and colleagues does not necessarily involve sharing a complete gospel presentation in a single encounter. Despite the fact that this was the stated goal of several evangelism training programs a generation ago, only a small number of laypeople (or even clergy!) can do this well. Reaching out to a friend is much more natural. These organic ways of reaching out must be constantly lifted up for people.
I summarize below some ways to do this, listed in order of intensity. Pastors should equip the people in their church to do all of these, pointing out that most of these behaviors require little more than some honesty and courage. Many of these are drawn from the case studies I gave earlier in this chapter.
• Let others know of your Christian faith by simply mentioning church attendance or Christian beliefs in casual conversation.
• Ask questions about other people’s beliefs and experiences with faith and church and simply listen appreciatively and sympathetically.
• Listen sympathetically to someone’s challenges and mention that you will pray regularly for them.
• Share a difficult personal issue that you have and be sure to mention that your faith helps you by giving you strength and granting you forgiveness, etc.
• Share your spiritual narrative—a brief testimony of your Christian experience.
• Offer someone a book or audio recording about Christian issues and invite them to discuss their reactions.
• Initiate a discussion about a friend’s biggest problems with or objections to Christianity. Listen respectfully and give them some things to read and discuss.
• Regularly read a part of the Bible together—preferably one of the Gospels—to discuss the character of Jesus.
3. Provide an experience of Christian community
• Invite friends to situations or activities where they meet believers but where there is no direct Christian event or communication.
• Invite friends to venues where they hear the gospel communicated and discussed—one-time event, such as an open forum; fellowship group; worship service; group meeting for inquirers, such as book club, seeker group, etc.
4. Share your faith
• Share the basics of the Christian faith with your friend, laying out how to become a Christian and inviting them to make a commitment.
It is important for pastors or elders to be readily available to field questions about issues that church members encounter in discussions with their friends. When a non-Christian asks a question such as, “Why does God allow such evil and suffering?” your people need quick turnaround with help on how to respond. A pastor can also provide free or low-cost materials that Christians can share with their friends. For example, if a Christian is sharing how Christianity helped them face a problem, they could give their friend a book or an audio or video selection that conveys the truth they found helpful. Every believer should have access to half a dozen compelling pieces of content on different subjects that they can give to someone after talking about an issue. This, of course, includes the offer to read and study the Bible together. Along the way, a pastor should try to meet regularly with lay ministers to talk about what is happening in their relationships. This has two purposes. On the one hand, it is a time to celebrate and encourage one another; on the other hand, it is a time to hold one another accountable to think about these relationships with a ministry mind-set that commits to reaching out and opening up to people.(18)