I wasn’t sure which strategy to focus on to encourage evangelism in my congregation, until I realized it starts with me.
For over five years, the Billy Graham Center has been gathering senior pastors into cohorts that meet monthly to receive encouragement and accountability in their personal witness, and to be equipped to lead their churches in evangelism. Brian Davies, lead pastor at Lord of Glory Lutheran Church in Grayslake, Illinois, is one of about 60 pastors currently in an evangelism cohort.
As pastors, we often don’t know where to begin when it comes to outreach. We know that outreach is a biblical concept, and we know that it was important to Jesus and ought to be important to us. But we are torn about how to start. Should it be a program? Should a committee take it on? Should we launch a message series or perhaps invite an outside speaker to come in and rally the troops?
I know what this uncertainty is like because I’ve been there before—unsettled, confused and feeling a bit guilty. Maybe you’ve been there too. Perhaps you’re there right now. Thankfully, the Lord brought some wise people into my life and led me to an essential shift in thinking centered around four key words.
It starts with me.
This small phrase has huge implications. It means that before I think about mobilizing our whole church around living with an outreach mindset, I need to first live with an outreach mindset. That was a hard change for me. Just like with eating healthy, working out or being honest all the time, it was a whole lot easier for me to tell others what to do rather than challenging myself to live it out. Yet if I truly wanted to lead this evangelism charge, I knew that I first had to live this charge.
Precisely because this mental shift is so powerful and transformative, the Evil One doesn’t want you to start with you. He’d actually prefer you remain a “professional Christian” hunkered down in your office, planning out ways to tell other people what they ought to do. In fact, what if one of Satan’s greatest secret strategies is to take people who love the Lord, remove them from daily life and pull them into the vortex of church leadership? I’m convinced that he likes it that way and wants to keep the status quo because it separates us from the greater kingdom impact we could be having in the lives of those disconnected from God.
Yet our God is greater, and those four key words—it starts with me—remind us where to begin. They show us how, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we might both destroy the work of the Evil One and invite more and more people into a living relationship with Jesus.
So what did this mindset shift actually look like in real life? It started with my recognizing where the Lord had uniquely placed me. As I considered the various contexts of my life, I developed a richer understanding of how all of my experiences could be informed by an outreach mindset. I began believing that people in my life were sent for a reason, and that I shouldn’t ignore the significance of those interactions. I resolved to take initiative to engage people in spiritual conversations instead of waiting for a church program, message series or special event to reach out to them.
More practically, it meant scrolling through my phone less while waiting to pick up my kids and socializing face-to-face instead. It meant actually getting to know my neighbors beyond a quick wave before heading inside. It meant engaging with the work of our greater community and getting to know the people behind the faces and titles. And it meant seeing everyday conversations as perhaps something God might actually have ordained.
The best part of this process has been seeing how those four words bled into the broader culture of our congregation. As we started sharing stories of personal outreach, individuals in our church began to take greater personal ownership for the vision for outreach. In the Lord’s timing, living with an outreach mindset is becoming a core family value in our church community.
The transformation in our church has not come from a program, a sermon or a speaker. Instead, the transformation resulted from a mindset shift, and it starts with me.
To learn more about Billy Graham Center pastor cohorts, visit Wheaton.edu/BGC.