Incarnational leadership is key to building evangelistic churches.
My dad looked at me with genuine concern in his eyes. “Kevin, don’t ever smoke. It is bad for your health. It will shorten your life. As your father, I am asking you to commit to me that you will never start smoking.”
As he said this, my dad was holding a lit cigarette.
My dad was a three-pack-a-day Raleigh smoker. He bought cigarettes by the case. I watched him smoke all through my childhood. He would even take smoke breaks while playing tennis. The real irony is that by the time my dad warned me never to smoke, I had already tried it—with his cigarettes.
My dad also said, “Kevin, learn to love reading. A passionate reader has the whole world at their fingertips.”
He was always reading three or four books at one time. The nightstand next to my parents’ bed was always piled with novels, history books, science fiction, mysteries and more. I became a voracious reader early in life, and to this day I am normally engaged in reading multiple books.
The lesson is crystal clear: The people we respect pass on patterns of action, attitudes, loves and dislikes. We learn from what we see and the examples that are lived in front of us, sometimes without realizing it.
The same is true for pastors, board members and other church leaders. The congregation we are called to serve and lead will often be formed by our example more than what we say. This is incarnational ministry. We are called to reflect the heart of Jesus and the lifestyle of faith that our Savior set before us.
Pause and ponder this question: Would you want every member of your church to do personal evangelism with exactly the same passion, intentionality and effectiveness that you do? Be honest.
When was the last time you had a nonbelieving friend or family member sit next to you in church because you prayed for them, reached out and invited them? How long has it been since you shared the story of how you became a follower of Jesus with a spiritual seeker? When was the last time you communicated the story of Jesus’ life, death and glorious resurrection with a nonbeliever that wasn’t from the pulpit or in a class? How much time do you spend in a normal week praying for people that you love who need to enter a life-saving relationship with Jesus?
Your example is impacting your church—for better or for worse.
Take these four steps today to increase your incarnational impact on the people in your congregation and others who are watching.
Examine Your Schedule
Most church leaders I know or train in evangelism are so busy with church stuff that they do not have time to engage with family members and friends who are still far from the Savior. We will never incarnate the heart and lifestyle of Jesus if we don’t have a rhythm of hanging out with lost people.
Take some time to look over your schedule from the last month. Be brutally honest. Have you played, hung out, shared meals, walked, talked or spent meaningful time with nonbelievers? If you have, rejoice and pray that this pattern will continue. If you have not, look ahead at the coming 30 days and block out time to be with people in your life who need to meet Jesus. Then, make some calls or send a few emails or texts to set up time to be with these people.
Once you have done this, take your church board, key volunteers or staff through the same process. The first time I did this with the leadership team at Shoreline Church, I had to kick a pastor out of the church for a few hours each week because he had no connections with nonbelievers. Now he has regular outreach encounters because he actually has a life outside of the church.
Commit to Regular Evangelistic Prayer
How much time do you spend on a weekly basis praying for lost people to come home to Jesus? Do you pray regularly for your church members and leaders to grow bold in their witness and outreach? Are you faithful in praying that God will send you out into the harvest field with the Good News of Jesus?
There is power in prayer. We all know this. But we often fail to live like we believe it.
Try prayer-walking or driving through your community and the neighborhood near your church. Take a couple board members with you or invite a few key church volunteers, and teach them how to pray for your community (or maybe you will learn from them). Pray for revival. Break the strongholds of the Enemy in the name of Jesus. Ask the Holy Spirit to soften hearts of lost people in your community and draw them to your church so they can encounter Jesus. Cry out for boldness for yourself, your leaders and your church members.
This is serious stuff. I encourage you to make this a regular pattern in your ministry schedule.
Practice Telling Your Story—and His
Say your personal testimony out loud three or four times in the coming week. Do the same with the gospel story of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and call to follow him as a disciple. Then practice telling both stories once a week. Ask God to open doors for you to tell your story of real and lasting life-change to nonbelievers. Look for opportunities to share the gospel story with lost friends and family members.
After you have done this for a month, challenge your church board members, volunteers and staff to do the same. Have them practice with each other. Make sure you practice with each board member over a month or two. If they don’t know how to articulate their testimony or the gospel, train them one-on-one or as a group.
Engage in Spiritual Conversations
Look for opportunities to engage in spiritual conversations and talk about God’s goodness. Share with nonbelievers how God’s power and presence are real in your life. Most will find it intriguing and compelling.
As you do this, invite your church leaders into the process. Tell them about family members, friends and neighbors who are far from Jesus. Ask them about the people in their life who are still far from the Savior. Pray for each other and offer encouragement. As you model a life of organic outreach, the Holy Spirit will draw them into the great adventure of sharing the amazing news of God’s love and grace found in Jesus alone.
People are watching you. Will the leaders in your church learn that evangelism is a lifestyle as they observe your life? Will they learn how to pray and reach out naturally as they walk with you?