Overcoming the perception that evangelism is only for the “professionals.”
Many pastors and leaders feel that leading evangelism is the most challenging part of their job. As I have worked over the last eight years with 300 churches and senior pastors, I have learned a lot about why it is tough.
I often walk pastors through several key barriers to leading evangelism, and in this article I will focus on one of the most challenging. A first barrier that many pastors face is the enduring split between the clergy and the laity, the pastor and the people, the professional and the lay.
Three pairs of words that say the same thing.
Evangelism is for the professional. Evangelism to most people in most churches feels like Christianity 401, reserved for people with special gifts and abilities that most of them feel they don’t have. One needs special and clear theological knowledge of the content of the gospel. One also needs very strong communication skills to ask people just the right question, elicit just the right amount of interest and curiosity, and be able to answer tough questions in a single bound.
Yes, this does feel a bit like being Superman. Average people in an average church don’t have those kinds of skills and training, some may say, so evangelism is a job for the professional, the pastor. The job of the average person is to invite people to come and hear the professional, others say.
Pastors often make the problem worse. Some are so spectacular in sharing their faith, and tell such powerful and frequent stories, that the people in the congregation cheer and applaud from the sidelines, never thinking they have a part to play.
Other pastors are consumed by the organizational and people issues in their churches and have fallen into mission drift. Sure, they preach the gospel on Easter, work it into funerals and weddings, and generally respond to visitors looking for help.
So people in the congregation see pastors who share their faith as pastors but not as everyday people. And pastors sometimes guard their turf as professionals. After all, if everybody can teach, witness, disciple, and counsel, what do we need the pastor for?
But until leaders are modeling evangelism that other people can imitate—and can convince their people that it’s meaningful and doable—their people will continue to cheer and applaud from the sidelines.
We desperately need to release our people so that they build relationships, love their neighbors well, and catalyze a hunger in their neighbors to begin to want to hear about Jesus.
HELPING THE PEOPLE WE LEAD WANT TO WITNESS
Most people in congregations feel intimidated by evangelism. At the same time, they feel guilty because they often hear the message from preachers who want to grow their church that evangelism is everybody’s responsibility. Not only do we need to model evangelism that people can and want to imitate, but we also need to make evangelism easier.
We need an evangelism that is within reach.
That’s why I have spent so much time over the last eight years in my work with leaders and pastors helping them model evangelism that anybody could do and then giving them the tools to give their people so they can engage. These are simple tools:
• A FRANC prayer list. This is a list of Friends, Relatives, Acquaintances, Neighbors, and Colleagues that we start to pray for regularly—at least weekly to start, and then daily as our temperature for evangelism goes up. By beginning with prayer, we are more sensitive to the opportunities that are already there.
• The BLESS missional practices. I got the BLESS practices from my friend, Pastor Dave Ferguson. Rooted in God’s mission, as stated in Genesis 12, to bless Abraham and through Abraham to bless all the nations of the earth, Dave suggests five simple missional practices for our relationships with those who don’t yet know Jesus: Begin in prayer. Listen with care. Eat together. Serve the needs of others until they feel loved. Share your story and Jesus’ story.
These are simple steps that every one of our people can grow in. They give handles to a doable and winsome evangelism. This is an evangelism within reach.
• Supportive regular accountability. I teach all the leaders with whom I work to provide a time every month without fail to have their key leaders share how they are doing with their FRANC list and their BLESS missional practices. They share stories, encourage each other, pray about where they feel stuck, and talk about the hard conversation they had with a friend or family member.
These times of inspiration, storytelling, and problem solving are worth their weight in gold. Make it a part of a weekly or monthly leadership team meeting you already have, and make it the first thing you do. This simple 15–20 minute check-in time has begun to infuse a new DNA of evangelism into countless churches.
I have watched many churches begin to practice an evangelism within reach. I think of my friends Tim Hawks and Chuck Barber at Hill Country Bible Church in Austin, TX. They have been using a FRANC prayer list and the BLESS missional practices for a couple years now with their leaders.
When they started, very few of their leaders were being effective witnesses to what Jesus had done in their lives. In the last year, they have utilized those tools and met monthly to give inspiration and accountability. God has used that time to equip and inspire the 28 leaders in whom they have been investing. This last year, 16 of the 28 have personally led 64 people to Christ.
It changes your life when you get to be personally involved in seeing God change the life of a person who comes to know Jesus.
These simple practices that lead to an evangelism within reach are changing the DNA of both leaders and churches. Their evangelism temperature is going up and more people are finding new life in Christ. These practices invested in your leaders could change your church. too. And your life as a leader.
Next week from May 19–21 the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center is hosting the Amplify Evangelism Leadership Virtual Conference. We will be talking about evangelism in the time of COVID-19, providing you with tools and community to encourage and equip you in these days. Please join us. Register at AmplifyConference.tv.