How to make the lost a priority in your church’s heart and ministries
After spending two years interning with Campus Crusade for Christ, and then joining the staff at a fast-growing, multisite church, I experienced some evangelism culture shock. In Cru, we aimed to spend 75% of our time in “hot-hour ministry” (i.e., evangelism or discipleship with new believers). On staff at the church, we spent most of our time working on our ministry areas—preaching, communications, mercy, connect ministry, kids, etc. In Cru, the all-hands-on-deck moments for staff included evangelism pushes and outreach events. At the church, the all-hands-on-deck moments were Sundays, where we tried to make each of the services as excellent as possible.
I was initially critical about how much time we spent focused inwardly, but I soon felt the overwhelming weight of church ministry—crazy counseling situations, late-night emergencies and hospital visits, finishing sermons at home while rocking babies to sleep, 30 visitor cards to follow up on, no-show volunteers … we could go on forever, right? The challenges in big churches and small churches differ, but the insane ministry load seems to be universal. Still, I couldn’t shake those basic questions I had been asking for so long in my ministry: “With whom have you shared the gospel this week?” and “Whom are you discipling?” And I’m guessing you can’t either.
If you’re like me, then you probably entered ministry because you had a burden for the lost, and you were encouraged by others to continue in ministry because you were one of the few who were actually telling others about Jesus. How can you get back to that place of being burdened to reach the lost in the midst of the craziness of church ministry?
1. Identify Any Defeaters in Your Head.
Like any good excuse, your defeater will contain a lot of truth: I already have too much on my plate … This could be awkward … I’m already preaching the gospel through my sermon—let the other members in the church body play their part.
Let’s deconstruct that last one for a minute. What if every church member played that card? “I have the gift of service, so I don’t talk to my friends about Christ.” It’s the classic spiritual gift fallacy (“I don’t do _________ because I don’t have the gift of _________.”). Spiritual gifts, and even offices, don’t trump general obedience to all of Christ’s commands. There should be a balance. As pastors, we need to model sharing the gospel out of obedience to all of Christ’s commands.
2. Connect With God’s Heart for the Lost by Fasting and Praying Through Scriptures on Evangelism.
Pick one a week for eight weeks and work it into your quiet time prayer.
• The Father desires that none perish but that all come to a knowledge of the truth and repentance (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
• The Son came to seek and save what was lost (Luke 15).
• The Spirit of Truth bears witness about Jesus, and you will also (John 15:26–27).
• The command to preach or proclaim the word is given 133 times in the Bible, and the vast majority of those instances are focused on reaching the lost.
• The Great Commission has two participles of means—one centers on non-Christians (baptizing), the other on Christians (teaching).
• Consider Philip: he was appointed to the role/office of deacon, but in Acts 8 he is evangelizing Samaria, then the Ethiopian eunuch, then the towns on the road to Caesarea. He didn’t say, “I serve widows; the apostles are the ones who preach to the lost.”
3. With a Renewed Mind and Heart, Get Practical.
Here are some ways I tried to be more evangelistic during my time on church staff:
• Schedule a two-hour time in the harvest as part of your workweek. If that is impossible during this season, make it once a month. Take a different staff member with you each time. You could prayer walk, knock on doors or visit a soup kitchen, but use the time for sharing, not just praying.
• Pick a conversational bridge that works for you. As a pastor, you have a great opening line: “I’m a pastor, and I’m making it a priority to care for and pray for the people in this neighborhood. Is there anything I can pray about for you?”
• Pick one contextualized gospel presentation for yourself and your church (e.g., 4 Spiritual Laws, 3 Circles, Bridge to Life). Picking one evangelistic approach for your church will breed confidence, make it more reproducible and give your church a common evangelistic language.
Time-out: What if you have a distaste for scheduling evangelism and using tools and you want it all to be relational and natural? Great! But don’t create an either/or situation. Even if you prefer a more organic approach, you probably won’t naturally jump to sharing the gospel all the time without some scheduled intentionality. After all, does any other sacred habit work that way?
• Use fresh evangelism stories as sermon illustrations, highlighting the tools you are using to train your people. “I was out with pastor Josh and we shared the Three Circles …” You replicate what you celebrate.
• Preach a sermon series on evangelism. As a pastor, you know that nothing creates more passion and motivation for something than studying it and preaching about it.
• Find the evangelists in your congregation and ask them to help you. Encourage them to set the pace, and celebrate their giftedness.
• Sacrifice other good things to make time for evangelism, even if that good thing is Bible reading. If you’re following the hour-of-reading-a-day rule but never sharing, then why not replace one day with evangelism? Proclaiming the good news to the lost will bring a new zeal and passion to your spiritual life in ways few other things can.
• Give yourself two hours less for sermon prep and hit the streets to run a sermon point past a lost person. For example, you could say, “I’m preparing a talk, and I’m asking people when they feel loneliest.” The evangelism illustration you get will more than make up for that “lost” prep time.
• We all know from experience that evangelism is hard, perhaps especially for pastors. The majority of church ministry is focused on the 99 sheep in the pen, not the one that is lost. Maintaining an outward focus can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. What can you do to make the lost a priority in the hearts and ministries of your church?
This article originally appeared on TheUpstreamCollective.org and is reposted here by permission.