Had an interesting conversation, yesterday, about church planting and evangelism.
A strong financial supporter of my Mission Hope ministry overseas challenged me to include evangelism in the things I write. In my mind, I always do. However, he made a valid point.
I assume that church planting is all about evangelism, but that isn’t necessarily always true. You can plant a church among disgruntled saints and then equip them to evangelize. You can plant a church by offering a nice entertainment, family services package and then equip whoever shows up to evangelize. Or, you can do both and slip into complacency while your world misses out on Jesus.
Who is Supposed to “Lift Jesus?”
Jesus told us that if he is lifted up, he’ll draw people to himself. But, we need to do the lifting.
Here is where I think we can miss the boat. It’s part of western church culture to expect the pastor to draw in the evangelism net during weekend services. We used to do this by asking people to leave their seat and meet someone for prayer, usually in the front of an auditorium. During the 1970s this morphed into asking someone to lift a hand or stare at the pastor while the congregation bowed in prayer. Today, the pastor says a simple prayer, trusting those who need to invite Jesus into their lives will follow along with no outward indication of the act.
While we’ve made is easier to take that first step, I wonder if we aren’t training out people to think that evangelism is something you do in church and that it belongs in the pastor’s purview?
The reason I don’t write much (or not enough) about evangelism is that I assume that disciplemaking begins with evangelism and that evangelism begins when we establish relationships in the world outside of the church.
Equipping Saints to Make Disciples
Jesus told us to make disciples, not converts. Conversion is, therefore, a by-product of disciplemaking. We got it seriously wrong when we turned disciplemaking into a program where you attend classes of fill in blanks in little books. Disciplemaking is about sharing the life of Christ between two persons. It’s a huge step up from mentoring.
I’ve always taught congregations that I pastored to pray with their not-yet-believing friends whenever possible. If they are courageous I teach them to pray on the spot when a friend complains about anything. If not so brave, “ask your friend for permission to pray during your private prayer time at home.” Either way, prayer gets the unbeliever looking to God for a possible answer. It even positions an agnostic to challenge God to show himself. The good news is that God answers prayer.
Aside from prayer I want out people to know scripture well enough to answer questions or at least to google for answers. Evangelism belongs in their bailiwick, not mine. I’ll still draw the net, but only in concert with the labors of our people.
Back to the “church planting vs evangelism” discussion I had with my friend. I assume that healthy church planting is predicated on what I’ve just written. After yesterday’s conversation I won’t take that for granted.
What are your thoughts? Are your people equipped to take their faith to the streets? Do you feel any tension between pastoring in today’s church climate and equipping people to make disciples? Is pressure to run programs helping or hindering you in your efforts? We’d love to hear from you in the comments box below.