A Common Story
You had been meaning to read it, but it just wasn’t a priority. A few of your friends, people in whom you’ve seen a distinct spiritual change over several months, had been begging you to read it. One day, sitting on a shelf wedged between Moonwalking with Einstein and The Fallacy Detective (two other books you’ve been meaning to read), the book caught your eye.
The light bulb goes on. You realize for the first time, even though you’ve been a Christian for years, that you have been wrong all along about evangelism. Not only that, but you realize you’ve never really had a burden for the lost or anything that could remotely be called zeal for reaching the lost with the gospel. You finally get it. For years, you have been loving yourself more than you love Christ, and certainly more than you love the lost.
And in a moment, not unlike that moment you came to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, God changes your heart and your mind about evangelism. It will never again merely be the participation in the occasional on-site church outreach, or volunteering at the food pantry, or building a house in Mexico. Oh, you have every intention of continuing those activities because they’re good and right and necessary. But from now on, all of those activities will include the gospel.
You can’t wait to buy a pack of gospel tracts. You no longer think of walking up to a stranger and engaging that person in spiritual conversation as weird, culturally insensitive, or something only the trained evangelist does. Now you think of such an encounter with the nervous exhilarating felt before climbing into the car of the newest, most death-defying roller coaster known to man. You want to get out, but you can’t wait to go! You picture in your mind standing atop a box to preach, and then you catch yourself. “What! Am I nuts?”
You feel your cheeks starting to hurt because you’ve been smiling for so long. As you relax your face, another thought enters your mind. This one isn’t as positive. “For all these years, my pastor has taught me that I shouldn’t share the gospel with someone until I’ve done the heavy lifting of establishing a relationship with them. He taught me that I should preach the gospel at all times, but when necessary use words. He’s said several times that people won’t care what I know until they know I care.”
Discouragement sets in, maybe even a sense of betrayal. You quickly forget about how many times the pastor has met with you for lunch or coffee to discuss personal issues. You quickly forget about how many years you have sat under your pastor’s faithful, verse-by-verse expository preaching. You quickly forget that your pastor is probably the most active person in the church when it comes to sharing the gospel. You forget that you’re pastor has shepherded you faithfully, patiently, and sacrificially as a shepherd should.
You turn on your computer. You rub your hands together as the computer comes to life. You open your email, click “create new message,” select your pastor’s email address, and write:
I just finished reading the book, “Everything I Ever Wanted to Know about Evangelism, but I Didn’t Know I Wanted to Know it; in Fact I Didn’t Want to Know it, and Now That I Know it, I Know All I Need to Know.” We need to talk about it. When would be a good time for you? I can be at the church in ten minutes.”
You drive to the church and walk into the pastor’s with “the book” in hand. Before the pastor can stand up from behind his desk, say hello, and shake your hand, you drop “the book” on your pastor’s desk and say:
“Pastor, you need to read this book. This is what we should be doing as a church. I mean it. This is it. Let me know what you think, but you’ve gotta read it now–tonight if you can. Just let me know what you want me to do to make the necessary changes around here. It’s time this church gets out of the pews and onto the streets!
“Well, I’ll let you go. You’ve got a book to read, and I suspect a lot of repenting to do. See ya later!”
You might think the above story is an exaggeration. I wish it was, but it’s not. I’ve heard these stories–from people who did things like this, to pastors who have been on the receiving end of someone who’s “evangelism light bulb” has illuminated for the first time.
The above story is not a good example for approaching your pastor about evangelism. Please don’t do this to him. And if you can’t be dissuaded from doing this to your pastor, please don’t blame the book you read. It’s not the book’s fault. It’s not the author’s fault. It’s your fault. Your pastor won’t respond well, not because he doesn’t like a book he may not have time to read, but because of the way you approached him with what you believe is the answer to the church’s evangelism “problems.”
Remember Who You Were
One of the most common mistakes Christians make when approaching their pastor about evangelism, especially after their own personal evangelistic light bulb turns on for the first time, is that they forget who they were just a short time ago. They forget that not long ago, maybe just moments ago, they had spent maybe years walking in disobedience to Christ when it came to evangelism.
Before you approach your pastor about evangelism, give yourself a moment of pause and remind yourself about how many years you “didn’t get it.” Extend the kind of grace to your pastor you would want extended to you, if the shoe were on the other foot.
There’s More to Pastoring than Evangelism
While every pastor should be engaged in personal evangelism, and while every pastor should teach, encourage and model evangelism for his flock, evangelism is but one entree on a pastor’s very full ministerial plate. Prayer, study, sermon prep, preaching, counseling, visiting, comforting, consoling, correcting, disciplining, shepherding his own family: the list of pastoral activities and responsibilities goes on and on. In most churches in the United States, there is one man doing all or most of these activities. He is likely putting in 80-90 hours a week.
This is important to note: sometimes the sheep bite. That’s right. Sheep (Christians) can be stubborn, rebellious, stiff-necked, whining, sniveling, needy, selfish, disobedient, lazy, unteachable people. And the under-shepherd, like the Good Shepherd, loves his flock not because of who they are, but in spite of who they are.
Keep in mind that your pastor, no matter how much vim and vigor he shows from day-to-day, is likely a tired man. He probably loves the work. He was called to do it. But he probably burns the candle at both ends, with one end of the candle being ministry and the other end of the candle being his family life–two ends that never seem far apart, with each end effecting the other.
Before you approach your pastor about what you believe the church should be doing in its evangelistic efforts, remember there is more to pastoral ministry than evangelism.
A Bad Taste in Your Pastor’s Mouth
“Confrontational Evangelism;” “Cold Evangelism;” “Shock and Awe;” “Turn and Burn;” “Sign Guy;” “Bullhorn Guy.” The first time you mention the terms “street evangelism” or “open-air preaching” to your pastor, he may have the before-mentioned terms run through his head. He is likely more familiar with the awful caricatures of street evangelism and open-air preaching than he is with the grand and beautiful, biblical and post-apostolic representations of street evangelism and open-air preaching. With bad open-air preachers flooding YouTube with their videos and making messes legitimate evangelists and Christian students have to later clean up on university campuses, it’s no wonder your pastor might be hesitant, wary, and skeptical about bringing street evangelism and open-air preaching into the church.
Your pastor’s wariness and hesitation is NOT necessarily a sign of indifference toward or taking a position against street evangelism and open-air preaching. If your pastor is truly a man of God (and why would you sit under his teaching if he wasn’t), then he wants to reach the lost with the gospel, probably more than you do. You are obligated, out of love and respect for your pastor, to give him the benefit of the doubt. You must presume the best about your pastor and not assume the worst. So, before you approach your pastor with your new-found evangelistic zeal, keep in mind he might have a bad taste in his mouth from his exposure to the brand of evangelism about which you are now so excited.
Don’t play mind games with your pastor. Be straightforward, respectful, kind, considerate, submissive, and loving toward him. Tell your pastor that you’ve been reading or watching videos about evangelism and that you would like to talk to him about it.
Don’t email your pastor! Call the man! The pen (or keyboard) is mightier than the sword, but it can be an assault with a deadly weapon if you wield it in the wrong way, with the wrong motives. Better yet, pull him aside after church (not before). You don’t want to distract him before he steps into the pulpit.
Do you have any idea how many people leave the church, quit the church, via a “Dear John” emails to the pastor? Do you have any idea how many times a pastor’s heart (maybe your pastor’s heart) has been crushed by reading an email from a member of the flock? Do you have any idea how many times a pastor’s heart has sank when he opens an email hoping for a word of encouragement, but expecting something else, and slumps in his chair as he reads, “Pastor, you and I need to have a talk?”
But email is faster. And? So? Do you email your wife or your kids to tell them you want to have a talk with them? Or do you simply talk to them? And what makes your timetable sacrosanct? Calm down. Take a deep breath. The world will continue to turn on its axis. You’ve walked in disobedience toward Christ for years, yet no one went to heaven or hell as a result.
That’s right. No one goes to heaven or hell based on your evangelistic efforts or lack thereof. You do not save anyone. You do not sentence anyone. You are not sovereign. You are not even necessary. God is sovereign. Salvation is of the Lord. While He doesn’t need you to complete His salvific work in another person’s life, He commands you to love Him by keeping His commands. He commands you to love other people by sharing the gospel and making disciples out of them. Evangelism is not about results or effectiveness based on man-centered standards of success. Evangelism is about the two greatest commandments–loving God and loving people.
Make no mistake. I am not proffering a sinful and unbiblical brand of hyper-calvinistic non-evangelism. Not at all. Every Christian is commanded by God, in His Word to engage in evangelism, to make disciples, to proclaim the gospel to every human being, to fulfill the Great Commission. But God’s predetermined, sovereign plan for every human being has not been, is not, and never will be thwarted by your disobedience. So, stop thinking so highly of yourself, slow down, be patient, and talk to your pastor.
When you approach your pastor, don’t hand him a book or a DVD. Don’t hand him anything. Ask to arrange a time, maybe over coffee or lunch (your treat, not the pastor’s) to meet and talk. Assure your pastor that you don’t have any bad news to share with him. Assure him that you do not want to talk about his shortcomings and how he could do a better job pastoring the church. In other words, put his mind at ease by assuring him you don’t have a bomb to drop on him.
Tell your pastor you’ve been reading, watching, or studying about evangelism and that you would like to talk to him about it. If your evangelistic lamp was plugged in and turned on by reading any one of several good books or videos about evangelism, tell your pastor. Give him the title of the book or the video. Leave nothing to speculation. Show your pastor the respect of letting him come into the meeting fully informed and not anticipating any surprises from you.
The ball is now in your pastor’s court. Your job is to pray and to wait patiently and quietly for your pastor to get back to you with a time and place for the meeting, if he doesn’t give you one on the spot, when you first approach him.
The First Meeting
Before the meeting, pick up a copy of the book or DVD you would like him to read or watch. Do this with the understanding that if your pastor is a man who studies to show himself approved, studies to make sure he is rightly handling and dividing the Word of God, then he is probably already doing a lot of reading. A lot of reading. Also keep in mind that you are not the only member of the church to hand your pastor something to read or watch. It may take time, a long time, before your pastor even gets to the resource you hand him, let alone finish it, think about it and its implications for the church, pray about it, and get back to you. This is true in sound, small churches as well as the mega-church whose pastor’s sermons you listen to every day.
Do not drop the book in front of your pastor and say, “This is it pastor. This is what our church is missing. We’ve all been disobedient and unloving. We’re not sharing the gospel the way Jesus did. We need to change things now, right away, so we don’t create any more false converts. And have you ever stopped to think how many false converts might be in our church right now?”
I recommend, before ever handing your pastor the book or DVD that you spend some time talking to your pastor about, of all things, your pastor. Find out how he’s doing. What is he studying or reading? How is his family? How can you pray for him? And this must not be mere superficiality and preliminaries before getting to the main topic. Care for your pastor enough to spend some time talking to your pastor about your pastor’s life. Minister to him, for a change.
Let the pastor lead and direct the conversation. When he’s ready to talk about the subject you want to address, he’ll let you know. When the time comes, give your pastor his copy of the resource you want to share with him. Explain to him how the resource has impacted you. Ask your pastor to take the time to look it over–not for the purpose of tearing down and rebuilding the church, but to make sure what you’re reading and watching is indeed biblical. As your shepherd, he should have a healthy and biblical concern for what his sheep are eating when they are outside the four walls of the church.
Answer whatever questions your pastor may have, and leave it at that. Make no further requests. Don’t give any veiled or direct ultimatums. Don’t ask you pastor to commit to a day or time when he will finish his review of the resource.
Be patient. Wait. And pray.
If you have not heard back from your pastor in a reasonable amount of time (no, not the next day), give your pastor a call. If he says he hasn’t been able to get to it yet, don’t chastise him. Instead, ask him if there is anything you can do to serve him. Ask if there is more you can do around the church.
Be patient. Wait. And pray.
The culture of a church, in any area of ministry, does not change over night. This is especially true in older (not necessarily larger), more established churches. For better or for worse, there is a “we’ve never done it that way before” mindset in many churches. It could take time, a long time, before your church makes any real and appreciable changes in direction regarding evangelism, if they do at all. And you must also be willing to consider how your church sets out to reach the lost with the gospel may not be wrong. It may simply be different than the new way you want to go about it.
When NOT to Leave the Church
Does your pastors/elders stand in the pulpit and herald the authentic gospel of Jesus Christ? Are they doing their best to teach the Word of God? Are they faithful to the text of Scripture? Are the ordinances of baptism and communion conducted in a way that brings honor and glory to Jesus Christ? Are your pastors/elders diligent to guard the flock, promote biblical unity, and lead the church in the ministries of fellowship, care, discipline, and discipleship? Then the issue of your pastors/elders not agreeing with you philosophically about how the church should engage in evangelism is not a biblical reason for leaving your church.
“So, what do I do?”
Stay. Serve. Submit to your elders. Love the brethren. Do evangelism in keeping with the convictions God has given you, as you study His Word and grow in your faith.
Do not be contentious. Do not be factious. Do not try to pit the congregation against the elders, or elders against other elders. All such works are ungodly and of the devil. Repent of even the thought of them.
“But Tony, you left.”
Yes, I did. Recently, I left Faith Community Church to seek membership at Grace Community Church. Mahria and I will receive the right hand of fellowship, as new member, on Sunday, April 6. I left because after 18 months of discussion and prayer with my elders, my elders affirmed my call to serve Christ as an open-air preacher. But because that particular form of evangelism is not in keeping with the church’s philosophy for evangelism, they suggested I look to serve in a church where open-air preaching is affirmed by the leadership. The parting was sorrowful, but loving. I remain friends with the people at Faith Community and I recommend Faith Community to anyone living in the area who is looking for a Christ-centered, Bible-believing, Bible-teaching church.
I left Faith Community Church in a biblical way. Had I not, Grace Community church would not receive me as a member.
Approaching your pastor with questions about the church’s philosophy of ministry regarding evangelism is important. How you approach your pastor is even more important. Love your pastor. Respect your pastor. Serve your pastor. Submit to your pastor’s authority, both in the church and in your life as a member of the congregation. Help your pastor understand your position. Don’t threaten your pastor in a sinful attempt to force your pastor to see things your way.
Remember, the goal is to see your church be as biblical and pro-active as they can be in evangelism. That will look different from one church to the next. Don’t expect everyone in your church to think like you and be like you when it comes to evangelism. Work to have the form of evangelism in which you want to engage be grafted in to the church’s overall philosophy for evangelistic ministry. Don’t lose sight of the fact that the Body of Christ is made up of different parts–hands, feet, etc.–different parts that need the others to function properly, for the glory of Christ.