Evangelism, the church, and you

The outward facing relationship of the church to the world should involve evangelism and pursuit of biblical justice in society. The church is made up of people. What is the relationship which the people in the church have to that broader vision? While the church corporate must be evangelistic and pursuing justice, it is important to realize that each follower of Jesus ought to be evangelistic in their relationship to the world.

Evangelism as a church

The church ought to be evangelistic. If a church gathered is not engaging with the core truths of the gospel regularly and does not have concern for the spiritual welfare of the community it is in, then there’s big problems. The church, as a body of gathered followers of Jesus, ought to be evangelistic.

That means preaching and teaching on gospel truths. That means having programs and activities which are open to people who need the gospel. That means praying for people to put their lives into submission to Jesus. That means all this and more. The church needs to be evangelistic.

Personal evangelism

And the people in the church need to be evangelistic. It is great to be an evangelistic church and our church has lots of room to grow in that. But if we identify the responsibility for evangelism with just the church, we run into a significant practical issue: people who need to be evangelized almost never come to church.

Whatever else we talk and debate about regarding different ways the church should engage with non-churched people and be evangelistic, this practical issue is an issue. There was a day and time in the past when people flocked to massive evangelistic crusades (think Billy Graham), when people would come to evangelistic events at churches, and when people not associated with a church would come into the church with reasonable frequency. Evangelistic crusades and events were fine and good and God did some amazing work through some of those movements and efforts. But the simple pragmatic reality is that today that’s not happening.

Regardless of what we wish were happening, more often than not people aren’t coming to church. We’re a small enough congregation so that it’s pretty obvious when you look around that not a whole lot of new people show up with great regularity.

No matter how evangelistic we are as a church gathered, we have this simple and practical problem that that people needing to be evangelized aren’t showing up. Of course, there may be things we can do and ways we can change to encourage people to come. And those are concerns to pray over. But the fundamental issue remains that for most unchurched and non-churched people, going to church is a non-priority.

If the people around us are going to be reached, they need a point of contact. That point of contact is unlikely to be an advertisement for a church service. It is unlikely to be a neat social media marketing campaign, and it is unlikely to be a mass-mailing. Even though those efforts all are commendable. The most likely point of contact which may jar someone out of spiritual apathy is…you!

What to do

Living evangelistically is harder than not living evangelistically—which is why so many of us do it so little of the time. But it does not have to be that different. Here are a couple ideas:

  1. Pray (and read Scripture). The power for proclaiming the good news of Jesus ultimately comes from God. Nothing better directs and equips our hearts towards evangelism than consistent prayer. Pick a few people or groups and pray regularly that God will give you opportunities to point others to Jesus.
  2. Invite people to church. Sure, many people may not come, and inviting people to church is not the only part of evangelizing, but it is a worthwhile thing to do. Invite people to church events—Pioneer Club, winter reading challenge, picnics, etc. These are a chance to make a connection that may last.
  3. Go out to where people are. Where are you connecting with people in your life? What do you already do? What do you enjoy doing? Who are you connecting with doing what you do? People are more likely to connect with you rather than with the church. You can be a gateway and a guide to bring people in, to share truths, to teach people the basics about God. That can happen when you are with other people doing what you already do.

Moving forward

I don’t have the gift of foresight, but my assumption is that there is not going to be a time in the near future where lots of people in the community will one day decide, “Let’s all go to church.” The evidence suggests that more and more people are concluding, “Let’s not go to church.” To minister to the world around us is going to require more than just being present and having the church building here and open. That is a great starting point. But unless and until we take it upon ourselves to bring gospel hope to where it is needed, it is not going to get there.

“how then will they call on him and whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10.14)

The church and the hope of the world

On the off-ramp from the Christmas season, reflect on Christmas and hope. Christmas is a season of hope. The season where we remember the hope of the world. And that’s refreshing.

In a discouraging time recently, hearing about someone I knew who has done damage to the church, I heard a message of hope. A message noting that the church is not the hope of the world; Jesus is. The church exists to be a witness to the hope of the world, even when that witness is imperfect.

The church as a stained sign

There’s a lot going on and there’s been a lot going on in the church. By the church, I mean First Baptist Church, yes, but more broadly the church gathered within we’ll just say America. This last year has been a rough one when it comes to negative news (most often justly deserved) about many churches, Christian leaders, and Christian institutions. Institutions which aim to point towards Jesus, yet in the same gesture ended up pointing toward fallenness.

There’s ample evidence and testimony that the church fails in many ways. That people within the church fail in many ways. That the church presents a very disunited front to the world regarding social issues, political questions, and even often on questions of morality and ethics.

At best, the church is a stained sign.

Hope beyond the church (and through it)

But this Christmas season I am reminded to be hopeful. I’m reminded to be hopeful because hope is not found in the church. Hope is found in the church’s savior. Jesus is hope Incarnate come to the world.

And so as the church wrestles with all kinds of issues—sexual abuse, abuse of power and prestige, how to deal with charismatic leaders who lead for their own good rather than the good of the church, the quest to stay in control, infighting (and outfighting), the role of the church in nationalistic visions, with this that and the other thing—we can at least take hope and remembering that the church isn’t God’s salvation program.

The church is not the hope.

The church is a testament to the multifaceted wisdom of God (Ephesians 3.10-12).

The church is a testament to God’s grace.

And the church is woefully and sadly imperfect.

We could dwell on those imperfections forever and never run out of faults to highlight how the church today and in the past fails at living up to its mandate of being like Christ. We could point to so many ways where the church, and the people in the church, profess to know and follow Christ and yet live lives that run against the grain of who Christ is and what he did. Indeed, it takes very little creativity, insight, or effort to come up with ways that the church and people within the church fail.

And that’s sad. And it’s appropriate to be sad over the failures in the church. And yet, we must remember that the church is not Jesus; Jesus is not the church. While Jesus and the church are intimately related and God deeply cares about the church being like Christ, in the final analysis, the church and Jesus are not the same. The church is saved by Jesus. The church is rescued by Jesus. The church is founded upon Jesus.

Jesus is the hope…and the church needs to grow

This Christmas season, I’m reminded that it’s not in the end my responsibility to explain or atone for or justify the various failures and struggles in the church. Jesus came to take care of that. That is far to heavy a burden for me, or anyone else to lift.

This Christmas season, I’m reminded that it is my responsibility to follow Jesus, to walk upright, to pursue godliness, in short, to live in the hope which Jesus brings so that hope is evident to everyone in the world. We might say, it is our responsibility to try to not add more stains to the church than it already has. But remembering that a stainless church—if that could even be achieved—is not the hope of the world; Jesus is.