Monday, August 13, 2018


Enemies of Evangelism 10

diminish-discouragement-800X800One of the problems with developing a soul winning church is getting people over their natural resistance to being an active witness, but once that is accomplished it is not all smooth sailing. Often, in my experience, the devil will throw as many obstacles as he possibly can in the way of the personal soul winner or the soul winning church. He knows he does not have the power to overcome God, but if he can get God’s people discouraged he can get them to quit in frustration what they started with such high hopes.

One of the saddest statements to hear from the lips of a Christian is, “Oh, I used to do that.” They used to help in a Sunday School class, they used to sing in the choir, they used to go soul winning, etc. Sometimes sin gets in and they backslide. Sometimes false doctrine gets in, and they reject what they used to hold as precious. But sometimes it is just as simple as the fact they got discouraged and quit.

This is not a new problem. You can see this in the biblical mentions about how hard it is to find faithfulness in people. Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth: for the faithful fail from among the children of men. (Psalm 12.1) A faithful man who can find? (Proverbs 20.6) Faithfulness is so valued that is both explicitly required and specifically rewarded. It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful. (I Corinthians 4.2) Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things. (Matthew 25.21) Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. (Revelation 2.10) In fact, faithfulness is included as a prerequisite for those who are dealing with other people in the Lord’s work. The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men. (II Timothy 2.2) I think one of the reasons this is required is because working with people is often very discouraging.

Many a Christian has started out on fire for God and ready to charge hell with a squirt gun only to peter out after a while when things did not turn out as successfully as they hoped and planned. So how can we defeat that? Obviously, we can, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the available grace of God, but are there specific things we can think or not think, or specific ways we can approach evangelism that will minimize the potential for us to get discouraged and thus quit?

Yes, there are. I offer you three of them. First, we ought to becoming-aware-of-and-doing-God's-willmake obedience rather than pragmatism our foundation.

In the 1970s, the independent Baptist movement had the biggest, most “successful” churches in the country. Consequently, many pastors led their churches to copy the methods that apparently built those big churches – a well-organized Sunday School, a bus ministry, a Christian school, and door to door soul winning. Fast forward three of four decades and the contemporary evangelicals had the biggest, most “successful” churches in the country. Consequently, many pastors led their churches to copy the methods that apparently built those churches – a casual atmosphere, contemporary Christian music, and little to no confrontation in preaching. If the first one was good because it worked in the 1970s then the second is right because it works now. That is pragmatism, the idea that something is good or bad depending upon whether it works. And it is atrociously corrosive to genuine spirituality.

I talk to lots of pastors. Do you know what I hear most often from them about why their churches do not go soul winning? “It doesn’t work anymore.” Their foundation was pragmatic. Ergo, when soul winning did not seem to be working as well as before, to build their churches they got discouraged and replaced it with some new method that they think works better. In my humble opinion, nigh on an entire generation of independent Baptist pastors missed the boat. They sold confrontational soul winning to their people pragmatically, and when it stopped “working” they gave it up.

Beloved, that is the wrong foundation. We do not evangelize because it works; we evangelize because we are commanded to do so. (Mark 16.15) There is not a single verse in the Bible that says, in essence, “go witness so that your church will get bigger.” Scriptural success is not church growth; scriptural success is obedience.

In so saying and so building, much of the underlying cause for discouragement in soul winning is eliminated. If we are not witnessing in order to see our church grow we will not stop witnessing when our church fails to grow. If we do not set out to do it because it works we will not stop when it does not work. Rather, if we set out to be obedient to Christ’s commands to get out the gospel we can stay motivated whatever the result may or may not be.

man-light-structure-auditorium-floor-subway-gym-backstage-interior-design-stage-empty-room-tourist-attraction-screenshot-sport-venue-112248Second, we ought to let God answer the question, “Where are they all?”

One of the great attacks hurled at soul winning churches is this line. After all, if you are really reaching all of the people you say your church is reaching how come you have not become the biggest church in the world by now? Thus, they attack soul winning as invalid since it does not produce measurable, visible results.

I have already paid my respects in this blog series to sloppy soul winning. I am not for chasing numbers or gettin’ ya’ one. But neither am I for the unbalanced position in the ditch on the other side of the road, that soul winning churches and ministries are unscriptural in their approach if they are not big as a direct result.

There is a good response to the criticism, “Where are they all?”. It begins by realizing that Jesus had the same problem. In Luke 17 he cleansed ten lepers. "Cleansed" is the Bible word there, not “healed.” Were they healed? Of course, but it went deeper than physical healing. Leprosy was a type of sin, and they were cleansed as a result of their faith, their physical healing thus resembling their spiritual healing. All ten were cleansed yet what did Jesus say? Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? The other nine were just as cleansed, just as saved as the one, but only one showed any visible spiritual progress up to that point.

This is all of a piece with the entire arc of Jesus’ ministry. I have spent a thousand hours studying the life of Christ. On a graph it looks like a bell curve – anonymity, attention, following, a mass movement, and then a frittering away until at the end just a handful remained. If your position is that a person must immediately, visibly, and continually pursue Christ in order to actually be saved your position is both un-Christlike and unbiblical.

The mistake here is to making a measurable result your aim when obedience ought to be your aim. Who’s job is it to convict the sinner and bring him to Christ? The Holy Spirit’s. Who’s job is it to transform that man’s life into a shining testimony of the grace of God? The Holy Spirit’s. All I am going to do is frustrate myself mightily if I try to do that job. My aim, the foundation of my approach, must be one of simple obedience combined with a willingness to let Him take care of the results – or lack thereof. “Where are they all?” In God’s care, that is where.

secrets-of-the-vine_t_ntThird, we must remember in due season. (Galatians 6.9)

If I plant tomatoes in May and expect a crop the first week of June I am going to get really discouraged. The Word of God plainly tells us that there are seasons of fruitfulness in relation to witnessing and other seasons that seem more barren. But that on good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience. (Luke 8.15) Sometimes you will work and work and work and work – and nothing. Another guy will come along and suddenly everything clicks. Was he spiritual and you were not? Was he good and you were bad? Not necessarily. I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. (I Corinthians 3.6)

Discouragement comes when I look at someone else who is getting results when I do not seem to be getting any. Beloved, results are not the point, results are not up to me, and results do not show up on my timetable. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. The results will show up; I am promised that. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. (Psalm 126.6) But who says that will be visible in my lifetime? Sometimes they are, but sometimes they are not? Sometimes I get to see the fruit and enjoy it, but other times I do not. And if it is the latter I simply must remember the season of blessing and seeing is coming eventually.

When you carry the burden of results with you discouragement comes sooner and deeper, and often brings you to give it all up. Stop worrying about what happens. Just go. Go carefully. Go thoroughly. Go scripturally. But just go. And just keep going. And let God take care of the rest.

Monday, August 6, 2018

King of Apathy

Enemies of Evangelism 9

Note: Today's blog post is by Austin Gardner, pastor of Vision Baptist Church in Alpharetta, Georgia. We connected after he had read something I had written. A former missionary, his church currently operates a vigorous missions training program. I do not know of a man more passionate about getting the gospel out in this generation.

Elisha is about to die, so King Joash visits the old prophet. Joash has respected him as a man of God and wants some final counsel as Syria is oppressing Israel, he also wants a blessing.

Elisha tells King Joash that he has a message from God and asks Joash to take his bow and shoot an arrow out of the window. Elisha placed his hands on Joash's hands, stating that this is the arrow of deliverance for Joash and Israel.
Joash Shoots the Arrow of the Lord's
Deliverance (1844)
by William Dyce

Elisha then asks King Joash to take the arrows in his hand and to strike the ground. Joash, half-heartedly, hits the ground three times and stops. If Joash had not been so apathetic towards the Word of God, he would have struck the ground five or six times. His apathy angered Elisha. Israel would defeat Syria only three times; they would not be completely destroyed. Israel would lose because of Joash's indifference.

Elisha is angry because of the apathy exhibited by Joash, whose indifference may be rooted in the fact that he believed wrongly. Possibly, he felt that these were the ravings of a crazy old man. Likely, he had not paid attention to the Word of God, only half listening as Elisha spoke. Maybe, he was there only out of courtesy, not thinking that this meeting might be a very important one. Therefore, he was laid back and waiting to finish the obligatory visit.

3544056862_90c487c036In most of our churches today, we see the same apathy: very few show up for outreach, visitation, or soul winning; most do not share the gospel with their family, friends, colleagues or anyone else for that matter. The pastor and staff urge people to take action, but they are unwilling. Our people do not seem to feel responsible for the eternal destiny of the lost. There is little to no concern. This apathy breaks our hearts as pastors and spiritual leaders.

What causes good, godly, people to be so unconcerned? What can be done to alleviate the problem? There is a lost world dying and going to hell but, we remain unmoved.

I place before you some reasons for the apathy we feel and see exhibited in our churches. With each reason, there are suggestions on how to fix the situation. We do not seem to feel the urgency to win souls or send missionaries, nor are our churches consumed with getting the gospel out to the world. Could it be that misunderstood doctrines, miserable doubt, and mistaken direction are root causes of the apathy we so desperately hate?

1. Misunderstood Doctrines

Our people have misunderstood many doctrines. They have fallen prey to skepticism, universalism, and fatalism. They do not realize this is happening, but it plays out in the way they live their lives and in our ministries. Let me explain what I believe is happening:

a. Skepticism: consider the following quote by A. T. Pierson: “Behind the shameful apathy and lethargy of the church, that allows one thousand million...human beings to go to their graves in ignorance of the Gospel, there lies a practical doubt, if not denial, of their lost condition.”

The apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit states in Romans 12:2 that we are not to be conformed to this world. The idea of being conformed to this world is that of being pressed into its mold. We accept what we hear on the news as truth; as a result, our doctrines, beliefs, and teachings are formed from our culture instead of from the Word of God.

Amongst our people, many doubt that there is a real, literal hell. They ask questions such as: will God send people to hell for eternity? Will they really spend forever suffering? God loves people, he would never allow that to happen.

In our tolerant society, people may be moved more by the secular media than by the Holy Scripture; consequently, they may agree more with their neighbor than with God. Though we have heard it preached and taught that there is only one way to God, is that enough for our tolerant society? Can there be only one way? Do people have to believe the way that I do to go to heaven and escape hell?

b. Universalism is more believed than we would like to admit.

As Karl Barth said in the Humanity of God “This much is certain, that we have no theological right to set any sort of limits to the loving-kindness of God which has appeared in Jesus Christ. Our theological duty is to see and understand it as being still greater than we had seen before.”

People often believe in the back of their minds that God will somehow fix everything. God is just too good to let anyone go to hell. If there is life after death, God will take care of everyone. All roads indeed do lead to Rome.

c. Fatalism is another doctrine or teaching that I believe AgonyApathy5causes apathy. No Christian leader would ever admit to fatalism. The doctrine might be called sovereignty, Calvinism, or something else but it causes many to think that "whatever will be will be whether it is or is not!"

Fatalism says that God will save who He will. He planned it before the foundation of the world and being Almighty, nothing can be done to change it. If it is all predetermined, then there will be nothing that I can do to make a difference: I cannot change my hard-headed friends nor family members.

2. Miserable Doubt causes apathy. Many Christians believe that they are inadequate, they fear getting insulted, and they are spiritually insecure.

a. Inadequate because they doubt that God will use them. They believe that others are called and chosen to witness. They feel that they are not gifted in the area of evangelism or soul winning. They would witness or go as a missionary if God called them, but they do not feel that He has done so. They feel powerless to convince others. They feel like the heavy hitters should be the soul winners; that is, the missionaries and the preachers.

b. Most fear getting insulted. Our people are afraid of what others will think of them. Being rejected by a friend is more frightening than disobeying God. Some believe that their friend may get offended and then he will never be saved. For these reasons, they have no desire to be confrontational.

c. Most Christians live in spiritual insecurity. They would like to see someone get saved but do not know how to make that happen. They know that God can save, but they do not understand how they can be part of His plan; others do not have the confidence to push their beliefs on others. They wish they had the boldness and gifting of the pastor, preacher or missionary, but that is not the case.

3. Mistaken direction is the last cause of apathy that we will discuss. This one hurts the preacher, pastor, or leader the most. So here I go pointing the finger at myself.

a. First, there is often a lack of preaching on soul winning or missions. We want our people to participate, we announce scheduled events; but in all honesty, we do little to train them. The idea that God can use them without them being the special anointed ones should be preached. The fact that they do not need a special call should regularly be explained. The needs of "lost" people should be held up in front of them regularly.

b. Then there is what I want to call a little pretense. We tell our people that they are saved by grace but then use our pulpits to bully them to do things, or tell them that God doesn't love them like He would and could. We invite lost people to salvation by grace and then throw on a yoke of bondage. We manipulate them, put guilt trips on them to get them to go soul winning! We have robbed them of the privilege and put them under the obligation. This causes apathy.

c. Low preaching or not preaching the beauty of God hurts our cause and breeds apathy. We can be hard, mean and offend people. People are afraid to invite their friends to church, because they may get insulted or hurt. Isn't he gospel supposed to be the "good news"?

It is one thing to offend them with their need for salvation but another to mock their sin or condition. We often preach politics and opinions more than salvation and service. I feel like we have lowered our preaching and ourselves when we do that. The pastor needs to be filled with the Spirit and bursting at the seams with the truth of the gospel. They must see real heartfelt passion backed up by Biblical truth.

voter-apathy-yndont-know-dont-careLet me give a few solutions to consider:

1. Take them on mission's trips and let them see the lost and what the world does to those that do not know Jesus.

2. Take your people on a field trip:

a. Take them to a high place over your city and pray for lost souls.

b. Take them to the cemetery and show them the graves. Preach to them that some of those are in hell suffering for eternity.

3. Preach the Bible verse by verse so that they learn the great truths of the Bible.

4. Drop the threats and manipulation.

5. Set the example as we go ourselves and share the gospel.

6. Have a testimony time in the evening services where people can share their attempts at sharing the gospel.

7. Make sure gospel tracts are available.

8. Remember you get what you look for, what you praise, what you honor, and what you expect.

9. Make it all an exciting event, not a dreaded part of their life and ministry.

10. Have people share their testimonies of salvation.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Irresponsible Evangelism

Enemies of Evangelism 8

Let the servant of the Lord Jesus in this thing follow his Master, and plough deep with a sharp ploughshare, which will not be baulked by the hardest clods. This we must school ourselves to do. If we really love the souls of men, let us prove it by honest speech. The hard heart must be broken, or it will still refuse the Saviour who was sent to bind up the broken-hearted. There are some things which men may or may not have, and yet may be saved; but those things which go with the ploughing of the heart are indispensable; therecarl-larsson-plowing-ca-early-1900s-wikipaintings must be a holy fear and a humble trembling before God, there must be an acknowledgment of guilt and a penitent petition for mercy; there must, in a word, be a thorough ploughing of the soul before we can expect the seed to bring forth fruit.

-C. H. Spurgeon

Witnessing is a wonderful thing. It is obedience in work clothes. It is an evidence of a genuine compassion for the lost. It carries with it the potential to rescue a soul from hell and to completely change the earthly, as well as the eternal destiny of a life. But witnessing that is poorly done is hurtful to the cause of Christ.

Thirty-one years ago, I went to my father and asked him to teach me how to witness to the lost. I have been soul winning on a regular basis for the entirety of the three decades since. In that time, I have seen countless people join the soul-winning ranks for a time only to leave them a little while later. Some quit soul winning because they discover that it is hard work. Some quit because they never learn how to conquer their fear. Others give up in discouragement. Still others become backslidden, spiritual casualties. But many of the people who initially began to witness with great enthusiasm and zeal drop out because they became disenchanted with the sloppy soul winning they saw around them.

The overreaction of a man who stops soul winning because he thinks others do it poorly is not right. It does, however, happen and happen often. Irresponsible evangelism not only badly damages the sinner, but it also damages the cause so dear to the soul winner's heart – personal evangelism.

I do not question the boldness of irresponsible soul winners. Indeed, their aggressive take-no-prisoners approach has much to recommend it. As Paul, I covet your prayers so that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel. (Ephesians 6.19) But boldness alone is not enough to overcome the errors of irresponsible evangelism.

Acts 18 tells us the story a bold and eloquent man named Apollos. And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly. And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace: For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publickly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ. Apollos was bold, but boldness without careful and thorough accuracy is damaging.

In this sense, Apollos reminds me of the pharisaic Judaizers Paul dealt with in Romans 10. Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.
Like those Jews, Apollos had great zeal and boldness. I am sure his motivations were only the best. But his applied zeal was pointing people toward the wrong solution. In this case, Apollos referenced John the Baptist, who directed Israel toward faith in a generic coming messiah, but not to Jesus as that Messiah specifically. In so doing, Apollos was not helping people nearly as much as he thought he was nor was he helping his own cause. In a very real sense, by pointing people to John's concept, he ran the risk of inoculating them from being willing to transition that general faith in a coming messiah into a specific faith in Jesus as the Christ. Apollos was also weakening the church, in general; for a church must be built specifically and pointedly around Jesus Christ Himself.

I like bold soul winners. However, I do not like bold soul winners who witness without careful attention to detail and without a painstaking commitment to a thorough explanation of the Gospel.

Likewise, I do not generally question the motive of careless soul winners, either. Such people entertain an overwhelming desire to get people out of Hell. Others want to see their chosen ministry or church expand. Oh, I am sure some are motivated by pride, by a desire to be seen as a master soul winner, et al, but such immaturity is rather uncommon in the average church. Yet even those with exclusively good motivations for witnessing are not protected from wreaking spiritual havoc. Peter had a wonderful motivation when he pulled out his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane but his methods left much to be desired.

Just because you are bold in your witness does not mean you are correct. Just because you are motivated scripturally in your witness does not mean you are on target. Zeal without knowledge makes grievous mistakes.

51QNCszgykL._SY445_QL70_For example, consider those who use salesmanship to manipulate people into a profession of faith. I have some acquaintance with that vocation, having made my living at various times selling knives, cemetery property, insurance, and cars. I held the importance of keeping a positive mental attitude. I set goals and hit them. I am familiar with the Socratic Method. I bought into the idea that "no" really means "I need some more information." I know how to talk a man into a decision and out of his money even when it is not in his best interests. But high pressure tactics in the spiritual realm usually produce nothing more than statistics.

One of the churches I attended years ago decided to try to replicate the day of Pentecost. As you know, three thousand people were saved and baptized on that day. Our church decided to do the same. My little part in this mission was to take an empty bus to the worst projects in town. I was to fill it up and drive to the church with fifty or so unsaved young people. I was to deliver these young people to a rented sports arena where the preacher would give a salvation message. Before returning the kids to the bus and thus to home, we were instructed to ensure that all of these young people were baptized after the invitation had been given.

Imagine for a moment the scene. Thousands of people unused to church were crammed into a building not acoustically designed for church. The average worker to rider ratio was about one to thirty. The service stayed just this side of pandemonium only with the help of frequent promises of cash prizes. At the invitation, all the people were instructed to repeat the sinner's prayer after the preacher. From the pulpit, instructions were given to the workers to herd their charges toward the swimming pools for baptism. I duly tried for thirty minutes before giving up and taking my increasingly restive group back to the projects.

Later that evening after all the activities of the day were over, the pastor of the church solemnly opened an envelope. To a cacophony of cheering and shouting, he told us that we had baptized more than three thousand people that day. Then turning to a guest speaker on the platform he said, "And all of these people were dealt with one on one out of an open Bible."

I sat there stunned in my seat. I was not stunned by the number but by the assertion that all of this was done carefully. The pastor was either lying or ignorant of how it really went down. I choose to believe the latter. Did those people – whom I never saw before and would never see again – hear the Gospel? Yes. The preaching was plain and clear. But the service was mass chaos, there was zero actual conversational give-and-take to ensure understanding, and the mass assent was primed and impersonal.

I have literally seen soul winners place their feet inside a foot-in-the-doordoor so as to prevent the homeowner from closing it. I have seen others simply read a tract word for word with no effort to ensure an adequate understanding. I have heard soul winners flail around their New Testament hunting for the next verse with no plan or apparent organized method behind their madness. I have heard soul winners complain that it took the ungodly sum of fifteen minutes in order to get a crowd of teenagers to pray.

Is it any wonder that independent Baptists are routinely attacked for these things?
"Where are they all?"
"You're just pluckin' green fruit."
"Oh, that's just easy believism."
"Numbers are all you guys are after."
"That's just 1-2-3-pray-after-me nonsense."

I have heard all of these criticisms more times than I care to count. Such criticisms are essentially incorrect. Each of them has a valid answer. None of these criticisms are valid reasons to give up on personal evangelism. But can we blame those who hurl them at us? We are so often guilty of dealing carelessly and hastily with the never dying souls in front of us. May God forgive us!

In so doing, not only have we damaged those whom we have dealt with in such a negligent manner, but we have also damaged the very concept of evangelism itself. Evangelism is or at least ought to be the heartbeat of the church. But many a Christian and many a church has looked at such methods as I have described and said, "Well, if that's evangelism, I want no part of it." In their self-righteous overreaction, they throw the baby out with the bathwater and embrace some hollow excuse for their own lack of witnessing. All the while, they are blaming us.

Four years after the special evangelism day I described above, we were tasked with doing something similar again. This time I had a little more pull. I set up my own system so as to ensure the results would be entirely different. Yes, I filled up an empty bus in the projects. But I recruited many more workers so our ratio was about one to three instead of one to thirty. On the way to church I had those workers carefully rotate through the seats. Their job was first to ensure that these people had not already made a profession of faith. I had no interest in "saving" people twice in order to drive up my numbers. Following that, they carefully went through the plan of salvation in very small groups. They were instructed to ask for understanding after each step. They were instructed to ask questions at the end to verify comprehension. Lastly, they were told to emphasize that repeating a prayer would get no one into Heaven if there was no heart belief behind the verbal profession. Following all of this, the service – which was in a much smaller venue with a much larger worker base – was almost an anticlimax. I personally talked to each person that rode my bus who made a profession of faith, verifying their understanding along with their willingness to be baptized. I do not remember how many people were saved and baptized on that occasion, but God gave us a wonderful day.

Fast forward with me twenty years. An independent Baptist pastor friend of mine in Iowa has completely rejected personal evangelism. In fact, he openly speaks out against it. Not coincidentally, he was in attendance on the first day I described above. On the other hand, an independent Baptist pastor friend of mine in New Mexico promotes personal evangelism. He has led his church to be a soul- winning church. He was also in attendance on the first day I described above, but in addition, he was in attendance on the second day, as well. I remember he came up to me afterward and asked for a word in private. He shared with me how much he was dreading the day due to his previous experiences and how blessed he was to see the day done conscientiously and well.

I could repeat these two pastoral examples with hundreds of names. So many people who used to embrace the wonderful independent Baptist emphasis on personal evangelism have walked away from it. And it is our own fault.

Beloved, let us prepare carefully. Let us take our time – all the time that is needed and more. Let us reject the easy temptation of manipulation, and seek instead the convicting presence of the Holy Spirit. Let us beware the canned speech reeled off with nary a response. Let us seek an actual conversation and a clear understanding. Let us not minimize the plan of salvation but rather maximize it. Let us not chase professions but heart belief. For the sake of their souls, for the sake of impressionable soul winners who look up to us, for the sake of the cause of evangelism, and for the sake of our Saviour Who shed His blood on that cross, let us do these things the right way.

As a teenager I was privy to an unusual conversation between another young soul winner and a very old preacher. The young soul winner, breathless with excitement, rushed up and said, "I just led a guy to the Lord, and he didn't even know it!" The old preacher looked down over his bifocals and simply said, "No you didn't, son."

requirements-for-effective-soul-winning-1-638I do not believe Scripture teaches one must undergo a month's worth of Bible studies before there can be an understanding of salvation. The thief on the cross, the woman at the well, and Nicodemus were all won to Christ during a single conversation. But I do believe there must be a solid grasp of the negative and positive truths of the Gospel message. Such must be established with painstaking care.

One of my college professors earned my undying affection for many reasons but one was this: he taught us to deal with everyone like we would want someone to deal with our own child. Twenty years later as the parent of three children who have all made a profession of faith under my own guidance, I feel the truth of that thought most keenly. Would to God it would be felt more widely.

Where are we wrong? In this: our inexcusably irresponsible evangelism.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Soft Social Gospel

Enemies of Evangelism 7

big-picNote: Today’s post is by Pastor Jeremy Huston. In 2009 he started Foundation Baptist Church in Cary, Illinois, where he and his family serve today. I know him well. I have watched him through good times and bad, and I have a tremendous level of respect for what the Lord is using him to do there.

“The Great Commission is not an option to be considered; it is a command to be obeyed.” - Hudson Taylor

Romans 10:13-17
“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

There is a trend today that is plaguing the local church. It is not a new phenomenon, but it is becoming too commonplace in fundamental Baptist churches. This trend is the weakening of our gospel witness: seeking to be attractive churches that draw, rather than churches who reach our communities with the truth.

This trend is an enemy of soulwinning. This perception or idea that our lifestyles and a concerted effort at niceness or friendliness without engaging in confrontational soulwinning will reach more of our society than the preaching of the cross is false.

1 Corinthians 1:18 “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”

A needed admonishment to us as Christians is to remember that though it is not the antithesis of our purpose to feed the world, or clothe the world, or bring healing and medicine to the world; our main objective is to introduce the world to the Bread of Life, to the One who robes His people in righteousness, and the Great Physician who heals by His stripes. And we simply cannot do that without sharing Christ crucified.

There is a danger of trying to have so much tact that we miss contact.

Soulwinning is a declaration of the gospel. It is a confrontation of sin; a refutation of religion. It is the articulation of the wickedness of man and the need of justification made possible by the righteousness of God.

Outreach is not the gathering together of people to clean up the community or operating a food pantry. Although community service can be a demonstration of love or an opportunity to let others know that our church exists, it is not effective in declaring enough truth that one could understand the gospel.

Is there a time and place for meeting needs? For feeding people? For changing oil for single moms? For cleaning up the park? For sponsoring youth sports or putting our churches’ names on or in sports programs? Sure, we can use these as opportunities to introduce our churches to our communities and let them know we exist to minister to them. But none of those service opportunities can replace the verbal declaration of the gospel.

We have become professional marketers rather than personal messengers. We sometimes think that putting a gospel message on our churches' websites and putting QR codes on signs or cards that lead people to our web page, somehow eliminates our obligation of going out and preaching the gospel to every creature.

Our focus too often has shifted from an emphasis on sharing the gospel to a desire of filling the pew.

Somewhere along the way it seems we have decided that we need to somehow soften hell in order to sweeten heaven.

Am I against trying to soften the ground before we throw in the seed? No. But I am afraid that we are trying to make something that is foolishness to the natural man (the preaching of the cross) palatable and have become satisfied with half-hearted and insufficient attempts to create awareness of God. And a seed that is not planted has no opportunity to take root and cannot bear fruit. If you and I do not share the gospel, people will not get saved.

Soulwinning is preaching the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. It is the declaration of truth. It requires not just an opening of our hearts, and an opening of our hands, but an opening of our lips.

Love demonstrated is not the same thing as the gospel declared. Though Paul helped people, gladly spending and being spent, he boldly declared the gospel everywhere he went.

What is outreach? Is it just letting people know that a church exists and meeting physical, financial, or emotional needs? Or is it confronting people with the scriptural facts of a never-dying soul in need of an exclusive Saviour?

Are we yielding our ears to the post-modern evangelical world? Are we more concerned with church growth than the population of Heaven? Are we capitulating to societal pressures rather than obedience to the Great Commission?

If we care about the Great Commandment of loving God above all else and loving our neighbors as ourselves, then the Great Commission is to be the focus of our churches. We must speak the truth in love. Truth without love is brutal but love without truth is futile.
One thing that I believe has led to this damaging trend is that we have tried to equate and portray a church as a “community of believers.”

There is a difference between a church and a community. I 8394bf4a-4931-47f6-8e97-38b827f3ac53agree that a church is not a building or a system of belief, but a grouping or assembling of people. I also agree that we are not to just carry out the business of the church within our four walls, but out in our society. Though people that live in a community make up the local church, its head is Christ. It is His body to fulfill His spiritual work in the earth in His stead. Christ dictates what a church does. A church is more than a group of people gathered together and committed to a cause, which is what a community organization does. There are plenty of organizations that do good deeds. But the church is the body and bride of Christ - it accomplishes His work. And His work is a spiritual work; it is only able to be done as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.

A community is governed by the people. It is man-centered. But the biblical church is centered on Christ. We must not turn the Lord’s churches into community organizations.
This restructuring of the biblical description of “church” to the term “community” is to me a description of what Jesus said of the church of Laodicea. In Revelation 3:20 this church of the people had become so focused on their prosperity and popularity that Christ himself was portrayed as standing outside of the church door knocking and asking them to let Him come in and sup with them. I believe that our modern churches often mirror this church that had become a community organization centered on their own desires rather than remembering that the purpose of a church is to be subject unto Christ and carry out His work as His ambassadors.

So, what must be done to return our churches to an emphasis on biblical soul-warning and soul-winning and to avoid the temptation to slip to a seemingly convenient social gospel approach?

It is to see what soulwinning is:

- Soulwinning is Confrontation: our purpose in soulwinning is to make contact with every creature possible and to present the truth of man’s sinful condition and his need of the Saviour.

- Soulwinning is Expectation: not on us to be effective at building a church, but on God to build His church. We are not to be pragmatic in our approach to ministry. Though we should go on outreach believing that God will use us to see souls saved, our desired outcome in outreach is to be obedient to the command of God, to go and seek only the glory of God and the salvation of souls to populate heaven, not just the desire that our churches be filled. God uses us as his mouthpieces to declare the gospel and to tell people of Christ, but He will build His own church! When we tell people about the Lord, God can and will bring people to our churches, and quite often they aren’t even ones with to whom we have personally talked.

th- Soulwinning is Articulation: faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. If we are not declaring the gospel in our community, we are not giving our society what they need to believe. If they do not believe, they will not call. They cannot believe and call if they have not heard the truth.

Preaching precedes hearing which provides faith.
Though we must have a Light to shine and a Love to show we must also have a Lesson to share.

If I treat someone with kindness, and do good deeds for them, does that fulfill the Great Commission and exclude me from my responsibility to preach Christ to them? If I help to bring physical healing to people in my area, but never offer them the balm of Gilead, how much have I helped them? If I meet a financial need for a family but never introduce them to the One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, have I truly been a good witness?

We must not swallow the lies of the devil and try to conform to political correctness, if we will see God accomplish a spiritual work through us. Those who die without believing in the gospel of Christ spend an eternity separated from God in hell. If I believe that and do not declare unto them the truth of their need for Christ, then I am not walking charitably toward them no matter how nice I am trying to be.

Matthew 28:18-20
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

1 Corinthians 1:21-24
“For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”
God uses the foolishness of preaching. We cannot do better than God’s way.

Psalm 18:30
“As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him.”

Mark 16:15
“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Golden Apples of Distraction

Enemies of Evangelism 6

golden_appleLet us not be ignorant of his devices. (II Corinthians 2.11) One of the devil’s greatest tools is simply moving a church away from a soul winning emphasis by substituting another emphasis. In other words, if he can he will distract a church away from what is best, using what is good. In so doing, he can accomplish almost as much as if he managed to get it to embrace theological liberalism. I am not talking about a church transitioning into a Hell’s Angels biker club. I am talking about a church, while still doing good, becoming distracted and thus pulled away from what ought to be its primary work.

Paul gives us a ruling principle in Philippians 1 when he tells us to approve things that are excellent. Every word in the Bible is there on purpose. Excellent is much better than good. In fact, as almost any great leader will tell you, the good is often the enemy of the excellent because once you settle for the former you never get to the latter.

In our Men’s Bible Class recently, I have been teaching a series on the local churches discussed in Revelation 2 and 3. We have been diagnosing their strengths and weaknesses to discover what we may apply in our own church. One of the things we see again and again is a church that is doing something good but forgetting to do the excellent. The church at Ephesus, for example, was commended for her work, her patience, her perseverance, and her independence. But then there is this damning indictment: Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. It does not matter what else our church is good at, if we are not fiercely and mightily in love with the Lord we are well-nigh a complete failure. That is the greatest commandment, and if we fail at the most important one, it matters little if we succeed wondrously at one ranked twenty-sixth.

Corporately, then, our church must examine the Word of God to see what God emphasizes. We must place our emphasis where He does. If we do not, we run the risk of majoring on the minors, the grievous mistake made greatly by the Pharisees. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith. (Matthew 23.23)

This concept – approving things that are excellent instead of good, placing the emphasis where God does, being great at the greater commandments, etc. – applies to this blog series precisely because I believe that telling people about Jesus Christ is the primary mission of the local church. It is why we are in business.

Atalanta and Hippomenes
by Willem van Herp
c 1650
A church is a business, God’s business. Our Saviour said that He was about His Father’s business. (Luke 2.49) In the instructive illustration found in Luke 19 we find that he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. “Occupy” in the original language means to carry on a business. What business? The Father’s business and the Son’s purpose – bringing men to the Father. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19.10)

Make no mistake, a church is a business. It is not in business to make money, but rather to reach souls with the Gospel, and to teach men and women and boys and girls how to know, obey, and glorify God. It is in the reaching and teaching business.

Every single theological definition of the church I have ever run across says something to the effect that the church is a group of Christians united and organized to carry out the Great Commission. (Mark 16.15) The church I pastor, Maplewood Bible Baptist Church in Chicago, was organized for this purpose in the Autumn of 1891. Our 1925 church directory states, “The purpose of this church shall be to promote the interests of the Kingdom of God, evangelize the unsaved, and edify those of the faith. To this end the church shall maintain regular meetings and seek to create and cultivate an interest in and devotion to missions at home and abroad.” And if I, as pastor of this 127-year-old church, allow it to get distracted from this primary purpose, by some other good thing I will have been fooled by the devil’s devices.

Statue of Hippomenes by
Guillaume Coustou the Elder
c 1700
There are two primary ways this can happen. First, a church can become inwardly focused at the expense of being outwardly focused. The great purpose of the church service is edification. (I Corinthians 14) To edify is to build up, but what are you building up for? When your goal becomes building up people for their own sake, or even for the church’s sake you have become a selfish, inwardly focused church.

Churches breed programs like rabbits. We have programs to help senior citizens get to the doctor, programs to make sure they are not forgotten as shut-ins, and programs to give them fellowship and activity. We have programs to help young people get to camp, programs to encourage them to come to church, programs to get them to sing, programs to get them serving the Lord, and programs to give them fun activities. We have programs to provide good music in our church services, programs to record and get out the preaching, programs to care for the building and grounds, programs to move people from sitting to serving, programs to cultivate giving, programs to strengthen marriages, programs to draw people deeper in prayer, programs to build strong men, programs to assimilate first time guests into core members, programs to do a thousand good things. And that is just my church, an average-sized church with a health-challenged pastor.

If we are not careful we will get so busy ministering to the people in our church that we will neglect our primary responsibility – getting out the Gospel. I am not talking about choosing between being a wicked church or being a good church. I am talking about shades of emphasis, and this requires some level of discernment and a constant and unrelenting commitment to the main purpose of the church.

The second way in which this happens is different than being inwardly focused. It is being outwardly focused on things of less importance than evangelism. To minister means to serve, and any good church is going to want to minister to people. A selfish church will do that almost exclusively internally, but an unselfish church will direct a fair amount of that ministry focus externally. The will start a MOPS group, or a food pantry, or a divorce recovery group.

Again, I stress, these are not bad. The truth is they can even be structured in such a way as to attempt to reach people with the Gospel. The other truth is that while they may start with that intention they rarely stay that way, and soon devolve to the place where doing ministry and helping to meet the specific needs of those people becomes the purpose. After all, that is the main thing around which they were structured.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that for a church to have such ministries is a bad thing. I am saying if that is all your outward focus is as a church – to somehow meet the needs of the community around you – your external focus is completely out of balance.

An old but very helpful statement to me as a pastor is this: the main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing. My church exists as a business organized for the purpose of fulfilling the Great Commission. If we are not constantly telling people about Christ, bringing people in to hear about Christ, training people to tell others about Christ, praying for people to come to Christ, visiting people so they will come to Christ, and giving money to those who are reaching people for Christ then we have gotten sidetracked. We are doing the good at the expense of the excellent.

8967793In Greek mythology, the huntress Atalanta was singularly unimpressed with marriage. Her father continually tried to marry her off and she continually avoided it. Finally, she consented to marry the first man that could beat her in a footrace. To keep the number of participants to a minimum the price for losing the race for the men was death. Thus it was that Atalanta held off her suitors until a particularly canny young man named Hippomenes came along. Procuring three divinely crafted golden apples, his strategy was simple. Sprinting from the starting line he quickly drew ahead. As Atalanta caught up he dropped a golden apple. Delightedly distracted by the bauble, Atalanta stopped to pick it up. Running again, she quickly caught up to Hippomenes whereupon he dropped the second golden apple. The same pattern repeated. Yet again, for a third time, Atalanta caught up with him. Yet again, Hippomenes distracted her with a golden apple. Seizing his opportunity, Hippomenes dashed across the finish line and into the bonds of matrimony and Greek legend.

The golden apples of distraction - in pursuit of the beautiful but lesser thing we fail to achieve the more important purpose. Let us beware, beloved, and let us pray for the grace and wisdom we need to keep the main thing the main thing.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Lifestyle Evangelism

Enemies of Evangelism 5

In this blog series we are examining a number of doctrinal and practical concepts that result in a decrease in witnessing in the life of a believer or church. In today’s post I want to look at another doctrinal or philosophical concept. This particular concept contains much that is good, but at thelifestyle-evangelism same time manages to entirely leave out an essential component to evangelism. Thus, it directly attacks soul winning. It is lifestyle evangelism.

Lifestyle evangelism is not a difficult term to explain. Basically, it means that we as Christians are to live such good lives that people around us will notice, and be drawn to Christ by what they see in us.

Using that definition, I agree without hesitation that it is scriptural. We are often commanded in Scripture to live a holy life. We are to love our enemies, rejoice in bad circumstances, retain our integrity in temptation, be content with what we have, etc. etc. This kind of a life is lived as an obedient reflection of God’s purity, but also as a good witness or testimony to the lost world around us. For example, Jesus tells us to Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works. (Matthew 5.16) Paul agrees when he says that we live in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world. (Philippians 2.15) Not to be outdone, Peter instructs us we are to have our conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. (I Peter 2.12) In fact, Peter goes on to give us a specific example of how a godly life helps to reach someone when he tells wives with lost husbands that this is how their husband may be reached. (I Peter 3.1-2)

“Pastor Brennan, if lifestyle evangelism is so clearly scriptural why are you saying it attacks soul winning.” It does not; it is scriptural. What is unscriptural is the contention that lifestyle evangelism is the only or primary scriptural means of evangelism.

preach-the-gospel-at-all-times-and-when-necessary-use-words-5Some people who embrace the concepts of lifestyle evangelism at the same time vigorously oppose what I do in soul winning. They call it “confrontational evangelism”. They say it is ineffective, rude, outdated, hasty, and unscriptural. Instead, what they propose we do is stand in the corner, beam for Jesus, and wait for people to ask us why we are so happy. Their philosophy can be incorporated in one sentence – “Preach the gospel; if necessary use words.”

I am glad they want to emphasize living right and that how we live, says a whole lot to those who know us best. But I am weary of the corresponding implication let alone assertion that using words is not necessary. If you are a wife whose husband has already heard about Jesus a million times for you to mention Him again is just nagging. It will not help. But other than such a close family relationship we are plainly and repeatedly instructed to open our mouth to preach the Gospel.

There are clear scriptural calls for us to be verbal in sharing the Gospel. Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. (Mark 16.15) The word “preach” in the original language means publish or proclaim as in what a king’s herald would do. That cannot be done without your voice. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men. (II Corinthians 5.11) “Persuade” in the original language means to induce one by words to believe.

Not only are there clear calls in Scripture for us to be verbal with the Gospel, there are many examples given us that match these instructions. Jesus confronted the woman at the well (John 4) and the crippled man (John 5) and spoke to them about salvation. In the Early Church period the Bible tells us they went into every house in the city to preach about Jesus Christ. (Acts 5). Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. (Acts 8) Paul wisely combined lifestyle evangelism with confrontational evangelism. And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house. (Acts 20.20)

That last example is key, for if you embrace lifestyle evangelism at the expense of confrontational evangelism you have effectively ended your ability to reach strangers with the Gospel. By definition, they cannot watch your life in any depth. But we find people leading people to Christ all over the New Testament who were strangers when it happened. How did they do it? With words, persuading men, confronting them about their sins and compelling them to come to Christ.

The simple truth is a philosophy of lifestyle evangelism alone provides way too much cover for the spiritually lazy, cowardly, and unprepared. In my experience, we do not need to make it easier for people not to witness. In other words, we do not need to give people a mechanism to escape the convicting sense that they need to witness; they already fight that off entirely too often. Getting God’s people to actively witness is already an uphill struggle. We do not need to make the grade any steeper.

evangelism20pic1We are called to let our shine, yes, but that alone is not enough. The Early Church prayed grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word. (Acts 4.29) “Boldness” in the original language means freedom in speaking. If I am genuinely living out a life representative of my Saviour I cannot somehow live it more boldly. Boldness in this context explicitly requires verbal confrontation.

Beloved, let your life be an open book. But do not keep your mouth closed. Open up and let it fly. Speak of the horror of sin and wonderful grace of Calvary to the lost world. Those are our instructions.