Monday, March 27, 2017

A Defense of House to House Personal Evangelism

A Philosophy of Personal Evangelism 8

Last week we laid out for you a brief case for the nearly unlimited potential for personal confrontational evangelism. I would be remiss if I did not admit that the majority of American Christianity disagrees with me. This is seen in the fact that so few churches have an active, organized, vibrant personal soul winning program, but it is also seen in the sometimes sincere and sometimes snide criticisms leveled at soul winning. I plan a much longer blog series dealing with many of these objections but I want to briefly address them today.

"You will never reach everybody."

I know. I agree with you. But that is not our aim. Our aim is to fulfill the Great Commission which tells us to preach the Gospel to every creature. (Mark 16.15) And personal evangelism is the method that offers the greatest opportunity to personally offer Christ to the greatest number of people.

"That might have worked fifty years ago but nowadays people don't want anyone badgering them. Our culture isn't like that anymore."

I've got news for you. There's never been a culture where people liked people badgering them. People are people, and they largely share similarities across cultures and generations. The church in Jerusalem didn't start practicing house to house evangelism because the Jews welcomed it so eagerly, and we shouldn't stop it when people don't. 

…and I might also add I routinely have precinct workers, alarm salesmen, Jehovah's Witnesses, plumbers, and school kids selling all manner of things ringing my doorbell in 2017. It's funny; apparently the only group that thinks it is inappropriate to ring a doorbell anymore is evangelicals.

Some days I just want to shout at American Christianity, "Stop being culture driven; be Scripture driven!"

"Well, confrontational evangelism always results in false professions, and you ought to be concerned about that."

Actually… you're right. Yes, I can hear your gasp all the way over here in Chicago. Confrontational personal evangelism results in false professions – and so does every single other method of evangelism. But the solution to false professions isn't to stop witnessing. The solution is stop being pushy, to teach soul winners to look for people with whom the Holy Spirit is dealing, and above all to emphasize a detailed, thorough presentation of the Gospel.

False professions don't make soul winning a bad thing; they make badly done soul winning a bad thing.

"Confrontational. Do you understand what that word means, Tom? You're going to run people off with such an approach."

Um, they are already on their way to hell now. Where are you going to run them off to? Hell number two? He that believeth not is condemned already. (John 3.18) I'm being a little snarky, and I realize that but I'm still right. If we allow ourselves to become concerned about not offending people we will close our mouths for Christ and never open them again. I am not advocating that we purposely seek to offend, but I am advocating that we ought to purposely seek to confront. And that is entirely scriptural.

"You soul winners are plucking green fruit. Those folks aren't ready to get saved, and your premature efforts are causing much harm."

How do you know that? Is there some waiting period in the Bible I've missed somewhere? To the contrary, behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (II Corinthians 6.2) I realize that the Holy Spirit must convict the sinner in order to prepare him to be regenerated, but there is no reason the Holy Spirit cannot convict him today. Scripturally, there is a sense of urgency both explicitly stated and implicitly referenced in relation to witnessing all through the Bible. Jesus led Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and the thief on the cross to Himself in the first conversation. 

"Witnessing is not a set time scheduled on Saturday morning. It is a way of life."

I could not possibly agree with you more. If you preach that in my church I'll sit on the front row and holler "Amen" as loud as I can. …but thirty years of experience in soul winning and close observation of churches has proven one thing to me: the only Christians who actively incorporate witnessing into their daily life are those who first incorporated it by schedule.

The truth is our flesh fights witnessing more than any other spiritual activity besides prayer, I suppose. Building an evangelistic culture is the single most difficult thing to do in any church. If we do not purposely and regularly schedule a time for soul winning we will rarely witness. If we leave it there we are remiss, but if we do not begin there we seldom if ever progress to an active life of witnessing.

…so take the Gospel to someone this week. Better yet, do it today. Step out in compassionate boldness and speak a word for Christ. Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest. (Luke 10.2)

Go into it. I don't mind if you put up a sign with the Gospel on the edge of the field. I don't mind if you play the Gospel on a PA system aimed toward the field. But get up from the table and walk out into that field. That's where the harvest is.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Potential of Personal Evangelism

A Philosophy of Personal Evangelism 7
This is a series that attempts to explain why our kinds of churches emphasize personal evangelism, and why we are right to do so. Thus far we have discussed both good and bad motivations to witness. We then briefly sketched for you a history of evangelism. In the process we discovered that there are really only two kinds of evangelism, personal and impersonal, and that impersonal evangelism is limited in its effectiveness primarily because it calls for men to come to church rather than calling for them to come to Christ. 

Personal evangelism, on the other hand, has more potential than impersonal evangelism. This is because soul winning takes Christ directly to the lost where they are at.

The first part of the book of Acts records the staggering rate of growth of the Early Church. How were they able to reach so many people with the Gospel so quickly? There are several answers to that question but one answer is that the Apostles placed an emphasis on taking the Gospel to every home in Jerusalem.

Acts 5. 14 And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.)

17 ¶ Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,)and were filled with indignation,
18 And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.
19 But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said,

27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them,
28 Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.

42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.

I have met those who maintain that in every house was not evangelism but rather the 1st century equivalent of home Bible studies or house churches, but the context does not bear this out. From verse 17 to verse 42 is one story. In that story the Sanhedrin is not attempting to stop sermons to the saved but rather the Apostles' efforts to give the Gospel to the lost. Some of this was done via public preaching (daily in the temple) but some of it was also done personally from house to house (in every house).

This emphasis on a personalized individual presentation of the Gospel at each house was not just modeled in Jerusalem by Peter. It was taken up by Paul and used in his church planting efforts.

Acts 20. 17 And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.
18 And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons,
19 Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews:
20 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,
21 Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

Clearly, this is not a Bible study for those who are already saved. I am not against that, by any means, but going house to house and preaching repentance and faith in Christ is explicitly connected with soul winning. In other words, both Peter and Paul, and the churches they influenced, believed in preaching the grace of Christ corporately but also in taking the Gospel to the lost where they were at.

Acts 17.16 ¶ Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.
17 Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.

Potentially then, personal evangelism is the only form of evangelism that can reach an entire community. Indeed, both in Jerusalem and in Ephesus they took the Gospel house to house and this is precisely what happened.

Ac 5:28 Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.

Acts 19. 10 And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.

Ac 20:31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.

Jonathan Goforth was a Canadian Presbyterian. The Lord moved on his heart to take the
Gospel to China and then used him in a wonderful way. In his wife's short biography of him she tells of his days as a Bible college student in Toronto in the late 1800s.

On weekdays, Jonathan spent much of his time visiting in the slum district. His strategy was to knock at a door, and when it opened a few inches, he would put his foot in the crack. He would then tell them his business and if, as was usually the case, they said they were not interested and went to close the door, his foot prevented the proceedings from being brought to an abrupt end. As he persisted, the people of the house almost invariably gave way and let him in. Of all the many hundreds of homes that he visited during his years of slum work, there were only two where definitely failed to gain an entrance.
While visiting in slum homes, Goforth would sometimes lead as many as three people to Christ in a single afternoon. Dr. Shearer, who accompanied him in his visits one day said, as they parted, “Goforth, if only this personal contact could have been made with every human soul, the Gospel would have reached every soul long ago.”

I don't advocate this approach to soul winning, but look past that to the fact that Bro. Goforth was using confrontational soul winning long before its so-called heyday in the 1950s and 60s. This is because he found such an approach to personal evangelism modeled in the Word of God. Nor was Goforth alone in this. The oft-quoted C. H. Spurgeon said in his 1863 sermon, "Am I Sought Out?":

There are thousands in London who never will be converted by the preaching of the gospel, for they never attend places of worship. Some of them do not know what sort of thing a religious service is. We may shudder when we say it: it is believed there are thousands in London who do not even know the name of Christ - living in what we call a Christian land, and yet they have not heard the name of Jesus. Thank God things are better than they were, but things are bad enough still. Brethren, you must go and see these things and mend them. To the lodging-houses, young men, you must carry the gospel, and to those thickly-peopled habitations, where every room contains a family, and not one room a Christian. I believe there is very much good to be done by house-to-house visitation - not by City Missionaries and Bible-women only, may God speed that noble body of laborers - but by all of you, by you that have position in society among your neighbors. Make yourselves free, and go and talk to them of Christ in the little houses that are near to you. As far as your time allows be a visitor, and if there be one dark part of the town known to you as the haunt of sinners, make it a point to use this agency of visitation from house-to-house. Let the lost sheep of Israel's house be sought out.

Peter and Paul, Goforth and Spurgeon, why even D. L. Moody understood the importance of personally confronting the lost with the Gospel. In Richard Ellsworth Day's biography of him he describes Moody in 1860s Chicago as "…this man who rushed through life making felonious assaults upon total strangers with his rude challenge, 'Are you a Christian?' "

I am not saying impersonal evangelism is wrong. It isn't. It just isn't as effective at reaching the entire community as confrontational soul winning can be.

…and that position is not one invented by the independent Baptist movement of our father's generation. It has a long and storied history for very good reasons.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Rest of the Five

A Philosophy of Personal Evangelism 6

There are only two kinds of evangelism, personal and impersonal. Personal evangelism – otherwise known as soul winning – is the most effective form of evangelism. That is the premise of this blog series. Impersonal evangelism can be wonderful but it is limited in ways personal evangelism is not. In the last post we examined two of the things that limit impersonal evangelism. In this post we will examine three more.

Third, impersonal evangelism strategies such as mass evangelism and niche evangelism cannot be sustained over the long term, and usually not even in the medium term.

From time to time we attempt to have a special day in our church. We promote something
exciting or at least interesting and different. We wind our people up to work extra, pray extra, visit extra, prepare extra, etc. In due course we get a large crowd. But what we cannot do is keep that large crowd. We cannot constantly keep the interest piqued, nor can we keep our lay people working at turbo speeds indefinitely.

On the other hand, what was the testimony of the Early Church? Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2.47)

There are only two ways I can think of that a church can evangelize so effectively as to see people saved every day. The first is if it is a mega-church that has some kind of promotion, program, or niche outreach every day of the week. The problem with this is not that such churches exist. Some do and I am glad for all of their efforts at evangelism. But this is not where the typical church lives, nor can it live there. The second way is for a church to be so caught up in soul winning that its people witness constantly, at work, at school, in the neighborhood, or in some organized capacity perhaps. A church like this wins people to Christ constantly and it has little to nothing to do with promotion, targeted group marketing, or any kind of formal program whatsoever. Instead it happens almost organically. Witnessing becomes part and parcel of who your people are in Christ, and that kind of approach is sustainable over the long term.

The fourth weakness of impersonal evangelism is that the individual Christian does not personally participate in witnessing. If I get my people wound up to invite their coworkers to church, and many do that is wonderful. But that is not participation in evangelism. Inviting someone to Sunday School is not evangelism. Manning the dunk tank on a Big Day is not evangelism. Witnessing is one person speaking to another person about his need for Christ with a view of bringing him to a decision. Every Christian is tasked in the New Testament with winning souls, and I short change my people spiritually if I do not give provide them the training, motivation, and opportunity to personally do so. Again, bear in mind, I am not criticizing any service for the Lord, nor am I criticizing those who work so hard to make mass, enlistment, or niche evangelism work. I am saying, however, that I have not helped my people reach their full spiritual potential until each one personally and actively seeks to talk to others around them about Christ. For far too many years I have known too many Christians who have never led a soul to Christ. That is a tragedy.

Lastly, impersonal evangelism has driven American Christianity into the pragmatism of worldliness. This is certainly not true in every case but it is often true.

Allow me to illustrate. Pastor A and Pastor B both know that their church is not reaching their community like it should. Pastor A is visionary, conscientious, and bold leader. To solve the lack of fruit in his church he focuses on teaching his people how to do personal evangelism and on motivating them to continue to do so constantly. Pastor B is also a visionary, conscientious, and bold leader. However, instead of focusing on taking his church into the community to actively witness he focuses on how he can get a greater percentage of his community to attend one of his services, programs, or events. But you can only invite people so many times to the same type of program or event. He must constantly find newer and better ways to motivate lost people to show up. Eventually, out of a sincere and sheer desperation or a misplaced sense of purpose, he grasps that he can motivate the carnal, worldly lost man with carnal, worldly things. So this is what Pastor B does.

Did you ever wonder why the modern edition of American Christianity is so widely soaked in worldliness? There is more than one answer to that question but a large part of the answer is a visionary leader and a burdened church set out to reach the "unchurched", the lost men around them, and they decided the best way to get the unchurched into church was to make the church as much like the world as possible. Contemporary American Christianity has the right motive – they want to reach the lost. But contemporary American Christianity is using the wrong philosophy to do it – get the "unchurched" into church – and is using the wrong method – worldliness – to do so. As long as we view our city as "unchurched" instead of "unsaved" we will focus on getting them into church instead of getting them to Christ, and pragmatism will drive us to increasingly carnal means of attracting them into church in an effort to reach them.

In the past two posts I have given you five limitations or potential weaknesses in impersonal evangelism. Not all of these five things happen in every situation every time. But these five foundational flaws are still there, and a church that chooses to use solely such means to evangelize will often find itself working from a position of weakness rather than a position of strength.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Two Limitations of Impersonal Evangelism

A Philosophy of Personal Evangelism 5

Let me say at the outset that I am not against the types of evangelism I will mention in this post, or in the ones to come. The only kind of evangelism I am against is unscriptural evangelism. I am against witnessing that does not point people solely toward Christ. I am against unclear or incomplete or manipulative explanations of the Gospel. I am also against using worldly means or methods to attract attention to the Gospel. But outside of those parameters I am not against anyone anywhere who is witnessing in any way. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. (Philippians 1.18) It is important to me that you understand I am not attacking certain kinds of evangelism with this series.

At the same time, I do want to speak up for confrontational personal evangelism, what is more commonly called soul winning. There are good reasons to do it, and some of those reasons include the fact that personal evangelism is better than any other form of evangelism. In order to explain this it is incumbent upon me that we examine the limitations of impersonal evangelism. Again, I am not attacking these types of evangelism; I am explaining why they are not as useful or as helpful as personal evangelism.

First, impersonal evangelism cannot win the world to Christ.

Billy Graham Crusade, 1967
Take mass evangelism, for example. It is premised on gathering into one location as many unsaved people as possible. But the simple fact is that no matter how stirring or popular the preacher is, and no matter how accessible the venue is you will never get everyone to attend. The same facts are true about media evangelism. No matter how many people you invite to your small group or your Sunday School not all of them will attend. No matter how well produced your Gospel podcast is or how well designed your tracts are you are never going to get everyone to listen, read, or watch the Gospel.

Let me illustrate this with enlistment evangelism. Studies I have read show that the average Gospel preaching church wins one out of every five people they enlist in a small group, Bible study, or Sunday School class. By enlisted I mean they get them to attend at least once. At the same time, the average church only wins one out of every 240 unsaved people in the community that they do not enlist. Those two sentences support this supposed solution: we need to enlist more people. After all, a higher percentage of those enlisted trust Christ then those who do not. I understand that, but the simple fact is that the vast majority of people refuse to be enlisted. Roughly 97% of the unsaved people in the community that I attempt to enlist in a class will refuse to attend. If my basic evangelistic thrust as a church is enlistment evangelism I have just essentially thrown away any ability to win almost the entirety of my community to Christ.

Chicago proper, the city in which I serve, has a population of about 2.7 million people. According to the above numbers, even if I could possibly try to enlist all of them roughly only 81,000 would respond. If we win one out of every five of these we have won about 16,000 people to Christ. Let's say by dint of hard work and prayer we manage to double that number to 32,000 people. That is nothing to sneeze at by any means but do you see the problem? There are another 2.6 million people I will never reach. After thirteen years of pastoring in this city these statistics ring true to me. If there are more than 32,000 people in this city regularly attending services at a sound, Bible preaching church I would be very surprised. Yet what are these 32,000 Christians in Chicago doing to reach the rest of the city? You guessed it, didn't you? They are busy inviting people to attend their church service, small group, Bible study, concert, or event. The result is that most of the city will go to hell.

The painful truth is most of the churches in this city have no plan to reach people who will not enlist in their programs or attend their services. I am not saying we ought to stop enlistment evangelism. It reaches people, and beyond that it ministers to them in a very real way. It gives them fellowship. It teaches them the Bible. But what it does not do is reach this city with the Gospel.

Secondly, impersonal evangelism is limited in its ability to make sure every person clearly
understands the Gospel.

Every unsaved person is trusting something other than Jesus Christ. In order for them to get saved you must demolish that misplaced trust, help them understand they are rotten and deserve hell, and then help them to trust in Christ alone for their salvation. But each individual is different. They are different in their understanding of biblical words and terms. They are different in which illustrations will bring clarity. They are different in their concerns and their hang ups. They are different in respect to which Scripture verse or passage will pierce their darkness and bring them light. In every setting other than a one-on-one setting the unsaved man practically cannot ask any questions. He cannot object that he does not understand or agree. The person witnessing to him cannot probe his thought process and belief system. The plan of salvation cannot be effectively tailored to any personal situation in mass evangelism or media evangelism, and its ability to do so in enlistment evangelism is limited.

Again, I stress, I am not saying it is wrong or even bad to attempt to broadcast the Gospel, to place it on billboards, to put it on web pages, to put it on television and radio, or to invite your coworker to attend church with you next week. I am saying, though, that as good and as helpful as these are they are limited. They cannot possibly reach your community for Christ.

…and if we are going to build a philosophy of personal evangelism we must come to the place where we grasp this, and allow that understanding to inform our chosen evangelistic emphasis.