Enemies of Evangelism 10
One 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 make 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.
Second, 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.
Third, 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.