Outreach

The latest fight amongst the Back to Basics men’s group concerned outreach, or evangelism.

The plan was to base the discussion around a few simple questions: whether evangelism is something we should do today; what it is; how it should be done; and whose responsibility it is.

Is it for today?

This had to be the first question. If it could be argued that evangelism was for the apostles and New Testament church only, then we could sit in our armchairs and watch telly until Sunday came around. It was obvious that initially none of the lads believed this. So was it a pointless question? Consider that all(?) of us think that the miraculous sign gifts were meant to be temporary. So we look at verses like where Paul says, “I wish you’d all speak in tongues” (1 Cor. 14:5), and we understand them to be directed at those people at that time, and not for us.

There are a number of reasons that we think genuine tongues are not the normal experience of the modern church. However, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to think evangelism has ceased. It’s through the preaching of the gospel that men believe: “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”  (1Co 1:21). Now assuming God will continue drawing in his elect people until the end comes, witnessing about Christ will be needed. The incarnate word said, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.”  (Mat 24:14)

What is it?

That’s a fair follow-on question. If someone is to go and do this thing, we need to be clear about what it is.

The most obvious place to start is the word “evangelist”. In the original Greek, it’s εὐαγγελιστής (pronounced “eu-agg-el-is-TEES”), and means a herald of good news. Now we all know that this “good news” is the gospel, which means just that.

This brought the talking around to a difficult subject, and it concerns what should be preached to believers, and what to unbelievers. This led to a long, friendly argument. We tried to agree on what “preaching the gospel” was. You’d think, with an average age of about forty, and around eighty years of Christian experience amongst us, that we’d know by now! But hold it there. Many people think preaching repentance is the gospel, even though it was preached in Acts that the people should repent and believe the gospel. That’s two things.

There was, eventually, general agreement that the gospel was the good news that, “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (1Co 15:3), so we could move on from there. But one brother felt it was important to make the point that it was not good news to everyone. The analogy he gave was this.

Imagine there was a banquet in your church hall. There’s a hundred people in there, and they’ve had a huge feed. They can’t eat another thing. But there’s also a couple of homeless fellas there. They came in at the last minute, and the buffet food was all gone. Suddenly, someone comes out of the kitchen with loads more food! They say, “We’ve got good news, people: FOOD!” Now all those bloated people look as if they’re going to throw up. It’s definitely not good news to them. But the homeless guys are starving hungry. To them alone is the offer of food “good news”.

So it is with the indiscriminate preaching of the gospel. It’s preached to the crowds, but most of them are full up—with their own righteousness. But there’s the possibility that there’s someone amongst that crowd who are hungry for the righteousness which is from heaven. What you’re saying is good news, but only to some. And here’s a big problem. If you hold the doctrine that Christ died for all, then you are forced to believe that the gospel is good news for all. And if it’s good news for all, then it has to be phrased so that it becomes acceptable to all. That’s exectly where the preaching of “God loves you”, and “God wants to save you, but he can’t do anything unless you let him”, comes from. Faulty theology ⇒ faulty gospel.

How should it be done? And where?

The first question in this regard was whether any method of communicating the gospel was valid. This doesn’t mean considering mime or cryptic poetry, where the message is unclear. Rather, the question was about the use of tracts, open-air preaching, text messages, posters, emails, or witnessing through Facebook and the like.

There was at least one of the gang who suggested that the preaching of the gospel was only ever to be done in the way the apostles did it: speaking face-to-face with one or more people. There is a verse which says that God saves by the  foolishness of preaching, but this is surely describing the foolishness of the message, rather than the method. After all, the Greeks, who thought Christians were idiots, used open-air speaking themselves.

It’s difficult to know for certain what the apostles would have done if they had use of a printing press. It’s pretty obvious that the NT church could only use the means available to them at the time. It was put to the group that, had it been available to them, they would have been tracting, blogging and everything else used by the church today.

The apostles didn’t have the facility to produce thousands of tracts, but they had paper and ink. Christ was preached to the believers through the epistles in the Bible, but was this medium used for evangelism? These letters were written to the church, so we shouldn’t expect much evidence of their use in evangelism. However, Paul’s adage of, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some”  (1Co 9:22) would suggest that faithful communication of the gospel message could be spoken, written, emailed or sprayed on a wall! (Disclaimer: I will not be held responsible for others’ failure to get permission from the property owner before spraying the gospel on their wall.) When you think about those TBS scripture posters, for example, that does seem to be a valid method.

Regarding location, it was noted that many churches—if they do any outreach at all—limit it to the area around their own church building. Is this an attempt to get their own places filled? Have a look at what the outreach consists of. If they just present the gospel, I’ll eat my hat (the big furry one, in fact). No, they want to get them in. Fair enough, if you’re having an evangelistic event, invite them along, but not to a service of worship.

Most people see the chief end of their outreach as bums on seats. Some pastors sit counting heads and banging on about how many people they have in regular attendance, as if it were a contest, or an indication of how spiritual they are. Further evidence, m’lud, can be seen in the extent of the outreach. If you’ve pestered the locals for twenty years, how about taking your message somewhere else, where entire generations have never heard the gospel because all you self-proclaimed ministers are trying to get the locals in so that you look good at the pastors conferences. Okay, if you do your outreach somewhere else, converts might go to another place of worship. Nothing wrong with that.

Arguing, as one pastor did, that the apostles started in Jerusalem, is poor. They did indeed conduct outreach there. Unfortunately, the verse is a bit longer than that. It says they preached in Jerusalem, then ‘in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.’  (Acts 1:8) Uh, oh…

The Open Air question

Easy question: is evangelism meant mostly for the open air, or should we limit it to our church buildings? This proved one of the most involved part of our discussion.

A list had been compiled by a brother of all the occasions of preaching Christ in the historical book of Acts. Surely, here would be some guidelines which could help us today. So what were the characteristics of this early church preaching?

  • It was bold and Christ-centred
  • Scripture was quoted freely
  • The prophets were appealed to
  • The Jews, not everyone, were held accountable for Jesus’ death
  • People were commanded to repent
  • The preaching continued even when outlawed
  • It was counted a joy to suffer for Christ
  • Paul used his rights in law to defend himself
  • The apostles entered into disputes
  • Paul remained in some places for months
  • All the evangelism was the “open-air” type

(While we’re here, let’s take the opportunity to have another dig at the free-will preachers. Nowhere in these accounts do we hear of sinners being told, “God loves you”, or “Jesus died for you”.)

This business of preaching in the open air is interesting. It’s not that there’s anything special about being outdoors, of course. As one brother pointed out, you could lift the church building off into the air, and we’d then be in the open air! No, it simply means going out with the gospel, rather than hiding away. I remember one pastor say, “We’re meant to be doing out-reach, not in-drag!” Quite correct.

You can preach to unbelievers at your place of worship. Invite them in, speak briefly, then chat over a cuppa. One of the lads said that our meeting places can be a good place for, say, older people to mix with a similar group, and witnessing can be a part of this friendship. The danger, of course, with including people in this way is that you can “Christianize” them. They become so acquainted with the whole Sunday thing, that they can fake it very well. What the churches are doing, however, is giving a long-standing invitation to unbelievers to come into our buildings, and join in our act of worship. We expect them to stand up and sit down at the right times, sing hymns to a God they don’t know, and pretend to be part of the company which addresses him in prayer.

“Friendship evangelism” was considered. No-one was arguing against being friendly to outsiders, and then taking the opportunity to show them their greatest need is Christ. But the whole modern approach is different. It recommends you make friends over a long period, maybe by joining a cricket club. Then after you’ve “earned the right to share the gospel” with them, you do it; by which time you might be too scared of ruining your friendship by telling it as it is. Again, working with people over a long time is not being argued against. It’s deciding from the outset that sharing the gospel clearly won’t work in our day, so we must invent new ways to avoid causing offence. What causes this aversion to plain speaking? Why won’t ministers of the gospel speak out?

The good thing about this being my blog is that I can just chuck my opinions in here whenever I feel like. So I’ll stick my neck out and say that the main reason the church leaders aren’t doing proper outreach is because of cowardice. There. I’ve said it. And I said “the main reason”, which gives me a way out if a preacher shows me he’s not a coward. You see, this traditional method of getting unbelievers in—and let’s face it, even those invitations don’t happen much—is a win-win situation. The unbeliever comes onto your ground. They are controlled, by having to do the right things or face disapproving stares. Being controlled, the sinner is put in his place, and your numbers go up. Spiritual growth, wimp style.

With proper outreach, God’s servant is on their turf. He just shares the gospel. And he will get stick for it. He will suffer. And that’s it, isn’t it? How much persecution does the average preacher experience, as he dutifully speaks each week? Yet every one who goes to where the people are seems to suffer harassment. No one wants persecution. But if you do your job, you get it. The fact is, there are thousands of people just in our city who might never hear the gospel, because Christians don’t care enough to leave the safety of their church castles.

An excellent point was made: that the pastor’s chief duty is the cure, the nurture, of the flock. That’s not his only job, though. Timothy, the young overseer, was told to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5). At the very least, the ministers should be at the forefront of evangelism in their areas, even if the bulk of the work is done by others.

Who should be doing this outreach?

We mentioned pastors, and those who are burdened for evangelism will go out without persuasion. But is it everyone’s duty? Here’s a few excuses, with answers:

  1. “I’m not called to share the gospel”.
    You were called to share it when God saved you.
  2. “I don’t know enough about the Bible”
    You know why you’re saved—just repeat that. That’s what witnessing is.
  3. “I’m a bit shy”
    So was I. Get over it. You’re to be bold, like a lion.
  4. “People will laugh at me”
    They sure will. Be joyful that you’re suffering with Christ.
  5. “I’ve done my bit, years ago. Time to let the young ones have a go.”
    The labourers are few. You’re needed. And since when did Christians retire from their work?

Hardly anyone would say that women shouldn’t witness to others. It’s all over the Bible. But should they be preaching in open air services? This is one I’ve been thinking of for a while, and my good friend John has written to me giving his understanding. As for our meeting, it was generally felt that men should be doing the preaching, while women would be best giving out literature and speaking to people individually, so as not to undermine the principle of male leadership.

“Evangelist” seems more like a role than an office. In other words, they might go out witnessing, and even plant churches, and the full time pastors might take on those churches; but a pastor should also be involved in evangelism, and others with no “office” to speak of might be the chief evangelists.

As ever, this brief discussion only skimmed the surface. But our presuppositions were challenged, and we once again made sure that what we believed had its basis in the scriptures. May God be praised for his kindness in allowing us an insight into his wonderful  nature and the things he has ordained for us to do for his kingdom’s sake.

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~ by Animus on February 12, 2011.

One Response to “Outreach”

  1. You were born to blog Paul 🙂

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