Keeping your evangelistic zeal is one of the hardest things for church leaders. But it’s vital to maintain that energy.
He’d been working for us for six months as an Assistant Pastor when he remarked: “I never realised just how much positive energy you need to put in to keeping evangelism at the top of the church’s agenda; it’s just so tiring”.
It’s true. On top of that, leaders also needed to learn how to manage disappointment – on a regular basis – without caving in to anger and frustration when it comes to evangelism and outreach.
So what’s going on and why is this so important?
Well, fundamentally we are in a spiritual war against unseen forces of evil which seek to destroy God’s good purposes. They can't succeed against the Sovereign King, but they try.
Yet, added to that are more mundane and subtle factors.
Running a church takes a lot of time and effort, whatever stage and size you are.
Your church could be very small but just before a meeting you have to run home because you forgot to bring the coffee and cups for afterwards. No team looks after this because, as the leader, you have to make nearly everything happen.
Or it may be that you’re a very large church and you have to talk to the team leader who forgot to order the new tub of coffee, and explain how embarrassing it was to announce to 1000 people that there will be no coffee this morning.
A whole ton of things, even as small as coffee and cups, demand energy and take time to sort out.
Then there are the various pastoral pressures coming from being in a growing church. Leaders necessarily spend a lot of time with the flock, especially the hurting, the confused, and the disobedient. Problems in individual's lives can be very time-consuming.
Slowly, a leader realises that they spend all their time with Christians, and hardly know any non-Christians at all. Unbeknownst to everyone a deep, almost subliminal, sense develops that the meetings and messages are basically for ‘us’, and we wouldn’t feel comfortable inviting our non-Christian friends to church, so we don’t.
Change is Hard
To reverse that trend and create a culture where Christians long to bring non-Christians takes a great deal of effort. For leaders to model how to spend time with non-Christians also takes great intentionality and energy.
But it can sometimes feel wasteful – or even pointless – especially in the short term.
Here are two examples.
1. Running a course
It starts out so positively; 15 people say they’ll come. Then in the late afternoon or early evening the phone begins to ring.
It's always someone saying: “I can't come, the traffic is bad, the child/dog/cat has been sick, and I forgot anyway, and it's too late to come now”. You end up with less than half of those you have been praying for.
It can be a spiritually draining puzzle thinking about why it works out like this time after time.
2. A non-Christian at church
We once had a guy just turn up at church. He lived 20 miles away and was visiting his elderly dad who lives in a nearby road. He saw all the cars turning into the community centre on a Sunday morning and wondered what it was about, so he came along. How encouraging and unusual was that?
He kept coming. He came to a Christianity Explored course. He read Mark’s gospel. He got it – the cross – he understood it very clearly and saw its power. Then he said: “No, not for me”. And never came again.
If that kind of thing happens a few times, you feel pretty drained – and maybe worse. To pick yourself up and put energy, affection and prayer into the next person can be a big ask.
So all this is going on and meanwhile the believers in the church wonder why are you are neglecting them. They ask themselves why you don't appear to give them the same amount of attention as those who are seeking. Such a misunderstanding is another drain on your enthusiasm.
This and a hundred other factors sap energy from a busy pastor who wants to create a church which is outward-looking.
So what do we do?
Maintain Your Energy
When I was a young leader I heard a highly respected preacher talk about some research he had done on the factors that growing churches had in common. He pointed out some obvious things – biblical faithfulness, prayer, purity.
But one other stood out.
Leaders of growing churches put themselves near the people coming towards faith. They get to know them and they make sure they invest their time and best efforts to win these people as converts before establishing them in their new faith, as the Lord works in them.
Of course he was only pointing out what the Master exemplified, and what the apostles taught and modelled. This helped reshape my priorities and focus: get near the people coming towards faith and help them as much as you can, even if the Christians don't always understand why that's important.
Year after year, person after person, course after course, conversation after conversation – and then sometimes baptism after baptism. It was never about me all on my own at all – but about helping direct the church’s best energies, talented people and prayer focus on those who are outside of the church.
It's a bias in terms of cost, energy, volunteers, and staff time, but I'm so pleased we did it.
It can be tempting (and a case can be made) to make a different choice in how you deploy your personal resources and energy. Some advocate that you spend your time with your most promising disciples, turning them into disciples who make other disciples.
Sometimes this works, but my observation is that Christian disciples can soak up a tremendous amount of a leader without becoming effective evangelists of outsiders. Andrew Heard, the Australian church leader, has also noted that it tends to create an inward-looking, studious, and intense type of church which struggles to reach a wide range of people.
But whatever decision you come to about that, don't underestimate the constant enthusiasm and intentionality that evangelism takes, and the spiritual energy that it uses up.
It requires a constant topping up of your own spiritual tank, otherwise you won't run long on ‘fumes’. Only as you keep yourself close to the grace of the Lord and feel the power of the cross will you keep putting energy into the people who need him so much.