Programmes and Professionals
Is our job in evangelism to persuade someone to attend an event, or is there more to it than that?
Is your preaching and teaching ministry doing enough to prepare your church for the task of evangelism? In this series, Andy Paterson offers biblical encouragement that every Christian has a role to play, free from false guilt.
This is part 6 in the series.
The circus had come to town (well Clapham Common to be precise) and the posters had gone up in every convenience store in the locality. “Roll up, roll up” shouted the ringmaster as we wandered over, “come and see the greatest show around.” So we did. I think it was fun.
The following evening we did as we had always done: we went to the Sunday night gospel service. And my father preached his heart out as only a passionate Celt could. I felt I’d been saved all over again. How could anyone not respond to such good news?
Glancing around the congregation I looked to see if there were any people I didn’t recognise, any sinners in need of saving, any souls engaging with the issues of eternity. Because that’s how they got saved: at the event, at the Sunday night gospel service, under the power of oratory and the weight of emotion. And we knew it was our job to get them in. That’s how evangelism was done. That’s how sinners were saved.
And they were! So much of our ‘evangelism’ centred around the event. “Roll up, roll up for the greatest show in town.” Sometimes there were gospel events arranged in our locality, sometimes in the city centre, sometimes they were part of a larger ‘celebrity’ driven programme.
And our task was to get people in. That’s what evangelism was about. That’s what we advertised in the magazines and flyers we gave out. That’s what our conversation centred on around the doors: get them into the building and let the professional preacher do the rest. And we’d certainly hope that the programme wouldn’t let us down.
We often needed some bait to get the people in, and if that could be a converted sports star, musician, or actor all the better. Or maybe someone who’d been in the news for some tragic event. That was an even bigger draw. But if anyone asked a question about what we believed, the response tended to be to get them to hear what the professional would say. They knew what to say and how to answer. They were better at it than we were.
Now please don’t imagine that I’m attacking and deriding the gospel event. I sincerely believe that ‘the event’ can be an immensely useful way of presenting the gospel’s big picture. And I believe that real life stories help anchor gospel truths to everyday living.
When the Bible is opened and faithfully taught, then inevitably there will be a variety of applications that point, in one way or another, to Christ. Please God: raise up more gifted evangelists and proclaimers.
Preaching and evangelism
Indeed, it would appear that when we read about ‘preaching’ in the New Testament it always seems to be referring to gospel proclamation - in contrast to ‘teaching’ which is all about instructing believers.
The Greek word kerusso, which is generally translated as ‘preach’ or ‘proclaim’, occurs 61 times in the New Testament and is invariably used in the context of announcing the good news of Christ’s work and rule. It therefore follows that there is an intimate link between the work of the evangelist and the work of preaching.
This certainly helps us understand what Paul is getting at when he instructs Timothy to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2) and “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). These are both closely interrelated.
Perhaps we have inadvertently done a mash-up with the titles ‘evangelist’ and ‘pastor-teacher’ and a clearer understanding of the different Biblical titles might help us avoid some of the confusion that has entered into the evangelical scene.
To “preach the word” is not shorthand for a general expository teaching ministry but rather for proclaiming the gospel word.
Leave it the professionals?
But hear me when I suggest that maybe there has been an over-emphasis on the building centred event that has been to the detriment of every-believer gospel witness and responsibility.
Even Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, in their excellent book The Trellis and the Vine, are found suggesting “If all the members of your congregation are given the opportunity to be trained in evangelism, more unbelievers will attend our events.” (p19)
No doubt there are many reasons why the ‘event’ seems to be the central strategy in so much ‘evangelism’. Growing church staff numbers with their ensuing specialities tend to lift responsibilities off the ‘laity’ and onto the professionals. The professionals in turn feel the need to produce and manage impressive set piece events, and the money-draining building has to be more widely used to justify its existence as a meeting place for God’s people.
But I’m generalising. The question I want to pose is: what does the Bible really teach about how you and I should be showing and sharing the good news of Jesus? Is our job just to get people into a building to hear a gospel presentation, or is there more to it than that?
Next time: Being ready.