The Nearly Impossible Task
Leading your church in mission and evangelism is a difficult but important job. How can we avoid guilt whilst pushing it to the top of our agenda?
“This is difficult to the point of being nearly impossible…”
Which of your leadership responsibilities do you think that’s referring to?
Elders’ meetings? Deacons’ meetings? Members’ meetings? Becoming a CIO? Getting your policies up do date? Getting back to some normality after covid?
The actual answer might surprise you.
Kathy Keller commented:
“Redeemer [Church] was founded on the principle that ‘we are not a church for ourselves, but for people who don’t like church.’ From the very first days... that commitment has been the foundation beneath all of Redeemer’s priorities. We have never sought to gather those who already believe, or take people away from other churches, but to address the secular, skeptical New Yorker who would ordinarily not attend church.
Because of this foundational commitment, God has given Redeemer the rare gift of being able to communicate the gospel plausibly and persuasively to people in the most difficult to reach demographic in the country. But this comes with a price. It means that we must always remind ourselves that we inside the church are not to put our own likes, dislikes, priorities and personal agendas ahead of the needs of those outside the church. This is difficult to the point of being nearly impossible, as the needs and desires of members (for programs and budget and training and attention from leaders) will always be more visible and voluble than the needs of people who aren’t even there and mostly are unable to articulate their spiritual needs.”1
This is the issue that is difficult to the point of nearly being impossible: to get the church to keep thinking of those not yet saved.
Now, why is that?
The battle for evangelism
Keller suggests it is because we have to multi-task as leaders and because of the urgent, legitimate, and (honestly) loud demands from those we serve that this other ‘item on the agenda’ keeps being demoted. It isn’t done deliberately – and we all know how important it is – but it happens by default. Easily.
Church life can be relentless. Without us realising it, we treat evangelistic activity as important but not urgent, and therefore we can become embroiled with the perceived urgency of internal church life.
In addition, it can feel terribly dispiriting to bring the gospel to those who don’t yet believe it. Haven’t you felt disappointed by a relative lack of conversions? We know "many are called, but few chosen" (Matthew 22:14), and trust the Lord for that, but Jesus too was disappointed when only one of the ten healed lepers came back to thank God (Luke 17:17- 18).
If we feel like that as leaders, most of our members feel it even more so. Many doubt if anyone they know will ever become a Christian. Many feel their attempts at getting alongside outsiders and sharing their faith have been rather pathetic. They question the likelihood of God using them again in future evangelistic endeavours.
Then along came the coronavirus pandemic. Allied to the problems of getting a church service organised, was the added challenge of doing any outreach at all. It all felt too difficult to organise or even encourage.
Covid has left many church leaders, especially single pastors or small elderships, feeling very tired and struggling to get back into sustainable work patterns. It’s the same for many of our members.
All this means we are likely to leave word-based evangelism at the lower end of the to-do list, especially after the long absence enforced on us all by Covid.
Then an email lands from A Passion for Life about an evangelistic mission across the country to get involved in!
How did you feel?
“Not again already”. “Great idea (but don’t ask me to get involved)”. “It’s for big churches, with resources”. “It’s for small churches with less going on”. “It’s for young pastors with energy”. “It’s for old guys who don’t have to spend so much time in preparation”. “Anyone but me, and the church I serve”.
Or was that just my first impression that I had to vigorously shake off?
The privilege of mission
Can I take this opportunity to encourage you to put your ‘leadership jacket’ back on, and to realise that it is a prime privilege, and duty of your role, to use all your energy to push mission and evangelism to the top of the church’s agenda? After all, this is Jesus’ passion: for lost people.
It is only as you feel the great passion for mission that Jesus has, that you will hear his voice saying, ‘whatever else you do in Christian leadership, put your shoulder under this burden and begin to raise its significance again.’
It may mean you commit yourself to a season of intense intercessory prayer as a starter (see Nehemiah 1:1-11). It could mean calling the members to see that they can’t continue in evangelistic inertia any longer, but need to refresh, reenvisage, and work (Nehemiah 2:17, 18).
Browbeating, guilt trips, loud exhortations won’t get us anywhere. But promises will.
Remember the last promise of Matthew’s gospel, indeed the famous last words of the Lord Jesus. He doesn’t say “go” but “lo’.
He says “Look! I am with you always to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
It is his presence with us, when we follow his heart’s passion, which will give us the grace to see the lost as he did: as sheep without a shepherd.
As part of that effort to push to the top of a church’s agenda what should never have slipped down it, the resources provided by A Passion for Life may really help you.
There is a whole heap of things that will encourage you and the believers you serve. Even if you are not able to get on board with the April mission, could you consider doing something later in the year?
This is a great opportunity for a renewed encouragement to think of the lost, and how God may use you and your church to bring his wonderful good news to them.
If you haven’t visited the website yet, clear a little time in your diary, and mine it for all its worth. You will find the Lord increasing your faith in what he can do through each and every one of his children.
And, by the way, if you haven’t discovered them yet, there are also some really great articles on mission that Andy Paterson has written. Check them out too.
1 Kathy Keller, quoted in Ready, Steady, Grow, Ray Evans (IVP, 2014), p215, 216.