We have a problem. It’s a big problem.
Let me illustrate it this way. The average life expectancy for a US citizen is 78.7 years. For men, it’s 76 years. For women, it’s 81 years. I could speculate about the reason for the difference, but my wife reads my blog, so I won’t!
Now, it is alleged that by the time most Christians come to the end of life, they would have:
- Heard 5,000 sermons
- Sung 10,000 songs
- Prayed 20,000 prayers
- Led no one to Christ
That illustration has obvious flaws. There are holes in the math, differences in circumstances and various definitions of soul winning. But it begs an important question. How many Christians can recall one person they personally led to Christ? What about you?
There are numerous challenges to effective evangelism; neglected prayer, outdated methods, lack of divine power, the list goes on. But let’s look at 3 challenges to our traditional evangelism practices.
Adventist evangelism hurts Adventist evangelism:
When Methods Are Unchanged
It’s obvious why some evangelistic ideas and efforts are unfruitful. The calendar has changed, but the methods are the same. Going to the evangelistic campaign is like taking a nice stroll down memory lane. There’s not a thing wrong with that if people are responding, and needs are being met. I don’t believe in innovation for the sake of innovation, but if the horse is dead, it’s time to dismount.
“Let every worker in the Master’s vineyard, study, plan, devise methods, to reach the people where they are. We must do something out of the common course of things.”(1) I agree with Ellen White. We need to respect tried and true principles. But the definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing and expect a different result.
When Ministers Are Unchallenged
In another life, I was the Director of Church Growth and Discipleship for a large conference. Early on I discovered that 37 churches had not baptized a single person in 3 years. Not good for an institution whose mission is to baptize and make disciples (Matt. 28). But my biggest surprise came when I spoke to the pastors. Most of them had no clue that it had been so long between baptisms. Each situation was unique and there was no quick fix, but I noticed that the ministers responded well when I challenged them through accountability and continuing education.
I believe in accountability. Ministers need it, and churches need it too. I don’t think you reach your potential without it. Accountability at its best is redemptive and instructive. It helps you know what condition you are in. In the same way that a doctor gives you a “count” of your blood pressure, cholesterol and other vitals at a physical, accountability helps leaders know how healthy they are. Ministers and churches need to know how well they are doing in the work of building God’s kingdom.
Most of us stop learning too soon. For many ministers, their exposure to new ideas and methods stops at the seminary. Continuing education exposes ministers to approaches that will help reach a world that is changing at warp speed. There will always be church members who are reluctant to support anything that the Adventist church didn’t baptize or Pacific Press didn’t publish. That can be a blessing in disguise. It forces deep thought and discernment. But if you are a minister, continue to pursue the best resources inside and outside the denomination.
When Members Are Uninvolved
There is one thing that I find missing from most Adventist meetings…The Adventists! It seems that members are largely uninterested and uninvolved in their own evangelistic meetings. Most ministers seem to put forward a strong effort to get members involved, but the results are inconsistent. And when members are not involved in public evangelism, it’s harder to reach people and keep people.
Harder to reach people.
Charles and Win Arn conducted an important survey. They determined after surveying over 14,000 people that most Christians come to Christ or a church because of a friend or relative. Not because of an evangelist or online bible study, but because of a friend, a loved one, a member. If members are not connecting their friends to Christ then it’s not likely that a flyer or television broadcast will replace their efforts.
Harder to keep people.
The best way to keep the people from coming in the front door of the church and leaving out the back, is for them to have relationships in the church. Period.
So What Do We Do?
We will return to this subject often, but to keep well-meaning evangelism fresh and effective we should consider this. We should give evangelism a new meaning, a new location and a secret weapon.
It would be helpful to think of the word “witness” when we see the word evangelist. That’s a little closer to what God expects of us. God doesn’t expect each of us to be full-time bible instructors or conference evangelists, but according to Acts 1:8, he does expect us to be witnesses. In fact, he has already given you, not only the power to witness, but the location and a secret weapon.
Your location to witness is right where you are. Before you take a mission trip across the seas take a walk across the street or across the room. That’s your primary mission field. And your secret weapon is your life experience.
“Far more than we do, we need to speak of the precious chapters in our experience. No more effective means can be employed for winning souls to Christ.”(2)
God uses your life experiences–good and bad–to attract men and women to the cross. When they see how God works through the lives of real people, it moves them in a strange way, a supernatural way.
So let’s get off the sidelines and into the game. God has already provided everything we need to make evangelism work.
- E.G. White, Letter 20, 1893
- E.G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 299