“For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost”(Luke 19:10).
When 72-year-old Neil Diamond was interviewed about an upcoming concert, the interviewer asked, “Why, at your age, are you going on this concert tour? You don’t really need the money.”
After thinking about it for a moment, the singer said, “I guess I’m going on the tour because I can’t not go on the tour.”
His passion for singing impressed me and then I thought this should be like our passion for evangelism. We evangelize because we “can’t not” evangelize. This is our passion and we “can’t not” if we try.
Unlike the singer, our passion as Christians is deeply rooted in our relationship with Christ. That relationship determines our passion and what Christ was passionate about, so are we today. Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go into the next town because that’s why I came.”
Passion is the essential ingredient for evangelism, whether today or 2000 years ago. Sometimes, church people get all bent out of shape trying to keep up with the latest changes in society. However, if you examine things very closely, essential things never change.
Yes, some things have changed in our world, but not the essential things. Certainly, the need for evangelism has not changed. A lost soul today is just as lost as ever.
We are more opportunities to evangelize and never before, which brings with it tremendous responsibilities.
In the late 1800s, Charles Spurgeon was dealing with a condition developing in the church of his day, which was labeled the Downgrade Controversy. Briefly put, in their enthusiasm to reach their generation, churches were trying to downgrade the gospel to include more people. Attendance was beginning to wane and many churches thought if they would adjust the standards, more people would come to church. Spurgeon fought against this with all his heart.
In our day, we hear people say that we need to lower the standards just a little to include more of our culture, which would enable us to reach more people. Some have confused evangelism with accommodation. People do not need to be accommodated, they need to be evangelized.
The key to local church evangelistic outreach is getting down to the very basics of what evangelism is all about. This is in no way dumbing down the gospel. On one hand, some believe we must ratchet evangelism up to the level of the sophisticated and well-educated scholar. Others believe the gospel must be adjusted lower so children can understand and be reached. However, if you cannot present the gospel to a young child so that he can understand it, you will never be able to explain it to the sophisticated educated scholar. Simple does not mean stupid, it means getting to the very basics of what we believe. To understand the simplicity of the gospel, which spans generational barriers, is to understand the dynamics of this gospel.
Evangelism is central to every healthy local church. In order to understand our evangelism mandate, we need to look at several aspects.
The first aspect would be, The Message.
Evangelism always begins with the message. What should our message be? If we are going to evangelize our generation, we need to have a clear understanding of the message and especially its roots in the Word of God.
That message begins with an understanding that people are lost, and there is only one solution, which is, Jesus Christ. Nobody is more lost than anybody else is. Being lost is the great equalizer. Sometimes we have the idea that some criminal who has done heinous crimes is more lost than some innocent looking child. Therefore, the message needs to be tweeted for that criminal. The truth of the matter is, at the center of every person is a lost soul. The message needs to address the lostness of that person.
Granted, some people do terrible things as a result of being lost. Often we categorize sins people do in defining them as more lost than somebody else. The only reason they do those sins is because they are indeed lost. There is not a crime or sin anybody has ever done that anybody else is not capable of doing. Sin, any sin, is proof of being a lost person.
Lost simply means we are not going in the right direction.
It does not matter if you are 1 mile or 1,000 miles down the road if you are going in the wrong direction. Evangelism is helping people realize they are lost and going in the wrong direction, the message tells them how to get back on track and if they do not get back on track there are eternal consequences.
Often we target particular sins, and certainly, sin needs to be dealt with, but at the core of every sin is a lost soul. Nobody sins unless they are lost and the message needs to address the lostness of a person.
The target, therefore, of evangelism is the heart, not the head. If you can convince someone intellectually that they are lost, someone more eloquent can convince them they are not lost. Many have been convinced they are okay as they are. After all, everybody makes mistakes and nobody is perfect.
That is not our message.
The aim of effective evangelism is the heart. Intellect cannot penetrate the heart, only the Holy Spirit can and as such, we are not in control of the message. The Holy Spirit is in control and takes that message, penetrates the heart and brings that person to a point of conviction. Unless the Holy Spirit convicts the person, he will never know he is lost and if he never knows he is lost, he will never have an opportunity to turn his heart around for the Lord Jesus Christ.
The goal of our message is conversion.
We get into trouble dumbing down the message to make it understandable to the culture around us. That is not necessary because the head cannot comprehend what it means to be lost. The message focuses on the fact that man is lost outside of Jesus Christ. It cannot be comprehended intellectually, rather, it is something the Holy Spirit brings to a person’s heart, which we call conviction and through the work of conviction enables them to understand they are lost. As soon as we get beyond the head to the heart, conviction takes place and the result of conviction is conversion. Without conviction, there can be no conversion.
Every aspect of the message must be in complete harmony with the Word of God. Any part contrary to the Word of God needs to be eliminated because it is not part of the original message. We must get back to the original message given to us in the Word of God by men of God, chosen of God to do such a thing. Everything we believe must have “chapter and verse.”
Effective evangelism also includes The Messenger.
God delights in choosing men and women for the work of the ministry. God can work apart from us, but He chooses to bless us and work through us, which is where the Holy Spirit comes in. Only a man or woman chosen of God, yielded to the Holy Spirit and committed to the Word of God, can be effectively used of God in the work of evangelism.
This messenger must, first, have been radically transformed by the dynamics of the message if he is going to be used of God at all. When the messenger becomes a celebrity, the message is greatly compromised and the focus is diverted.
The messenger God uses often stands at odds against his own generation and culture.
To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, “Each generation is blessed the most by the saint that contradicts it the most.” The man who is committed to get along and go along can never be used of God in his generation. Only the man willing to contradict his generation can be used by the Holy Spirit in evangelism.
We need more men and women who are utterly and radically committed to the message to such a degree that they are contradicting the culture around them.
Effective evangelism also embraces The Methods.
Clearly, this is where we have the most problems in that we cannot separate methods from the messenger or even the message. There needs to be absolute harmony in these three aspects.
Very simply, methods are tools by which we do the work of evangelism and it cannot be of our own choosing. This is where we often go wrong. We see what the world around us is obsessed with and then, in our enthusiasm, we try to use that as a tool for evangelism. All this does is say to the world that there is not much difference between the culture and the church. If that is so, evangelism is unnecessary.
Great care must be taken that the methods we use do not degrade the messenger. We now want comics, celebrities and entertainers to be the platform by which we get the message out to the masses. Entertainment has taken the bite out of the message and made it more digestible. If our evangelism is making lost people feel good about themselves it is not doing its God appointed job.
The method cannot degrade the messenger nor can it compromise the message in any way. The message is the standard. No messenger can be used of God that has not been radically transformed by the message and no method can be used that in any way compromises the message.
Often some church effectively uses a method and other churches adopt that method believing the power is in the method. What works in one place, does not necessarily work in another place. We do not build our evangelism on a method, but rather on a message conveyed by a messenger radically changed by the message.
Take David, for example, when he faced Goliath. In the natural, David was no match for Goliath. David was shorter than most men and Goliath was taller than most men. Goliath was a well-seasoned soldier and David, just a simple shepherd boy from the hills. In the spiritual, however, Goliath was no match for David.
Before going out to meet Goliath, King Saul tried to set David up with his own armor. That armor was a method Saul had used many times before, but was not something David could use. God set David against Goliath to show that the enemy cannot be defeated by human standards but only by God’s.
If we are going to reach our world around us, it cannot be accomplished by human standards. We cannot, for example, take a business approach to evangelism as many are trying to do today. Evangelism will cost us greatly, but rarely is that cost money.
In this light, large churches really do not have an advantage over small churches when it comes to evangelism, if it is true evangelism. In fact, some large churches might have a little bit of a disadvantage here because they have so much at their disposal; they have come to rely upon their strength and ingenuity. They are busy developing “methods” they think they can use and then market it to other churches. The Holy Spirit is not limited to our methods. Sometimes our methods exclude the Holy Spirit and we are on our own. The church can be either method-oriented or message-oriented.
My passion is to reach the lost and sometimes my enthusiasm gets in the way. The best approach is to surrender completely to the Lord and allow the Holy Spirit to use us as only He can use us. Therefore, when the work is done, nobody can credit the work to us or some method we used. All of the glory belongs to God.
The platform God delights to use is a transformed life.