Evangelism: From pulpit to pew to people

By James Merritt

I begin this blog with an assumption that I perhaps should not be making, and that is every pastor wants to cast an evangelistic vision for his church. But at least in the Southern Baptist Convention, that assumption is no longer apparently a valid one. We are at the lowest number of baptisms in 70 years. The number of churches that baptize no one are so embarrassing and depressing, I won’t even list it.

Frankly, I don’t understand any pastor who can sleep at night while drawing a paycheck from a church that can’t even baptize somebody’s child or grandchild in a year. This is not as matter of commitment—it is a matter of ministerial integrity. Unless you are pastoring yourself in the middle of the Sahara desert there is simply no excuse for not baptizing somebody in a year’s time. Hence the need for a conversation on how to cast a vision for evangelism in the church, for without this vision the lost will certainly perish without Christ.

I believe there are three words to keep in mind to make this happen.

1. Culture

It has been well said that “culture eats vision for breakfast.” If I have learned anything about culture it is the culture is created from the top. The pastor is the ultimate culture setter in the church. That is why the next statement is so important: evangelism is more caught than taught. I learned this in seminary.

I took a course in evangelism from one of the foremost authorities on the subject anywhere, Dr. Lewis Drummond. He taught the theology of evangelism in a masterful way. He covered the best methodologies of the day. But at the end of the course the students who were committed to evangelism were still committed and those who weren’t just checked off another course.

But the game changer for many of the students came the day he inexplicably didn’t show up for class. Dr. Drummond was always punctual and I was one of the last ones to finally leave after waiting for over thirty minutes. Two days later when our class met again, Dr. Drummond began apologizing for his unexplained absence. He said “I want to apologize for not making our evangelism class. I got caught up in a conversation in my office and led the telephone repairman to Jesus. BOOM went the dynamite! His example did more to light a fire for evangelism in our hearts then his three very best lessons on the subject.

One of the best ways for a pastor to create a culture of evangelism is to do it and talk about it! You cannot activate what you do not initiate. You cannot instill what you do not distill in your own life. So everything a pastor can do to create a culture of evangelism that pastor must do.

2. Communication

One thing should be clearly communicated every week and that is the gospel. One of the best ways to model for your people how to communicate the gospel individually is to hear the gospel communicated corporately every week. Remember it is the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation. Evangelism is the beginning and ending of all effective evangelism. I am amazed at how seldom the gospel is presented at all in many services every Sunday. The apostle Paul called it a matter of “first importance.” (I Corinthians 15: 1-4) Yet too often it is relegated to the back burner of our messaging. We must get back both to the gospel and a call to respond to it in a personal decisive way.

Ultimately, evangelism is a call for a decision to become a disciple. Evangelism is successful whether the decision is yes or no, but it is not finished until a yes or no is given. This “invitation” to follow Jesus may take many forms both individually and corporately, but it must be extended for believers to truly evangelize and for the unbeliever to be evangelized. This should be modeled by the pastor from the pulpit and in his personal life.

3. Commitment

There must be an intentionality from training, to events, to stories and sermons to continuously keeping the lostness of the world and the power of the gospel in the forefront of the church’s conversation. The easiest thing for the church or the individual believer to drift away from is evangelism. The hard work is making sure that doesn’t happen.

To every pastor out there I have these parting words for all of us: the evangelistic buck stops with us.

Published May 30, 2018

James Merritt

Pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Georgia.