“You shall not bear false witness….” The 9th Commandment
I’ve always been interested in church mission statements. They can range from typical (“…to know him and make him known”)to transformational (“We strive to proclaim the Good News of Christ through worship, ministry, and outreach missions”). As I think about it, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a church’s mission statement that doesn’t make evangelism a central priority in one way or another.
But when it comes to evangelism, a mission statement can turn from big black letters on a church marquee to a little white lie that the church is telling the community. Strike that…it’s a big lie. If a church claims to be making evangelism a central priority and the people in that church are not actively sharing their faith, then the mission statement of that church is not just a joke; it’s a lie.
I know. I know. These are bold words. They are not meant to make you angry, but to get you thinking. If we are proclaiming to the members of our congregation and community that evangelism is a primary purpose via our church’s mission statement and we are not making it a central priority of our church’s program and budgets, then that mission statement is a lie.
If evangelism is a central priority in a church, then it would seem to me that evangelism training should be central, as well. The people in that congregation should be consistently challenged and equipped to proclaim the good news of Jesus. If it were a priority, then wouldn’t ministry leaders be lovingly and consistently held accountable to share their faith, just as they are held accountable for personal holiness or to show up for meetings they are leading? In a church truly aligned with their evangelistic mission statement, wouldn’t that priority enter into the Sunday morning program, just like worship, fellowship, teaching, communion, and offering do? The average church would never consider missing taking the offering as part of their Sunday morning services, but how many miss giving the gospel and/or challenging their people to do the same during the week?
To gauge whether or not your church is lying about its priority of evangelism when it comes to your mission statement, here are some questions to ask ...
- Are you equipping your people to effectively share their faith, and is someone in your church holding them accountable to do it? Are they evangelizing in their neighborhood, workplace, school, and circle of friends?
- How often are you and other church leaders personally sharing your faith with others (not counting the times you share the gospel from the pulpit or in a Sunday school class) and sharing the stories with the church congregation to inspire them to faithfully share the gospel, as well?
- How many resources (time, talent, and treasure) are being deployed by your church to mobilize God’s people for personal evangelism?
- Have sporadic outreach meetings (Easter, Christmas, etc.) replaced the push for relational evangelism in your church?
- How much of your church’s numeric growth is due to new converts versus pew-swapping Christians trying to find a new church?
- How much effort is being put into training teenagers and children to share their faith, since they are most open to the gospel demographically?
- On a scale from 1–10, how much is evangelism a true priority as opposed to a stated priority in your church?
These tough questions deserve honest answers.
So what do you do if you discover that your church is lying about its stated priority on evangelism? You have two options: Seek to change the mission statement, or seek to make evangelism an actual priority. I would strongly encourage the latter!
I don’t believe anyone who has ever crafted his or her church’s mission statement has ever purposely infused a lie into that important sentence! Instead, I think that what started out as an aspirational priority got lost as an actual priority in the fury of less dangerous activities (worship services, small group meetings, etc.) In lieu of mobilizing their people for personal evangelism, the average church has occasional outreach meetings or highlights a Great Commission wall of missionaries they are paying (buying off?) to accomplish that priority for them. Don’t get me wrong; while I’m all for outreach meetings and missionary support, these are not enough to call evangelism a true priority in the average church.
So how do we stop the lies and start truly making evangelism a priority church-wide?
Prayer is the supernatural precursor to proclamation. In Acts 4:31, Luke writes, “After they prayed the place where they were meeting was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and went out and spoke the word of God boldly.” If we want to get our churches to evangelize, then we must pray for them to start evangelizing. We must pray that God would make it a priority in our own lives at the same time.
Samuel Chadwick once said that Satan laughs at our priorities and mocks at our plans, but he trembles when we pray. We must pray for each other when it comes to the “e” word; otherwise it will never happen in a way that is going to produce lasting change in the lifeblood of our congregation.
If you aren’t living the cause of evangelism, then how can you ask your church to live it out? We must set the pace with our lives and our lips and then call those around us to join us. Jesus blasted his followers with a don’t-be-a-hypocrite reminder in Luke 6:42 when he said, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Before we try to pick the speck of evangelistic failure out of our church’s eye, let’s take the plank out of our own! Then let us humbly challenge our church to do the same!
Whether it be through stories of changed lives, unveiling the eternal realities of what is at stake (heaven, hell, Judgment Day, etc.) or focusing on passages of Scripture that command or compel us to share the gospel, we must inspire those in our congregations, small groups, Sunday school classes and youth groups to relationally and relentlessly share the gospel in their spheres of influence.
Richard Baxter, a great Protestant preacher of five centuries ago, once said, “Satan will seek to do the most harm to those who seek to do his kingdom the most damage.” One of the ways the Evil One will seek to do damage to those who are seeking to do his kingdom evangelistic harm will be to discourage them. He will whisper lies in their ears, saying they can’t make a real impact. He will peddle his lies in their hearts—that evangelism doesn’t work in a postmodern culture.
How do we counteract his lies? Through prayer and inspiration! We tell stories of changed lives. We drench the congregation with inspiration by baptizing the newly converted as a visual and visceral testimony of God’s saving power. We create a round-the-campfire church culture where we consistently swap stories of people we are seeking to reach with the good news of the gospel. That same story-based inspiration that encouraged the 1st century believers throughout the book of Acts can inspire believers in the 21st century, as well!
As you pray, live evangelistically and inspire those around you—get them equipped to actually do it. According to Ephesians 4:11–12, the purpose of the evangelists in a congregation is not to do all of the evangelism but to “equip God’s people for works of service….”
As the president of Dare 2 Share Ministries, I wanted to make sure all of our staff were actively equipped to share the gospel (after all, we equip tens of thousands of teenagers across the nation to evangelize, and we don’t want to be hypocrites). So I did a 10-part podcast series for them called Live THE Cause. These podcasts contain the bulk of what I know when it comes to how to effectively share the gospel. You can watch the podcasts here, download the free videos and PDF outlines, and train others to share their faith. They are great for small groups, Sunday school classes, etc., and they are totally free of charge.
How do you make sure that boots are on the battlefield and the bayonet hits the bone (so to speak) when it comes to evangelism? Maybe it’s through accountability on a small group level. Or maybe you get an accountability partner to keep encouraging you when it comes to sharing your faith. Whatever you choose to do to make sure you and your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are deployed for evangelism, you must do something. As James 1 so bluntly reminds us, we are called to be doers of the Word and not hearers only. If we hear about God’s command to “make disciples” but don’t do it, we are just fooling ourselves.
Once again I have to ask the tough question: Is your church fooling itself and, in the process, lying to others that evangelism is a priority? Is your church living out its mission statement or lying through its teeth?
Help your church accomplish its mission statements fully and truthfully. Pray, live, inspire, equip, and deploy! And let’s do it with gentleness and respect.
Let’s keep the 9th commandment, everyone.