Summary: 7 of 18 messages on moving toward greater health as a church.
The Purpose-full Church: In Evangelism
I. Defining the Purposes of the Church
1. A parable of our present state in evangelism
2. Evangelism Defined
3. Elements of evangelism
The story is told about a major uproar that took place at the Acme Dog Food Company because their sales were consistently going down. The president of Acme commissioned his department heads and managers to try to determine why sales were doing so poorly. The department of advertising got together and discussed just why it wasn’t selling. They discovered they were doing all that could be done to get the product into the minds of consumers. The production department claimed all was on schedule. The shipping and handling department said all was OK. They got the scientist to analyze the food and declared it to be of very high nutrition, one of the top dog foods on the market. The relationships with the retailers were checked out. But still they couldn’t figure out why the food wouldn’t sell. Finally from the back of a smoke-filled conference room at Acme headquarters came a quiet voice with the answer, “The reason why Acme dog food would not sell is because the dogs just won’t eat it.”
I believe this story typifies one end of the continuum of our experiences in evangelism. We’ve read all the right books. We’ve attended the seminars. We’ve been trained in a particular methodology. We’ve listened to good sermons. We’ve memorized some key scriptures, stories and arguments. But when we actually get around to the business of evangelism, our results are meager at best: no one is “buying” what we’re “selling.” We seem to be the only ones who recognize the gospel message as being good news. And although we clearly understand that Jesus has commanded us to make disciples, these types of experiences make us reluctant to want to attempt it again.
A Parable of Our Present State in Evangelism
Now I want to take a look at the other end of the continuum of our experiences in evangelism. Please turn in your Bibles to John 5:1-7 (p. 792). Your translation may include v. 4 as a footnote. I will be reading v. 4 as well. [Read]
I see this incident in the life of Jesus a parallel to the great task of evangelism that we encounter on a daily basis. In v. 3 we see the human need: sickness, disease, brokenness, and an inability to change this condition. In v. 4 we see God’s provision: the stirring of the waters by an angel of the Lord. And in v. 7 we see the problem: there is no one to put the man into the pool after the water has been stirred in order that he might receive healing. Dr. Terry Wardle, one of my professors at ATS, posed these questions about this event: “What happened to the people who got healed? Why didn’t they help the others?”
When you look at this story in the light of these questions, you can see that it is parabolic of our present state of evangelism. Those who have received the gospel message are like those who were able to get into the pool after the stirring and received their healing. And like those who had been healed, they leave that place where so many are desperate and needy and fail to help them into the pool where they can be saved.
The Times-Reporter of New Philadelphia, Ohio, reported in September, 1985 a celebration of a New Orleans municipal pool. The party around the pool was held to celebrate the first summer in memory without a drowning at the New Orleans city pool. In honor of the occasion, 200 people gathered, including 100 certified lifeguards. As the party was breaking up and the four lifeguards on duty began to clear the pool, they found a fully dressed body in the deep end. They tried to revive Jerome Moody, 31, but it was too late. He had drowned surrounded by lifeguards celebrating their successful season.
I’ve drawn your attention to the two extremes of experiences in evangelism which are so prevalent in the Church today: on the one end is a lack of results leading to reticence, and on the other end is self-satisfaction leading to self-absorption. What I want to do this morning is try to move us more to the middle of the continuum—to a place where we are actively engaged in evangelism and we are experiencing the joy of seeing lives changed by God.
I don’t believe that I need to spend time trying to convince you of the great need to reach out to your family, friends, co-workers and neighbors with the life-changing message of the gospel. We all agree with that fact. I also don’t believe that I need to build a case for the fact that we are under obligation from our Lord to be about the task of evangelizing the world. We all agree on that fact also. So my chief purpose this morning will be to make the process of evangelism as practical and understandable as I can. I want to see us move to the place of seeing evangelism as just a natural part of living the Christ-life and not as a rigorous duty to be endured. And I want each of us to see that God has intended to use us naturally—where we are and how were made. We will accomplish this by looking primarily at Jesus’ approach to evangelism.