Last week at the Church Planter Training Conference, John Shaw spent an extended time with the church planters discussing evangelism. A particular segment of that time warrants a summary here for a brief refreshment, encouragement, and direction in this important task for our churches.
John opened with a quote from a 19th century minister named Alexander Duff who in a sermon stated this:
“Hence it follows, that when a Church ceases to be evangelistic, it must cease to be evangelical; and when it ceases to be evangelical, it must cease to exist as a true Church of God, however primitive or apostolic it may be in its outward form and constitution!”
As the men reflected on this, John pointed out that we should be concerned when 2-3 years pass and there are no conversions. He quickly noted that of course we cannot control the fruit. There may be such a season in the life of a church, but we shouldn’t be satisfied during that season. Our desire and expectation must be that through the mission work we should see conversions.
Jonah 4 framed a consideration of how God used humor and irony to show us how we should view the world. Jonah’s prayer is shocking. He is angry because God showed mercy to Nineveh. Imagine, John suggested, that your church sends out a young church planter to do a bible study in a new area. Through that bible study, the entire city is converted. What would that new church planter do? He might retire! It’s never going to get better than that. But not Jonah; he was angry.
And as we read the rest of the chapter, here is the irony: Jonah loved the plant and not the people!
God then speaks to Jonah and shows us two reasons he showed mercy to Nineveh and thereby, two ways that we should view the world.
1) God pitied the people of Nineveh because he created them. They are made in His image. And so, when we look out on a broken world…yes, we are frustrated…yes, we see openly wicked actions……but those same people have value because they are created in the image of God. We should have compassion, and it should change how we view the world.
2) God pitied the people of Nineveh because they are lost. This is a nation that is raping and pillaging….destroying nations including children. But God pities them because they are lost. We must pity those around us, even the wicked, because they are lost.
Is there anywhere in the New Testament where we hear an echo of this kind of view of the world? Matthew 9! Jesus, the greater Jonah, looks out upon the crowds and has compassion on them because they are like sheep without a shepherd.
We cannot understand evangelism if we don’t understand our God.
We intellectually have our Systematic Theology down. We’ve passed our presbytery exams. But when our theology hits the street do we maintain it?
John challenged the men with two quotes from Mack Stiles in a 9Marks book on evangelism:
“Much of our problem with evangelism is that we don’t have a big enough view of the church”
“God loves the world and has a wonderful plan for evangelism: his church”
When we see people the way God sees people and when we understand God’s view of the role of the church in His kingdom, then we have the foundation for the HOW of evangelism.
The group considered many ways to implement evangelism. We can’t cover those here, but there is one major idea that was highlighted that will challenge each of us today: A large factor in us getting better and more effective at evangelism is first learning how to speak about Jesus together as a church and as believers. Does that sound strange?
John reminded the men that when Chris Hartshorn taught this segment of the conference a couple of years ago that he made this point. If you can’t talk about Jesus with your brothers and sisters, how will you ever do it to the world?
How easy it is for us to gather for worship, be in the presence of the living God, hear the benediction and go off to our friends and talk about anything but Jesus!
It must be natural for us to talk about Jesus when we are together so that we are ready and it’s natural to talk about Jesus when we are sent out into the world!