Matthew Patton is pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Vandalia, Ohio. He has served there for the past 5 years. He and his wife, Trina, are blessed with 7 kids. One of his passions in ministry is seeing and preaching the glory of Christ in the Old Testament.
This week, we share Matthew’s answers to the first 3 questions from our interview…
1. What is something that you believe and/or do in regards to outreach that has changed over your time in ministry?
I now place much higher priority on encouraging the people of God to share the gospel in the natural relationships God has given them in the daily course of life. Church-led evangelism events are useful opportunities for casting lots of seed, and we sometimes see fruit from them. But much more long-term fruit has come from people starting conversations with their coworkers or neighbors and inviting them to church. One practical outworking of this is that we now strive to have about a month’s worth of evangelism training for our adults and older youth every year in our Sunday School rotation. This training has included how to show the love of Christ through hospitality, how to answer hard questions that people raise, and practical encouragements for having spiritual conversations.
2. If the OPC and OPC churches want to continue to grow in our effectiveness in reaching the lost-what is the most important thing we need to work on and how or in what way(s) should we be working on it?
Two things come to mind. First, I think that we simply need to do something (anything!) in obedience to the Savior, even if it feels awkward or we don’t immediately see fruit. Of course, many churches are striving to be faithful and are presently engaged in evangelism. But my sense is that a lot of OPC churches have functionally ceased to be engaged in it. It doesn’t need to be complicated: set up a table and pass out tracts at a county fair or a college campus. Go around the neighborhood with lawnmowers offering to mow for free, and seek opportunities to share Christ and invite people to church. Pass out water bottles at a local parade and ask people what they believe will happen when they die. Setup a table at a local arts festival and ask people how you can pray for them. (All of these I have done with considerable blessing). But do something!
Second, we need to become better at welcoming and communicating with the lost when they attend worship. Many of our sermons are filled with reformed lingo and are incomprehensible to non-Christians. When a non-Christian enters our church, do we have a welcome packet to help them comprehend what is going on? Do we have a mechanism in place for inviting them to stay for lunch or for following up with them? Do we do everything in our power to make them feel welcome and to communicate that we want to help them understand what’s going on?
3. What is something that has surprised you about outreach and evangelism to the lost as you have done it?
I am regularly surprised at how rarely people respond with hostility. Approach people with questions (rather than having your “pitch”): “What do you believe about spiritual things? What do you believe about God?” Having a listening posture often wins you a hearing from the other person. When I was doing a lot of evangelism on college campuses, it particularly amazed me how people would be willing on the spur of the moment to spend large amounts of time talking with me. Many people are very spiritually hungry and are surprised to encounter people who have well-formed spiritual ideas.