By Pastor Mark Combs
I have learned along the way that we have some definite expectations of what subjects are acceptable to talk about and which subjects are not acceptable. In public discourse, we are often told that the off-limits subjects are money, religion and politics. We know how often that rule gets broken, but we still know that the rule is there. In the world of congregations, it is often made completely clear, especially to pastors, that the off-limits subjects are stewardship and evangelism.
My question is, why are we so against talking about these subjects? I believe it is because these subjects challenge us to look at ourselves, to look at what we do about the things that we have been given.
Think about stewardship – we don’t like to talk about stewardship, because we don’t like to be put on the spot about what we do with our time and our money to further God’s mission in the world. However, we have come to expect that we will have to face a period every year, in the fall, when we have to deal with these questions for the life of the congregation. But, what about evangelism?
Evangelism is almost a dirty word in many church circles. When the topic of evangelism comes up, pastors often hear things like, “You don’t mean that we have to actually talk to people!” The problem with this is that Jesus expects us to go out and talk to people. More specifically, Jesus expects us not just to talk to people, but to talk to them about the Good News of salvation that we have received from God. (If you have forgotten, check Matthew 28:19.) I bring this up, because I often think that we forget that evangelism is everyone’s job.
However, going out of the church building and talking about the Good News is only part of the job. There is a part of evangelism that happens in a much easier location – at our church building. Which gets me to the point for us here at St. John’s, a check-up, if you will allow me, on how we do with what should be the easiest part of evangelism.
I don’t know if you noticed, but we had a number of visitors over the summer months this year. I had the opportunity to speak with a few of them, who I knew were just visiting, about their experiences of worshipping with us. They had some very interesting things to say. One comment that I received was, “The people seemed fairly friendly, once you found your way to the chapel, but the people in the parking lot just kind of looked at me as if to ask what I was doing there. No welcome at all at that point, and no guidance about where to go or how to get to the worship space.” (Remember that summer worship is in the chapel.)
If you look around the building, you will notice that we don’t do a good job with directions in our signage. The person who spoke about the folks in the parking lot pointed out that there were no clear directions of where to go when he got into the building. He had to stand for a minute to listen to from where sound was coming to be able to find the chapel. In this case, evangelism can be as simple as being hospitable and friendly.
I know that most of you are aware of the nametags that we have for everyone who attends worship. Have you noticed how many people seem to be wearing them? I think that we often forget that things like nametags and directions are not for us – they are for the visitors who may or may not arrive on a given Sunday. The truth is that if we are not prepared every Sunday to welcome people, then on the Sundays that have visitors, we will miss opportunities.
So why are these challenges important? In the book, What Every Pastor Should Know, we hear, “Churches that do not focus on (evangelism and outreach) will die in just a few generations. Hoping and even praying that the harvest will be brought in on its own is simply wishful thinking.” (1) While I will never say that the reason we have to have this kind of focus is to maintain the congregation, I am sure that you can see the logic of what happens if we don’t face the challenge of evangelism.
God has given us great opportunities to do ministry here in Zanesville. God has equipped us with everything we need to share the Good News of Christ. Our Lord Jesus’ Great Commission is for us to make disciples. Again from What Every Pastor Should Know, “Churches that prioritize evangelism and outreach in their prayers, in their member deployment, in their budget, in their staffing, and in their leadership training find that God blesses their endeavors with an abundant harvest. We know there is more to making disciples than just evangelism, but many churches that are not experiencing the potential harvest that is all around them are focusing on everything but evangelism.” (2)
So, where does all that leave us at St. John’s? I have to believe that when we are really honest with ourselves, we know what we are supposed to be doing. We know that we are supposed to be doing the easy stuff of being hospitable when we are at the church building. We know that we are supposed to be doing the difficult stuff of talking to people when we are away from the church building. The challenge we have to face is to ask if we are going to live out the commission our Lord gave us.
It is not about salvation. Our Lord already took care of that problem in our lives. It is more a question of how we respond to that Good News. My prayer is that we will respond to our Lord’s challenge by showing in our lives what the Good News means to us!
I know I have broken the unwritten rules by talking about evangelism, but I knew these were things that we needed to know. I hope that you understand, and won’t be too hard on me for breaking the rules.
Until next time.
Be of good voice telling the story!