So many books, seminars and DVD series exist on the topic of evangelism. Most of these resources describe mindsets, motivational pep talks, and above all else a wide variety of techniques. I want to suggest that in the midst of all these voices we often overlook the most productive evangelistic practice: PRAYER.
Last Sunday I was blessed to speak at the Center Road Church of Christ in Kokomo, Indiana. They asked me to address the topic of evangelism, so I did.
A significant part of my sermon focused on the benefits of prayer in the evangelistic process. I’ve provided a summary below.
5 Reasons to Make Prayer Central to Evangelism
- Prayer involves God in our circumstances. The Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) begins with Jesus’ statement, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore…” Our evangelistic mission emerges from the fact that Jesus has all power! When we pray, we request the holder of all power to act on behalf of the lost in our lives. This single function of prayer is 99.5% of the reason prayer should always be central to evangelism. The power of God that we request through prayer is real!
- Prayer reminds us that it’s not our expertise that’s on trial, we’re just joining God on His mission. Closely related to the previous point this reason just shifts the focus. If all power belongs to Jesus, then we need to remind ourselves that we’re just His tools. I suspect the #1 barrier to sharing our faith is that we take complete responsibility for bringing people to Christ. When we do that we subvert the work of God and the Holy Spirit in a person’s life. Yes, we have to meet people, speak to people, express our faith, but we also need to give God space to work.
- Offering to pray for (unchurched) people is a a super non-threatening way of expressing our love for God, our love for the individual, and God’s love for that person all at the same time. It is amazing how people will open up when you ask if you can pray for them.
One of the first time I asked a waitress if I could pray for her when I gave thanks for my meal she nearly burst into tears telling me how her cat was suffering and about the surgery it needed. Now I’m not a cat person, but I prayed for her cat (can’t remember its name) as I gave thanks for my meal. I was at a conference that week, but if that happened in Rochester, I’d have gone back to that restaurant to ask that lady how her cat was. I’ve gotta think that lady hated being separated from her cat while she was at work that day, but that God was able to give her some encouragement through my question.
- Offering to pray for people leads to spiritual conversations. How often do we psych ourselves out of speaking up for God because it just seems inappropriate. But when a stranger asks you to pray for something specific, they’re having a spiritual conversation with you whether they realise it or not. They’re asking you to approach God with a need on their behalf. Then as the above story demonstrates you can come back and ask how God responded to that prayer. Before you know it, you’re talking about God with a stranger and they’re viewing you as a conduit to God.
Or you could just walk up to people and ask them if they know where they’re going to spend eternity. Try that with your waiter and see how it goes. 🙂
- When prayer for the lost is part of church gatherings it raises the awareness of the members. One of the few specific things that Jesus commanded his followers to pray for was workers to spread the Gospel. Do you remember this passage from Matthew 9:37-38 “Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” When is the last time you heard this prayer at your church? Church leaders will often lament about church growth and evangelism, but are we praying as Jesus instructed us to pray?
Yeah, I know I cheated and there’s some overlap between those points, but I’d love for you to add to this list. Please leave a comment below.
And many thanks to Kairos Church Planting for helping me focus on prayer as the locus of evangelism.
This week, I’m starting a new sermon series from the book of Nehemiah. It’s difficult to cover a 13 chapter book in 4 weeks so I’m resorting to the old preachers trick of picking some themes and then have them start with the same letter so that they’re easier to remember. I chose the letter “P”, just because several of my themes began with that letter and then I made the other two fit.
One of the many unique characteristics of Jesus’ ministry was his ability to see life from a different perspective to those around him. At his trial, he could look Pilate in the eye and say, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) Honestly, who talks like that? If we encounter someone claiming to be a king in an alternative universe we generally label that person a geek or a freak. But Jesus spoke in a way that made his perspective seem rational, real, and believable.
Jesus could see the dualism of the physical and spiritual realms and the way they interact. He understood how actions in one realm influence events in the other. He knew saw life like no one else saw life.
We could argue that any great leader in history brings a unique perspective to their task, that’s why they’re recognised as a leader. (Although some of them may have simply been in the right place at the right time.) But God’s leaders in Scripture generally share the trait of seeing life from God’s perspective.
Thousands of people knew that the walls of Jerusalem were in a state of disrepair: the inhabitants of Jerusalem and surrounds; and, others, like Nehemiah, who heard the news from travelers. Apparently every other person simply accepted that “it is, what it is”. (Granted, there may have been farmers etc. unhappy with the situation, but not in a position to do anything about it.) In contrast, when Nehemiah heard the news he mourned, fasted and prayed for 40 days.
There are several ways to consider the destruction of Jerusalem’s walls:
- It could be a civic pride issue, “What’s the point of mowing my yard and keeping it nice, when the cities walls are in mounds of rubble all over the place?”
- It could be a national security issue, “Without walls anyone can just waltz in and sack and pillage the city!”
- It could be a political issue, “If we don’t have any walls how can we ever gain our independence from foreign rulers. We need to be able to defend ourselves.”
But Nehemiah saw the destroyed walls as a spiritual issue. He prayed to God confessing his sins. He reminded God of His promises. And because he knew that God is, “the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love…” (Neh 1:5) he saw possibilities for rebuilding the wall. Yes, he worked in a position of privilege as the king’s cupbearer, but hasn’t God used faithful peasants and slaves in the past also? Nehemiah’s faith and vision allows God to use him, not his job.
We often limit the mission of the church and the influence of God in our lives by not recognising God’s perspective on our situation. We’re too quick to see problems rather than possibilities. Yahweh is a God with big ideas. 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God wants “everyone to come to repentance.“ How many churches and Christians really want that? How many people really believe that it’s possible? What possibilities do we see in our community or among our family and friends? How many people have we written off as “not interested” in knowing God? I wonder if Nehemiah would see different possibilities?
- If you’re a member at Lawson Rd, “What possibilities might Nehemiah see that we’ve been overlooking?”
- What attitudes or perspectives do we hang on to that limit our ability to view life as God would have us view life?
- Is it unrealistic to have the goal of “everyone coming to repentance“?
Last week I attended a seminar by Nelson Searcy. He made the following statement that I like and believe is pertinent to this discussion.
“Our churches need to have the goal of making it difficult for people in our communities to go to hell.”
If our churches are not contacting people in our communities, then it’s easy for them to go to hell. They just keep doing what they’re doing. But when we’re involved in the lives of those around us. When we’re inviting them to meet Christ. When they’re hearing the Good News of Jesus. They have to deliberately reject all that in order to go to hell. I like that as a church goal… but I’m not going to put in on the church sign!
As I studied the text for this sermon, a phrase from v19 jumped out at me. “Jesus was … powerful in word and deed“. How I wish more Christians and more churches could be described this way.
As I’ve previously scoured church ad’s while seeking new ministry positions, I’ve often noticed churches looking for “sound” preachers. (Like any preacher thinks of himself as ‘unsound’!) What if “sound” was replaced with “powerful in word and deed”? Would that change the type of people who apply?
Many churches over the years have emphasised “powerful in word”. They seek a dynamic preacher, and someone who teaches what they understand to be the truth. People can be proud of their church because of these two things. In my experience, it’s much less common to find a church that says, “Yes, we have average preaching, but we’re powerful in deeds.” For many, such a statement would seem “unsound”.
Jesus’ encounter with the travelers on the road to Emmaus demonstrates the importance of both words and deeds. The travelers were leaving Jerusalem where they’d seen Jesus crucified. They’d heard the testimony of the women and the apostles about the empty tomb, but they were still disheartened. They’d heard the truth, but their life experience told them that dead men stay dead!
Jesus restores their hope in two ways:
FIRST: He directs them back to Scripture. He shows them from the Old Testament how God always intended for the Messiah to suffer and die. (Can you imagine what an awesome study that would have been to have with Jesus!!) In v32 we’re told that their hearts “were burning within them while he… opened the Scriptures to us“. God’s words are powerful!
SECOND: He gives them an experience they won’t forget. Jesus replaced their negative experience with a positive one. Through his teaching he reoriented their expectations, but he didn’t leave them at that point. He revealed himself to them, confirming his teaching, proving his resurrection. He could have left them without revealing himself and they would have been wiser, with a greater appreciation for the Biblical teachings. But he revealed himself, stayed with them, ate with them, comforted them, and loved them. He restored their hope.
- If we accept that churches aren’t perfect (hope that’s not a shock to you), and therefore they will emphasise either “word” or “deed”, why do we more often than not emphasise “word”?
- It seems to me that the traditional Bible Class structure helps make “word” a church activity, but leaves “deed” as an individual responsibility. How can Bible Classes better integrate “deeds” into the lessons?
- What sort of “deeds” can churches perform that others would describe as “powerful”?
- Have you ever known a person that you’d describe as “powerful in word and deed”?
- Read 1 Corinthians 3:4-15 here.
- If you missed Sunday’s sermon from 1 Cor. 3 (26 April), you can listen to it here.
Many people who are familiar with Jesus’ Parable of the Sower in Mark 4:1-20 readily accept that Paul’s illustration in 1 Cor 3:6-9 concerns evangelism. “Paul planting and Apollos watering” refers to the teaching of the Gospel and the maturing of faith. While different people have different roles, God oversees the entire process.
Verse 9 contains an abrupt transition from the image of a field to that of a building. There is no indication that the topic changes, just the illustration.
If verses 10-15 are read without the preceding context it’s easy to seize on the word “work” in v13 and think Paul’s discussing Christian living; Have people honored God with their lives? Yet the way v9 transitions indicates that these verses are also discussing the evangelism/conversion/maturing process. The church is being built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, not by good deeds, but by people being converted to following Christ. This passage describes numerical growth.
Some of the building materials (wood, hay, straw) are combustible and will burn when tested by fire. The other materials (gold, silver, and gems) will survive that same fire.
Paul wants the Corinthian church to recognize that not all of their converts will last. Some will desert their faith when they experience difficulties. Others, however, will persevere despite trials, their faith intact. Neither of these can be predicted on the front end, only time will tell.
My sermon, if you care to listen to it, outlined this understanding of the passage, but also highlighted the point that all sorts of people are converted to Christ: Gold, silver, gems, wood, hay, straw, rich, poor, African, Asian, male, female, etc. Not Paul’s direct intention, but I believe a valid application of the text.
I often feel guilty discussing numerical church growth. It’s like it’s a dirty word. It seems I have built in disclaimer that numerical growth isn’t everything and that spiritual maturity, or discipleship, is what’s most important. While spriritual growth is crucial to healthy church or personal relationship with God, we have to embrace numerical growth as the starting point for spiritual growth. Some people will last, some will not. Paul apparently didn’t think that talking about building the church numerically should be taboo.
Probably what’s most important in discussing numerical growth is recognzing that we’re not talking about numbers on a spreadsheet or lines on a graph. We’re talking about real people with real needs whom the angels rejoice over when they commit to following Christ. Does talk of numerical church growth sometimes make you uncomfortable? Are there other, more people-oriented, ways of discussing evangelism?
Songs & Scripture
I’m trying to think of some songs that have to do with multicultural churches, and I’m not getting very far. Perhaps some of our “Missionary Songs” are as close as we can get. I’d really appreciate some suggestions, as we can probably use them at our HARMONY Sunday on 31 May.
- Whosever Heareth
- Jesus Loves the Little Children (Kids song, but I’m not sure it’s PC anymore?)
- People Need the Lord (SFP)
- Sowing the Seed of the Kingdom (SFP)
- Yours (Steven Curtis Chapman on the 2007 album This Moment)
- He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands