Pastor, Don’t Forget to Add Personal Evangelism to Your Crazy Schedule
I have never seen a church with a culture of evangelism who didn’t also have a pastor passionately and actively engaged in evangelism.
Pastors are plenty busy as it is. Do we really need to add something else to their plates? My answer is both yes and no.
The rhythms of pastoral ministry can work at cross-purposes with regular evangelism. Sermon preparation, pastoral care, member hospitality, hospital visits, funerals, and weddings, can confine a pastor to a monolithically Christian circle. Furthermore, if their kids are homeschooled or attend Christian school, and their spouse stays home, a pastor can easily go months without speaking to a non-Christian.
As a pastor myself, I understand how this happens and have experienced it personally. But I am convinced that pastors must intentionally carve out time to invest in relationships with non-Christians for the purpose of evangelism.
I believe this is true for three reasons:
1. The church will follow their pastor’s lead.
Churches often end up looking like their pastors. This makes sense in a Christian tradition that gives special place to preaching on Sunday mornings. We all strive to preach what the Bible says, but we preach it through own personalities, experiences, and particular passions. It is not a coincidence that a pastor who is passionate about ecclesiology will eventually have a church that is passionate about ecclesiology. A pastor’s particular interests and passions come out naturally in their preaching week-to-week.
Consequently, I have never seen a church with a culture of evangelism who didn’t also have a pastor passionately and actively engaged in evangelism.
For the sake of his people, a pastor needs to make evangelism a regular part of his experience. As he’s preparing his sermon, he needs to be pondering not only the needs of his church, but also the questions raised by non-Christians in his life. He needs his heart to be burdened not only for the saints entrusted to his care, but also for the real flesh-and-blood non-Christians he is sharing Christ with. And as he preaches Sunday after Sunday, Christ’s heartbeat for the lost will bleed through to his people.
2. Your soul will be refreshed.
Every pastor knows this kind of day: I walk into our church building Tuesday morning and notice water is leaking from the ceiling of the fellowship hall. The next two hours are spent calling plumbers and trying to get someone to come look at it that morning. I finally sit down to begin sermon prep at 10 a.m., but a pastoral care case weighs on me. By the time my mind begins to focus, I must leave to meet someone for lunch. After lunch I take care of some administrative needs at the church, followed by a few home visits, all wonderfully encouraging but equally draining. Finally, I head home to my beautiful family, but more than likely I’ll head back out for an evening meeting/small group/discipleship group etc.
Surely many pastors can empathize with this kind of day. It’s not uncommon for pastors to live on the edge of burnout. That’s probably why I at first resisted the idea of adding personal evangelism to my regular schedular. But when I did, the result was surprising.
This past spring, we began a monthly neighborhood walk around our church building with the goal of meeting neighbors and having gospel conversations. I can only speak from personal experience, but nothing in my time as a pastor has refreshed me as much as these neighborhood walks. As I began having regular gospel conversations, my own heart began to feast on the gospel of grace in renewed ways. As I offered people Jesus, the friend of sinners, I fell in love with him all over again.
Furthermore, sharing the gospel and seeing it resonate brought focus to my pastoral efforts. Too often, pastoral work devolves into a matter of survival at one extreme, or empire building at the other. But going out and sharing the gospel reminded me forcefully that our mission is neither to survive another year, nor to grow indefinitely, but it’s to live as missionary communities wherever and however, bearing witness to the most beautiful news in the world.
3. We’re not in Kansas anymore.
Some pastors might respond to this article with, “I preach gospel-centered sermons, and so I’m evangelizing every Sunday.” To this I would like to quote Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz: brother, “we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
I love a good Puritan as much as the next SBTS graduate, but we don’t live in Baxter’s 17th century England. For most of Baxter’s ministry, church attendance was compulsory. People attended church or faced devastating fines. So, Baxter could simply preach the gospel every Sunday and see conversions. But again, we don’t live in that context.
In my three years at Vine Street, I can count on one hand the number of non-Christians who have visited our church on a Sunday morning. We’re located in a densely populated, urban, and mostly unchurched neighborhood. Non-Christians are all around us, but they’re not about to walk through the front doors of a church because there is little incentive for them to do so. If our evangelism is primarily preaching for conversion on Sunday mornings, we’re more likely to persuade sensitive Christians to reconvert than see genuine conversions.
Truly, we’re not in Kansas anymore. The West has become secular and unchurched, but our ministry methods have failed to catch up. We Southern Baptists have the greatest missionary sending mechanism in the history of the church, but our own neighborhoods have become mission fields without laborers.
It’s Not Optional
So, do pastors need to add more to their overflowing schedules? Realistically, many of us will need to rethink some of our time commitments if we want to lead our churches to obey the Great Commission. If we spend 50+ hours a week in sermon prep, church administration, and pastoral care, we will not have time or capacity to invest in personal evangelism. And we if we aren’t investing in evangelism, neither will our churches.
Christ has called us to a glorious mission, to bear witness to the resurrection of the dead; to preach the grace of God in his Son to a people lost in darkness. As the Lord has promised us, the harvest is plentiful, but it’s the laborers that are few. We are those laborers; may we prove faithful.