Tuesday, May 8, 2012

We've Been Doing It All Wrong, Part II

A friend has asked for some clarification on a couple of points regarding the essay, We've Been Doing it All Wrong.  There are several things that should be said based on some feedback to the original article. 

1.  I am NOT saying that people should not ever travel to any special events and evangelize.  I AM saying that the majority of your efforts should be focused in your area in conjunction with your local church.  There is Biblical warrant for traveling to evangelize; perhaps the best example is Philip in Acts 8.  However, Philip understood the role of the local church and was committed to it since he served it as a deacon (Acts 6).

I AM also saying that we need to make a serious effort to identify sound local churches and encourage those who are interested to attend them.  We also need to be much more deliberate in referring people to good local churches.  

2.  I am NOT saying there is no role for a traveling evangelist.  I AM saying that even the traveling evangelist has a responsibility to be directly accountable to the local church.  I am currently training a man who wants to become a traveling evangelist who plans on taking six months on the road and six months off.  When he is not on the road he is planning on serving his local church in the area of evangelism and in other ways. One cannot have real accountability without face time. 

I AM also saying that if you spend more time on the road than serving and living in your church, there may be a problem. Additionally, the role of the traveling evangelist ought to be to build the visible church in the areas he is preaching.  Where are the evangelists, who like Leonard Ravenhill, stayed in an area after many were converted there, and served them until they could find a pastor (a period of several years)? 

3.  Some who read what I have written disagree with me and that is fine.   Sometimes we have a tendency to find loopholes in the argument that someone puts forward so that we can find an exception.  If we can find an exception, then we can marginalize the argument and not listen to any of the concerns that are raised even if those concerns are valid.  Not only is this immature, it is spiritually dangerous.

I am not the authority on Biblical evangelism.  No one, including the evangelist you respect the most, is.  Jesus is the Lord of the Harvest and God's Word is our standard.  Nothing else.  If my essay causes you to evaluate what you are doing from a Biblical perspective, then that is what I was aiming for.  If you find that you are wrong, the answer is not to defend yourself because it would mean changing something you like to do.  The answer is to repent and change the way you do things.  If you find you are in the right, praise God.  But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.  Ask for more than your own opinion on this. 

4.   Writing on this stuff is a calculated risk.  I risk offending friends who I love dearly, some of whom I have trained to do evangelism years ago.  I risk offending financial supporters of our ministry.  I risk people who I have personally trained to do the exact opposite of what I am proposing here.  I risk my own small platform in the street evangelism community.  This is a risk I am willing to take for the sake of the glory of God in the church (Eph. 3:21) and for the sake of truth.  If this means that people accuse me of losing my zeal for evangelism, or becoming compromised, then that is something I am willing to live with because my conscience is held captive to the Word of God.  I will mourn the loss of friends, but I cannot soft peddle truth just so people will like me.

Commit to the local church.  Bury yourself there and be content to never be heard from again just so long as Jesus is famous and the local church is strong.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

We've Been Doing it All Wrong

Paul Washer on The Great Commission

 "The Great Commission is not limited to the making of individual disciples, but involves bringing each believer into an interdependent relationship with others in the context of a local church." --Paul Washer

I just got my copy of HeartCry Missionary Society's Magazine for this quarter and Paul Washer has an excellent article on The Great Commission.   This quote may be one of the most significant things Washer says in the article, although it is all very good.

Some of my street evangelist friends may chafe a bit when they read a quote like this.  We have been taught that we need to evangelize everyone we meet and leave the results to the Lord.  We carry gospel tracts with us everywhere we go and we have been trained to engage complete strangers in order to share the gospel with them.  Some of my friends travel the world presenting the gospel over and over again to strangers in open-air preaching, one-to-one and mass tract distribution.  Living Waters reported recently that in a period of 12 or 13 years they have had a part in distributing 150 million gospel tracts.  Other tract ministries could report numbers in the millions as well. 

I love street evangelism.  I believe it is a primary way of spreading the gospel that many believers ignore today.  I believe that a resurgence in this methodology, if rooted in sound theology and in reality with the Lord of the harvest, could result in revival in the church and a large ingathering of souls into the Kingdom.  I believe so much in this methodology that I have written and edited several tracts that have a fairly wide distribution.  I wrote a book making the Biblical case for street evangelism.  I still stand by what I wrote there. 

Methodological Error

But let's shoot straight for a moment.  Where are the large numbers of people being added into existing local churches?  Where are the church plants that have come from these efforts? 

Our methodology is off.  We have no Biblical warrant in the context of the entire New Testament to simply proclaim the gospel with no concern for the planting or strengthening of churches as a result.  We have no Biblical warrant for the ministry of traveling evangelists who go into a city, proclaim the gospel widely, and do nothing to teach them to observe all that Jesus commanded (Mt. 28:18-20). We have no basis to organize large scale street outreaches in cities or at events where we have no plans on referring believers to good local churches.  Entire ministries have been built on this erroneous concept.  While they have served an important role of bringing the gospel to many, we are not called to bring the gospel to someone and then leave them there. If I am wrong, show me from the pattern we have in Acts that I am wrong. 

Furthermore, we cannot call it missionary work when traveling street evangelists exclusively visit other ministries who are already doing evangelism in a city.  This kind of thing can be encouraging once in awhile, but to make this a pattern of ministry is Biblically unwarranted.  Paul traveled and visited churches he established in order to train and encourage them.   The best thing most traveling street evangelists could do would be to settle in a sound local church or become a part of a church planting team and use their talents there. 

When we reject the Biblical model for what is happening right now based on the fact that, after all, people are hearing the gospel we are being pragmatists.  God knows better than we do how to do evangelism and He has ordained only one organization for its propagation: the local church.  Is God able to use the local church to reach those same people that you have reached without using a methodology which is contradictory to revealed truth?

Let's be clear: I am not advocating an abandonment of street evangelism.  I am advocating doing evangelism prolifically in the area where your local church is. And I am advocating your deep involvement with that local church beyond evangelism.

What We Need is Not What We Want

You need to have friends who do not evangelize but who are prayer warriors.

You need to have friends who do not evangelize but who are passionate students and teachers of the Word.

You need to have friends who love to serve the poor and destitute.

You need to have friends who scrub toilets at church and wash dishes after fellowship dinners.

You need to have friends who love to sing praises to God.

You need to have these friends with the intent of not only pushing your evangelism agenda, but listening to their agendas as well.  You don't know everything.  And evangelism is not the sum total of Christian existence.  You need to learn to love the pre-schoolers in your church.  Maybe you need to change some diapers in a nursery or go to a school concert to support a teenager in your church.  You need an avenue to love the brethren, including those who do not do evangelism.  You need a place to live and die with the family of God.  You need to live out the commands of Scripture that are attached to the "one anothers" of the epistles.  If you only beat the drum of evangelism and don't live out the commands we have for the community of believers, your obedience is half hearted.

I am afraid many of us, myself most definitely included, need to get over ourselves.  Evangelism will not die with us when we die.  It will live on in the local church.  Bury yourself there and be content to never be heard from again just so long as Jesus is famous and the local church is strong.