Hey everyone! How are you? I hope all is well!
Today I want to share some insights from Pastor John MacArthur on outreach/evangelism. I’m always eager to learn how to be a better witness for Christ. This is primarily addressed to pastors but you don’t have to be a pastor to benefit from this reading because I hope everyone who reads this has a pastor and home church were they are involved and growing.
I personally want to take the Apostle Paul’s words seriously in my life, even as I’m in the development to becoming a pastor,
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
2 Timothy 4:2
I’m taking advantage of the massive amount of resources I have in Logos Bible Software, A LOT!!! Enjoy and be edified! 🙂
Our Sufficiency for Outreach
My calling as pastor is to lift God’s people before the Lord, to bring his Word to his people, and to equip them for their calling. Unbelievers, in a sense, are incidental to that primary purpose.
—John MacArthur Jr.
I receive many letters from pastors who feel intimidated by today’s church trends. They see the exploding seeker church, but the bottom line is, they’re not in the same league as its pastor. They can’t pull off the techniques. And they can’t afford to do it. The creativity isn’t there, the money isn’t there, and the crowd isn’t there.
One pastor who read my book Our Sufficiency in Christ called me in tears. He said, “I was beginning to wonder if what I have always believed about ministry was wrong. This helped me realize that what I’ve always been committed to is what I need to stay committed to. I just needed to hear that what I’m doing is okay.”
Pastors hear the therapists on the radio and they read the books of renowned Christian counselors who say, “Pastors often do more harm than non-Christian counselors,” and they get intimidated. So these pastors think, I can’t counsel anybody. Somebody’s going to kill himself; I’ll get sued and be in court for ten years. I better not say anything. They hear about the mystical experiences of the charismatics, and they’ve never seen a sign or wonder in their life. They wonder why they’re in ministry if they can’t make the lame walk or see a mystical vision.
All across our nation pastors who are godly and welltrained are wondering if they are competent for the task of ministry. What is our sufficiency for ministry? How can we carry on successful outreach in our contemporary culture? I believe the answer lies in a few key principles.
A church for saints
Many people come to church for less than ideal reasons: to be part of something exciting, big, and thriving; to be entertained or inspired; to get a spiritual lift to help them through the week; to give the kids some religious training; to see the preacher they’ve heard on the radio.
So thinking up a strategy to get an unbeliever to church isn’t difficult. All you do is find their hot buttons and press them. If they like dancing elephants, you get dancing elephants. If they want to be successful in their business, you hold a business-success seminar. If they’re worried about their kids, you hold parenting workshops.
I’m not guided by that. My calling as pastor is to lift God’s people before the Lord, to bring his Word to his people, and to equip them for their calling. Unbelievers, in a sense, are incidental to that primary purpose.
I would never think, How can I structure this service to accommodate unbelievers? or How can I make unbelievers want to attend? because that’s not our purpose—unless we are gearing a special meeting for evangelism. We do have an evangelism outreach on some Saturday and Sunday nights. But we would primarily ask our people to bring those they know.
The biblical pattern is that the church gathers to worship and be edified. It scatters to evangelize.
Although my preaching in a regular church service is focused on those who are already believers, the effect is often evangelism. One recent Sunday night in our baptism service, the last guy to come into the water announced during his testimony that he had been a homosexual for twenty years. He was HIV positive, and he knew he was going to die.
“I came to this church,” he said, “because somebody told me that this was the church that preached the truth for a desperate man. When I walked in, the first thing out of your mouth was Psalm 107, which you stood up and read during worship. God directed that at my heart; that whole psalm described me. Before that hour was over, I had heard enough of the gospel to commit my life to Jesus Christ.”
What primarily attracts newcomers to Grace Community Church is personal relationships. The strength of the church has always been people bringing people. In our first six years, the church doubled every two years, without our doing any advertising.
So I basically instruct people:
“Honor Christ with your life, take every opportunity to present the gospel, be aggressive in scattering your seed. It isn’t the skill of the sower; it’s the state of the soil.”
It isn’t a marketing strategy; it’s letting others see the obvious benediction that Christ has become to your life, your marriage, your family, that makes the gospel attractive. Christians have something non-Christians want. I trust that by giving our church people a clear understanding of the gospel, they will be able, when doors open, to start where people are and lead them to the good news of forgiveness and salvation.
A transformation for believers
From the outset we have concentrated on life-changing truth. People had their lives changed and began bringing others, and that continues today. Our church continues to have a tremendous response from unbelievers. I give an invitation every service, and there’s not a service after which we don’t have people coming into the prayer room to respond to Christ. We baptize anywhere from five to twenty people on a Sunday night, every week, 90 percent of them led to Christ by somebody else in the church.
Even when we hold a special concert, we don’t advertise; we just let our people know that this is a special time for them to bring unbelieving friends.
It’s easy to get sidetracked from our purpose, which is spiritual transformation. One diversion is an excessive focus on felt needs.
A man came up to me one night after a recent sermon and said, “I’m not a Christian. My marriage is falling apart. My business is going bad. Can you help me?”
I could have offered some thoughts on marriage enrichment or business principles, but that wasn’t the real issue. Instead I replied, “It sounds like you need an invisible means of support.”
“Yeah, that’s it!” he said. “That’s exactly what I need.” So I started from there, explaining how Christ could come personally into his life and circumstances.
Unbelievers come in different shapes and sizes, with all different kinds of felt needs. The most compelling—even more than “How do I fix my marriage?”—is sin. By sticking on a Band-Aid, we may fail to address the need for a transformation of life.
We do need some point of contact with a non-Christian, however. I’m not saying we never address felt needs. We just don’t want that to become a diversion.
A second diversion is entertaining people in church. Of course to bring about spiritual transformation we need to be adept at keeping people’s interest. When we explain the Bible, we need to focus on the things that people find significant. We need to illustrate well. But the difference between maintaining interest and merely entertaining is the purpose: Is it for the sake of being interesting? Or for the sake of truth and spiritual transformation?
It gets back to the preacher’s motivation. I’m not concerned with whether listeners think I’m novel, witty, or entertaining. I’m concerned that they get the truth.
I’m not really a student of communication technique, but I have learned how to keep people’s attention. What rivets people is anticipation, the expectation that I’m about to say something they want to know. As long as they think I’m about to say something funny or helpful or informative, I will have their attention, and as soon as they decide I don’t have anything worthwhile, they’re gone. So I don’t try to hold listeners by entertaining them in some superficial way, but by giving them the sense that I’m going to say something worthwhile.
A worship for God
The galloping pragmatism I see in the church mitigates the confrontive character of the gospel.
When the church becomes enamored with influence and image as the key to evangelization, it is no longer depending on Christ. The philosophy in some churches is, If they really like us, they’ll like Jesus. I’m not sure there’s any correlation whatsoever.
Therefore, I have trouble with the idea of a “user-friendly church.” We don’t want to be personally or institutionally offensive, but we cannot buffer the offense of the Cross.
At Grace Community Church we do everything possible to let visitors know we’re thrilled they’re there. We put high priority on treating visitors with real love and care. We have a host ministry that moves throughout the campus identifying people that look new and integrating them into the flow. In the service I take special care to welcome first-time guests. We give them a booklet that explains things in which our church is involved. In the worship service I think most are impressed with the music, which is exceptional. If they are offended, it is always the message that does it. They don’t get offended until I get up to preach!
I’ve often encouraged pastors, “Don’t let your church look like anything but the most well-cared-for property in town. If the bank looks better than your church, you’re in trouble. The bank is saying, ‘We care more about you than the church.’ ”
We have a beautiful, well-manicured facility. In fact, I remember one couple visited, came to Christ, and later said, “We thought if you took care of flowers, you probably cared about people.”
I read a study that ranked the things that determined where people would go to church: Looks of the facility was number one. Parking, two. Nursery, three. Friendliness, four. Pastor, five. So yes, I think our parking, our shuttle service, and our nursery care are crucial.
So there’s nothing wrong with being creative, doing things that make outsiders take a look at your church, things that attract needy unbelievers, as long as it doesn’t mitigate the message that God is central. God has given us a beautiful world, and we ought to do everything we can, as Adam did, to dress the garden. In addition we want to keep as nice as possible the things that represent him.
All of this is based on our understanding of human nature: people gravitate toward things that are nice, things that are lovely. I have no problem with anything that doesn’t compromise the message or depreciate worship. What happens when churches are so concerned about unbelievers’ reactions, though, is they depreciate worship. They put God-centeredness somewhere down the line.
There’s a big difference between appealing to human nature’s attraction to beauty versus human nature’s attraction to entertainment. We are here to demonstrate the beauty and the graciousness of God. We’re not here to entertain people. When you move to entertainment, you’ve taken a major jump.
I object to the user-friendly church idea because even though its proponents may assume the spiritual foundation of ministry, the presentation tends to make people think that the methods are essential. I would rather see a book or seminar say, “Preach the gospel, and by the way, don’t forget to provide ample parking.” Much of the time it’s a matter of emphasis.
The bottom line: Our sufficiency isn’t in our techniques, skills, or experiences. Our sufficiency is in Christ.
Growing your church through evangelism and outreach. 1996 (1st ed.).
Library of Christian leadership. Nashville. Tenn.: Moorings.
-Always, for God’s glory and our joy in Him!