In Britain, countless churches have been lost to the Gospel or closed altogether in the last fifty years, and many of the faithful congregations that remain have dwindled to a handful. Some, in panic, have yielded to church-growth gimmickry, charismatic worship and entertainment-evangelism in the hope that these will save the day. Others seem to await with patient pessimism their approaching demise.
But none of this was ever necessary, if only pastors and officers, stirred by zeal and faith, had sought to inculcate in their people a thirst for and commitment to untiring evangelism. Surely this should be one of the greatest aims of the minister – to build a soul-hungry fellowship of people ‘holding forth the word of life’. It is a supreme achievement when pastor and people say with Paul – ‘For necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!’
Is this not our burden according to the great commission of the Lord? Is this not the priority set before us in the glorious history of the Acts of the Apostles? Then why, O why, do we deny the Lord by allowing soul-winning zeal to run down? Why do we fail to stir up believing hearts to view their churches as God’s light in a dying world? It must be our policy not only to promote evangelism, but to train everyone to be wholly identified with this great aim. Within each congregation solidarity in evangelism should be a most precious objective.
There must be regular evangelistic preaching, preferably one service every Lord’s Day being dedicated to the persuasive preaching of the Gospel. This is frequently pleaded for by this writer. When Paul wrote the words, just quoted, ‘Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel,’ he was referring to the soul-saving doctrines of the good news. (We can be sure of this because Paul only ever used the term ‘gospel’ in an evangelistic context.)
There must also be child evangelism, not just a Sunday School that caters mainly for the children of church members, and that has no clear soul-winning emphasis, but a School which is as large as possible, seeking to draw in all the children in the vicinity of the church.
There must be constant encouragement of personal witness (far and away the principal means of bringing lost people to hear the Gospel).
There must be visitation, literature distribution, and whatever other means of spreading the Gospel that the Lord enables the fellowship to undertake. Does it happen in our church?
Here are four aspects of evangelistic effort to which a preacher must give attention as he seeks to build up a right ethos in the church.
1. Every congregation needs to develop a pressing sense of responsibility and calling in this matter, feeling the burden of having received an urgent commission from the Lord. This must be seen as one of the great reasons for our existence.
As churches we stand or fall to a great extent on whether we please our Redeemer in our attitude to Gospel proclamation. Indeed, we should even have a fear of punishment or loss should we fail the Lord in witness, perhaps by the forfeiture of privileges. The Lord cares whether we obey him, or disobey. If I am a pastor I must ask myself – What am I doing to encourage a high level of responsibility in God’s people?
2. Beyond this sense of responsibility, every true church needs a positive thirst for instrumentality in evangelism. All the members should closely follow the progress of all departments of the work, praying much for individual lost people. Foundational to a thirst for instrumentality is deep feeling for the lost. Preachers particularly should constantly plead for compassion to be felt for the lost.
3. Churches certainly need an unclouded view of the free offer of the Gospel, or zeal will be vulnerable to confusing views. Is everyone clear that the sovereign God, who initiates the work of salvation in regeneration, still desires that sinners are consciously convinced by the reasoning of the Gospel? The Spirit alone will make them willing to hear and respond, but persuasive preaching is the external agency.
Conversion is not an unconscious experience. Does everyone in our mainline reformed congregations know why so-called hypercalvinism is inadequate and mistaken? Is the gracious and convicting tender of salvation to individuals loved, understood and defended? Vagueness in these things soon undermines the pleading tones of the Gospel.
4. In addition, an evangelistic church needs a truly hospitable, welcoming spirit, and a readiness to patiently parent babes in Christ.
All these virtues begin with the pastor and officers. A minister or ruling court should never nominate for any kind of office a man who possesses a heart of stone in regard to evangelism – or who has never been conspicuous for soul-winning zeal.
What is our policy for training the fellowship in zeal, supportiveness and undying, unflagging effort to bring people under the sound of the Gospel? The minister who neglects to build a right attitude among the people will soon find himself a lone warrior in evangelism, discouraged, unprayed for, and unsupported by a witnessing flock. But one who leads the way, by evangelistic preaching, by keeping alive the soul-winning flame in all departments of the church, and by manifesting a clear love for and thirst for souls, will surely build a like-minded fellowship.
May the desires expressed by Charles Wesley be ours also:
Now, Saviour, now thy love impart,
And govern each devoted heart,
And fit us for thy will;
Deep grounded in the truths of grace,
Build up thy rising church, and place
This city on a hill.
O Lord, thou dost thyself inspire
Our hearts with this intense desire
Thy Gospel to proclaim;
Thy glory only we intend,
O let our deeds begin and end
All done in Jesus’ name!
Except thou, Lord, shalt bless the plan,
Our best conducted schemes are vain,
And never can succeed;
We’ll spend our utmost strength for nought,
But if in thee our works are wrought,
They shall be blessed indeed.
Now make our faith and love abound!
O let our lives to all around
With drawing lustre shine;
That they our blessedness may see,
And come to seek their all in thee,
Thou saving Light divine.
by Peter Masters
Available for purchase from the Tabernacle Bookshop
‘Prothesis’ / Policy 1: A Worshipping Church
Policy 2: A Praying Church
Policy 3: A Sanctified Church
Policy 4: A Working Church
Policy 5: A Learning Church
Policy 6: An Evangelistic Church
Policy 7: A Separated Church
Policy 8: A Sacrificial Church
Policy 9: A Loving Church
Policy 10: A Believing Church