Recently, Steve, a member of the congregation that I pastor, came to me to ask if I could meet with Ray, a friend of his from work. Steve had been praying for his friend, and some of their conversations made it seem like Ray would be willing to discuss spiritual things. Steve thought that if he could just get Ray to meet with me, I could explain the gospel message to him, answer his questions and objections, and hopefully lead him to faith in the Lord.
On one hand, I am grateful for this kind of interaction. I love to talk to people about Jesus, and I’m grateful Steve cares about his friend who does not know the Lord. But on the other hand, it does seem like it would be much better if Steve felt personally prepared and equipped to share the gospel with his friend himself. Think about it:
- Steve has already spent time building credibility with Ray. Ray doesn’t know me at all, but he has been observing Steve conduct himself in the workplace in a way that commends the gospel for several years. Steve already has “relational capital” with Ray.
- Sharing the gospel and leading someone to Christ is a wonderful privilege. It strengthens a believer’s faith and is a source of great joy. I do not want to keep all those blessings to myself.
- Practically speaking, the church does not want its evangelistic reach to be limited to the number of people with whom I can meet or the programs that I can run. Having several hundred evangelists is much better than having one!
Equip your saints
It is true that the apostle Paul tells Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (II Timothy 4:5), and proclaiming the gospel in all sorts of contexts is certainly an important part of a pastor’s work. But Paul also tells us that pastors are given to churches “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12 ESV). I take that to mean that the work of ministry (such as evangelism) is not best left to “the professionals,” but is for the whole body of Christ. The role of a pastor is not to step in and do the work for the people under our care, but to prepare them and train them the best we can so they can do the work themselves.
Four ways to do it:
Here are four ways pastors can help to equip the churches they serve for the joyful work of spreading the gospel:
- Preaching – All of the Bible points to Jesus (Luke 24:44-47), and so whatever text of Scripture is preached in the Sunday morning sermon provides a wonderful opportunity to speak to unbelievers about the gospel. If a pastor can thoughtfully and powerfully communicate the beauty of Christ and his salvation to unbelievers, the believers who are present will be encouraged and equipped to do so themselves. As preachers anticipate and address objections to the gospel message, the Christians in the congregation will grow in their ability to do the same in the workplaces and neighborhoods.
- Training – It may also be wise to have specific times set aside to teach the congregation about evangelism. In the church of which I am a part, we have conducted Sunday School classes, Sunday evening sermon series, and special weekend seminars devoted to teaching about evangelism. Sometimes I have done this teaching on my own. Other times we have used video series or brought in guest speakers. The goal of these times is to keep evangelism on the forefront of people’s minds and to provide different resources for the equipping of the saints for the work of sharing the gospel.
- Prayer – Another way pastors can help prepare their people for ministry is through a public prayer meeting. In our church we have a Sunday evening prayer service where we focus our prayers on the spread of the gospel, particularly through local and foreign church planting and personal evangelism. The main purpose of this time, obviously, is to pray and seek the Lord’s help as we spread the gospel. These prayer meetings also help create a culture in the church where evangelism is normal. When I ask for prayer for my conversation with my barber during my upcoming haircut, perhaps people will be encouraged to think about whether they could share the gospel with the person who cuts their hair. When a member asks for prayer for a co-worker that she is going to invite to read the Bible with her, perhaps other church members will think of someone in their office with whom they could do something similar.
- Modeling – New believers often make the best evangelists. They are full of excitement, their lives have often just radically changed in ways their family and friends can’t deny, and they have lots of unbelieving people in their lives. Sometimes, however, that lack of experience in the faith means they are not very good at explaining the gospel or answering objections. In that case, a pastor may want to come alongside that person and let them observe as he shares the gospel. The goal here is not to do the work for the believer, but to give them an opportunity to see it done so that they can go out and do it for themselves. In my church, we’ve started a Bible study for men from a local recovery program, mostly so new believers in my church (who were part of that program) might bring their friends and get a sense of how to share the gospel with them. As they participate, they see how to communicate about God’s holiness, our sin, Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, and our need for repentance and faith.
Go share the gospel joyfully and effectively
Pastors should be about the work of sharing the gospel message – in our families, in our neighborhoods, and from our pulpits. But the evangelistic aspirations of our church should be far more than the conversations and relationships that its pastor can carry out, and so the work of a pastor is to prepare the people of his church to share the gospel joyfully and effectively.