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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

The Pastor and Evangelism: Finding an Audience

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What do you need in order to do evangelism? The ingredients aren’t many. You need the evangel, the good news of Jesus Christ. You need an evangelist, someone to herald that good news. And there’s one more thing: you need an audience—at least one person who hasn’t yet believed the gospel.

For many pastors, this last one is the hard part. In a week crammed with preaching preparation, meetings, counseling, administration, hospital visits, and late night calls for help, not to mention caring for his own soul and family, how is a preacher to find time for sharing the good news with unbelievers?

In one sense, this is a good and necessary tension. When he answers a call to the pastorate, a minister kind of moves from the front line of evangelism back to the supply camp. No longer just a soldier in hand-to-hand combat, his priority now is to act like a general: his work involves strategizing, equipping, and delegating (see Eph. 4:12). The hope is that by training evangelists, teaching on evangelism, and proclaiming the gospel each week to the gathered church, the pastor’s evangelistic ministry multiplies rather than diminishes. This is good and right, and pastors shouldn’t feel guilty for prioritizing their unique, God-given role to care for the sheep and train them up in ministry. A pastor isn’t an evangelism hog but an evangelism enabler.

But this doesn’t mean that his personal evangelistic ministry should vanish into thin air. Paul instructed the young pastor Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). Even the greatest general is still a soldier at heart. A pastor must never become so comfortable teaching others how to evangelize that his own zeal for sharing the gospel evaporates from simmering too long on the back burner. Pastors who are zealous for evangelism tend to have congregations that are zealous, while pastors who seldom evangelize just might find that their congregations are similarly disinclined.

FIVE WAYS FOR A PASTOR TO CULTIVATE EVANGELISM

How then can a pastor cultivate opportunities for evangelism? Since I need as much growth in this area as the next guy, I contacted a bunch of pastor friends to ask how they prioritize evangelism in their busy schedules. Based on their responses, here are five suggestions:

1. Be Creative

First, be creative. To meet more unbelievers, you’ve got to be willing to think outside the box. One pastor in a small town told me that he and his elders often do their elder meetings in lawn chairs on his front yard. They’re willing to sacrifice efficiency for the opportunity to chat with neighbors who might walk by—and they were thrilled when someone came over wanting to talk about Kabbalah. It was an instant opportunity for the gospel.

Others mentioned leveraging hobbies or errands as ways to maximize evangelistic opportunities. Rather than shooting hoops with Christian buddies, one might find a group of local businessmen to play with, opening the door for new friendships. A preacher from the Arabian Peninsula said that family time at the local pool is one of the best ways to make friendships with those in his community.

Creativity also comes in useful when trying to turn an otherwise mundane conversation with a clerk, neighbor, or restaurant server toward spiritual matters. If someone is chatting about the news, sports, or even the weather, there’s usually an opening to present a relevant truth about God or our fallen world that can lead to deeper discussion. For this, of course, we need not only creative thinking but Spirit-wrought boldness and love to overcome fear of man and share Christ even when it’s awkward to do so.

2. Be Consistent

Second, be consistent. Are you willing to forsake variety and eat at the same restaurant over and over again in order to get to know its staff? For years now, my own pastor has modeled this consistency for the sake of the gospel, so much so that we joke about him being the chaplain of the modest diner where every server knows his name and comes to him with spiritual questions. 

Another friend told of the fruit that he enjoyed from visiting the same dry cleaner week after week and praying for opportunities to speak about Christ with the staff. Eventually one of the employees visited his church, joined a Bible study with some of the women there, and recently made a profession of faith in Jesus.

3. Be Conscious

Third, be conscious. We need to pray for awareness of the lost that surround us. A seminary student in England noted that when he’s conscious of how many people—most likely unbelievers—are sitting near him on the train, he’ll open his Bible and read it conspicuously. Conversations about God often ensue.

On this note, it’s worth being conscious of the usefulness of the pastor’s title. So many conversations begin with, “What do you do for a living?” Answering “I’m a Christian pastor” might feel like a liability, so instead use it as an asset. For example, I’ve tried to include some version of this follow-up phrase. I say something like, “I’m a pastor-in-training at a church. And so I love hearing from all sorts of people about their thoughts on God, spirituality, and who Jesus is.”

And don’t forget how you as a pastor can serve unbelievers in your community in “pastor-specific” ways, which almost always contain ripe evangelistic opportunities. A neighbor’s relative passes away? Offer to preach the funeral.

4. Be Collaborative

Fourth, be collaborative. Find ways to participate in the evangelism your congregation is already doing in the workplace and the community. One pastor mentioned how some businesspeople in his church formed a “God investigation group” that met regularly during lunch at the office, and invited him to attend from time to time to build relationships. Your hospitality ministry is a great way to conspire with fellow believers for evangelism. Host a barbecue, dessert, or game night, and tell all the church members you invite to bring along a few non-Christian friends.

5. Be Committed

Fifth, be committed. No pastor should adopt all of the specific ideas suggested above—that’s not the point. The point is that an under-shepherd’s ministry should resemble that of the Great Shepherd, who came to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). The pastor’s unique calling and schedule certainly make this challenging, though we should also admit that often our own laziness and selfishness keep us from evangelism more than tricky circumstances.

STUDY AND SAVOR THE GOSPEL

So, pastor, what would a commitment to evangelism look like in your weekly routine? For starters, let me encourage you to pray regularly for opportunities. Get accountability in this area. Be aware of your tendencies to shrink away.

But most of all, study and savor the gospel. “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all…” (2 Cor. 5:14). Treasuring the precious message of Christ and knowing its power in our own lives is the best antidote to evangelistic atrophy.

Matt Merker is a pastoral assistant at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC.