Many years ago, when I began a new role as senior minister of a large church, I knew that God was calling me to help the church become more outward focused. The evangelistic passion and effectiveness of the church needed to lift considerably.
My main spiritual gifts are leadership and teaching. Evangelism is not a strong part of the way God has made me. After all, God gave “some” to be evangelists, so not everyone has this spiritual gift (Eph.4:11). However, I sensed the Lord challenging me that although I was not an evangelist I needed to “do the work of an evangelist” just like Timothy was encouraged to (2 Tim.4:5).
Timothy was a young pastor/teacher who was stationed in Ephesus as Paul’s apostolic representative (1 Tim.1:3). This church had experienced significant levels of outreach in its early days (Acts 19-20) but false doctrine emerged within the church and it is highly possible that the evangelistic fervour of the church had waned. Paul did not tell Timothy to be or to become an evangelist (something he was not) but simply to do the work of one.
What is the work of an evangelist? As I contemplated this question a few key tasks emerged: ensuring that churches and believers embrace’s heaven’s priority and have a heart for lost people; training and equipping people to share their faith; ensuring that the churches and believers engages in variety of evangelistic activities; and helping the church and believers keep their evangelistic passion and fervour alive.
Over the next few days we'll discuss each one of these. Today, let's look at the first one - embracing heaven's priority.
1. Embrace Heaven’s Priority
We know that heaven is a place of continual joy and celebration. However, there is one thing that causes the joy level in heaven to increase exponentially. What is it? The joy level in heaven increases when one person bows their knee and confesses Jesus Christ as the forgiver of their sin and the leader of their life. Jesus tells us that there is “more joy” in heaven over one lost sinner who repents than over ninety-nine others who never strayed (Luke 15:7,10). Heaven’s priority is seeing lost people found.
This priority was demonstrated by Jesus himself who came into the world for one primary reasons – to save sinners (Mattt.9:13. Luke 5:27-32. 1 Tim.1:15). God’s heart is for the world (John 3:16) and he does not want one person to perish. He wants all people to be saved and come to know the truth (1 Tim.2:1-4. 2 Pet.3:9). If evangelism is heaven’s priority then it must be the passionate priority of the church here on earth. As Bill Hybels (pastor of Willow Creek) says, “Lost people matter to God, therefore they should matter to us.” Each local church exists not only to love God and other believers but also to reach out to those who are far from Christ. The church exists for mission.
Unfortunately, this work of evangelism has been pushed off on to believers by pastors, pushed off on to pastors by believers or pushed off to those believers with the gift of evangelism. As a result, in most churches evangelism just isn’t happening. The only way for the tide to turn is for churches to make a “priority shift” from an inward focus to an outward focus and for everyone to become actively involved. The church’s mission will only be accomplished as the entire church is motivated, equipped and deployed in the work of evangelism.
As a church leader, I had to embrace heaven’s priority in my own life first. Only after modelling this personally, could I then help our congregation change its values and begin becoming an evangelistic community. No church will be any more excited about evangelism and outreach than their leaders are. The Senior Minister must lead the way.
The good news is that mission is the activity of God himself. It is part of the very nature of God and has its origin in his heart. There is mission because God loves people. When we get involved in reaching out to people far from God we simply partner in what God is already at work doing in the earth. We embrace heaven’s priority.
For me this required placing a new priority on developing relationships with unchurched people, becoming more aware of their spiritual needs, and a greater boldness in proactively starting spiritual conversations. This was not easy at first, in fact, I felt quite awkward as I started to step out of my comfort zone and into new territory. However, as I faced my fears, confidence slowly began to grow, as well as the joy of touching someone else with God’s love.