By Dr. Franklin Dumond
The world of the church and the world at large continues to change at an ever increasing rate. The 21st century provides greater challenges than ever to the church leader who would remain relevant and current. Four areas where church leaders need continuing education to meet these challenges.
- Communication Skills. Click here to read about why continuing to better communication skills is necessary for church leaders.
- Personal Evangelism. Too many churches report zero conversions in a year because too few church leaders engage in personal evangelism.
a) The Public Arena of Personal Evangelism.
Our changed and changing culture has made many of the traditional approaches to evangelism obsolete or less effective than they once were. Unfortunately many aspects of evangelism were public, general appeals. Their success was proportional to the advance work that had been done to prepare people to hear, understand and respond to the gospel.
The advance preparation, for the most part, came from a culture with a Judeo-Christian morality and a worldview that included acknowledgment of a benevolent creator. The advance preparation also included a cultural respect for the church and a general awareness that local churches were open to all who would choose to attend.
The practical reality also existed that the church provided the ‘best show in town’ with music and message that simply was not available except by attending in person.
This public appeal for a decision was an innovation of the 19th century that was widely accepted by the 1850s. In the aftermath of the great Camp Meetings the practice of local evangelistic meetings also spread with the geographic and religious frontier of the day.
Throughout much of the 20th century this public practice of evangelism continued with predictable success. The cultural reinforcements for the Christian gospel were in place but in the later years of the 20th century this began to change.
In my experience by 1990 spontaneous response to a general public appeal to become a Christian all but disappeared. The Sawdust Trail of the Camp Meeting and the great crusades was no longer a built-in part of the cultural or social expectations communicated to people.
The public efforts to win people to Christ, then, became less effective not because the gospel was ineffective but because of the lack of preparation provided by an increasingly secular culture.
The simple fact that evangelism requires background information to prepare people to make a decision for Christ has been known since the 1st century. It shows in the declaration by the Apostle Paul to describe the Corinthian process of evangelism: I planted, Apollos watered, God gave the increase.
The simple fact that public evangelistic efforts are more successful when people share a world view that is sympathetic to the gospel is illustrated in the contrast between Acts 2 and the thousands who were baptized on Pentecost and Acts 17 and the few who believed when the same message was presented. In Acts 2 the people were prepared. In Acts 17 the background information simply did not exist and without prior knowledge they could not come to a decision.
Does a shifting culture exclude a public appeal to become a Christian? Not at all!
The cultural deficiencies of a secular, hostile culture requires some added features to this public proclamation that were not necessary a generation ago. Four elements come to mind.
- I believe simple explanations of the gospel should be part of every pastor’s preaching calendar. Thus a few times each year (perhaps 3-4) the morning message is a simple recounting of the gospel.
- Public invitations must avoid the #1 fear of being pointed out in public. There is nothing about walking to the front of an auditorium that will in and of itself save anyone. Effective use of a communication card or spiritual survey can gain the attention of hearers who otherwise would never respond publically.
iii. A sample prayer is needed. Again because of the cultural deficiencies of our secular mindset we need to assist people in making those connections to God. On the gospel presentation days it is possible to lead the entire group to repeat this prayer!
iv. Focus evangelism on 2-3 Big Days as a means of making initial public connections that will result in on-going private conversations.
b) The Private Arena of Personal Evangelism
i. Relationship is the key and must be cultivated. Jesus used his relation building skills to connect with people. We can do the same. This takes time and often requires a compassionate heart and a patient spirit.
ii. Un-churched is different from De-churched. De-churched people have experience with the gospel and its impact on a local assembly. Often they suffer their own personal disappointments that require bridges of trust must be redeveloped. Often the de-churched have their own disappointments with life that impact and complicate their disappointment with the church.
Un-churched have no clue about church music, church etiquette or church finance. Patience is required to gently teach and train. We used to call it being user friendly. Non-threatening is another expression that could be used here.
iii. Important tools in the toolbox of personal evangelism include:
–personal integrity since they will not trust the message until they trust the messenger,
–personal understanding of the issues and context involved so that a customized response rather than a one-size-fits-all answer may be provided,
- A three-fold witnessing plan is essential.
Many folks are well equipped to provide an Instructional Witness where they will offer answers to questions about the faith–apologetics. Still others will be able to provide an Informational Witness as they tell their story of personal faith. Many leaders find the first steps of personal witness come from encouraging an Invitational Witness whereby believers invite their unbelieving friends and family members to attend a Big Day.
- Making Disciples in a Non-Christian Culture requires that we cannot rely on the culture at large to teach basic Christian beliefs. For example, many folks in my generation learned the Lord’s Prayer at school along with the Pledge of Allegiance. This doesn’t happen these days so church leaders must be more intentional and more comprehensive in their disciple making enterprises.
- Maintaining an appropriate work/life balance now that the 24/7 on-call world of ministry has expanded to the 24/7 digitally-connected world of ministry. Many church leaders manage to appear very busy without being very productive. Pilots are reminded as they prepare for solo flight “Don’t forget to fly the plane!” In their case it is tempting to focus so much on the dials and indicators that the essential task of flying becomes secondary.
Frantic, last minute preparations are sometimes necessary because of unexpected interruptions and emergency ministry needs. More often, however, they are the result of poor time usage early in the week that requires frantic effort at the end of the week because Sunday is about to arrive!
Even in the 24/7 world of connections pastors still need some regularity of schedule to accomplish the routine ministries of worship and witness and service.