One of the great tensions for any pastor is how to integrate evangelism into the life of the church. One element of this is when and how to preach the gospel in the natural flow of church life. This all relates to the main function of the sermon. Is it to feed those already in the room, to edify the saints? Is it is to preach to win the lost?
The church gathered is primarily a gathering of the saints for worship, fellowship, and edification. It is a sign of the gospel to the principalities and powers that God is calling forth a new humanity. As such, we preachers primarily preach to feed the sheep. This is multi-faceted with three elements: 1) To deepen their desire to worship by preaching the Triune God that their faith is deepened and they are drawn to adoration and service; 2) To urge and equip people to love their brothers and sisters and a desire to use their gifts to serve and build God’s church; 3) To equip believers for the challenge of being missionaries in the sphere into which God has called them – their family, work, social networks. We hope our preaching sees fruit of the Spirit bud in their lives, overflowing into worship and action for the gospel to build the church and mission as they leave each Sunday.
If that is so, where is the place of evangelising from the pulpit? Some would argue evangelism happens away from the church pulpit, outside the church whether one on one, intentional evangelism, small groups (e.g. Alpha), or in the flow of ‘normal’ life as people ‘gossip the gospel.’ The church is the place for those who respond, for believers, where they are fed. While I fully agree that evangelism should be done this way, I don’t think that this means the church should be an evangelism-free zone.
Another approach is that evangelism is for the ‘expert’ like a Greg Laurie, believers’ bringing their friends to hear the gospel from the evangelist. This is great to a point, but does not mean that the preaching of the gospel for conversion should not be a natural part of church life.
A third approach is to have special event-services on a regular basis to which members of the church can bring an unbelieving friend. This would involve a well thought out seeker-friendly service, wonderful hospitality, and a sermon that seeks the articulate the gospel with clarity, conviction, ‘gentleness and respect.’ Pastors who feel ill-equipped can utilise the evangelist and the church prepare well with prayer and preparation. This is great and should be a part of regular church life – but is it all that we should be doing?
Another approach is for preachers to preach the word in a systematic manner and allow the text of the day to speak, and the gospel to flow from it, and perhaps an appeal for conversion, when the Spirit leads. If this is a regular part of a sermon with a seeker-friendly environment, then a believer in the church can bring a friend anytime, knowing that they will hear something of the gospel. This requires the preacher sitting with the text imagining that their hearers are primarily the people of God gathered, but with a thought to those who are present that are not believers. It is great if preachers know in advance that unbelievers are coming, so training their people to let the preacher know is helpful. I believe that a good preacher can preach in such a way that challenges the saved and unsaved alike, but it is not easy.
The truth is that all of the above and more is required. Ideally, the church breaths mission and evangelism, with both corporate life and individual lives drawing people to God. I challenge us all as preachers to give thought to this question to ensure that the clarion call of the gospel is ringing out of in and from our communities of faith. NZ needs it more than ever.
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Mark Keown has been a Presbyterian and Baptist Pastor and is currently Senior Lecturer in New Testament at Laidlaw College. He is married to Emma (Minister, Glenfield Presbyterian). His works include What’s God Up To On Planet Earth and Congregational Evangelism in Philippians.