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mark keown – making space for evangelism

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. 


  1. Allen Hince says:

    This is very good and I appreciate the tension you raised on how & when the gospel needs to be declared. It can’t be underestimated how much the people of God need to hear the gospel… I really believe that there needs to be a sense of centrality with the gospel in our services/preaching – here’s why…
    Many believers won’t necessarily have a clear or complete understanding of the gospel, preachers tend to assume they know – this is a grave mistake in my view. By integrating the gospel, and much of the Bible does this, preaching will grow people spiritually, in fact I would say it is paramount to their spiritual growth…
    Also, a preacher mistake is to think that they have to preach the whole gospel if it is to be considered evangelistic – this is not the case. Scripture tends to spread parts of the gospel all over the place and it is only our systematic theology that has grouped it together and made it compact and easily delivered. Much of what Scripture speaks of will reflect something of the gospel in one way or another… so does preaching…
    …and to be honest there is nothing more that should excite the Christian soul than the gospel of Christ…
    …it is also a great antidote for boring preachers…

  2. Mark Maffey says:

    I subscribe to the view that while there is a need to have forms of outreach and services that are “Seeker-Sensitive” we can become overly absorbed by these and lose sight of “evangelization”. Paul rebukes the Corinthian Church in 1 Cor 3 that they are not ready for solid food, and are still on Milk.

    Many churches can end up with Pastors who are milkmen, rather than Chefs giving them a full menu of solid food. So many people in our churches in NZ are so biblically illiterate they wouldn’t know where Ezekiel is found, or who he was.

    The reality is that the best way to evangelise is friendship evangelism, and in order for people to evangelise they need first to have some love for their friends, second the biblical understanding to be able to answer their questions, and lastly the confidence that when they bring their friend into a church service that they will be welcomed, and will have a process such as Alpha, Membership Classes, New Member Home Groups, that will build their faith, and a Pastor who is able to preach the word in such a way that their people grow in love for a faith that worships God in Spirit and in Truth.

  3. Allen Hince says:

    …you think! Why does a gospel supported message have to subscribe to the ‘seeker-sensitive’ approach? …and how does a pastor become a milkman when he’s evangelistic in his preaching? Do you think that atonement/propitiation/justification/redemption/repentance etc are light weight? No way! Preaching that broadens the depth of understanding & clarity of the gospel will feed the people of God.
    I think the biggest problem I observe with pastors attempting to be evangelistic is that they preach 1 of 2 type of sermons. Either a psychology type gospel that simply says ‘accept Jesus into your heart and you’ll be a better person for it’, in other words a self-esteem boosting gospel (and many preach this) or a behaviour based gospel where we say, ‘do these few things (say a prayer, straighten your life out etc) and viola, you are a Christian’
    I think the building friendships is important but it is not evangelism; declaring Jesus as Lord and Saviour is.
    I really believe we need to get this right because there is a real lack in so many quarters for genuine regular gospel preaching from our pulpits (just listen on-line and you’ll see what I mean).
    What do people think? Am I being to harsh here? Talk to me…

  4. Mark Maffey says:

    Allen I agree with you, not for one minute am I suggesting that we should be doing seeker-sensitive milk type sermons every week, these at best should be occasional events. They have a place, but not a permanent home.

    Rather I would argue along with you that much of what we see coming across our television screens fall into either Psychology or Behavioural Type Gospels.
    I am however heartened that there are many NZ Pastors who are doing the Solid Food sermons, and that Kiwi Made Preaching is going to be a bastion to further develop this in our Country.

    My fundamental concern is that there needs to be an ignition of passion in NZer’s hearts to read and grapple with the Word, to desire a greater relationship with their God, to be a nation that has a passion for prayer. I continue to cry out for a new move of the Spirit which will put a New Heart for God in this land>

    Ezekiel 36 vs. 24-27 – I Will Put A New Heart in You

    For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring
    You back into your own land I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean;
    You alone LORD are able to bring freedom to the captives, to turn their mourning
    Into joy, you see all their needs, even the things that are hidden to others unseen
    You enable them to move from spiritual heaviness to a place where they can sing
    You place on them the garment of praise; you alone can take away what is unclean
    You alone are able to take people souls out of prison, all their doubts far away fling
    You alone can bring wholeness, holiness, you sprinkle clean water and they are clean

    I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols, I will give you
    A new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone
    Your desire O LORD is to see your people, whole, holy, wholly yours, worshiping you
    To not be conformed to this world, but transformed, their minds renewed, to see your throne
    To before you bow, their tongues confess that you are Lord, to have you in full view
    And as they come, they worship you, Lamb upon the throne, only you can purify, them atone
    For you O Lord have paid the price, your blood shed that they may be free to you see
    You desire that they have new hearts; you desire to remove from them their hearts of stone

    And give you a heart of flesh and I will put my Spirit in you and
    Move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
    LORD we need your Spirit in us, to guide us, give us a hand
    We desire to know your word, may it be in us a treasure store
    That strengthens, that is a light that guides us to work in this land
    Help us to be your people, lead us, and use us despite our flaws

    Mark Maffey, October 2007©

  5. Allen Hince says:

    Nice Mark, I like what you are passionate for.
    Personally, I don’t think we should have any seeker-sensitive milk type sermons period… but that’s only my opinion – and we all have opinions in the same way we all have armpits… and at times can stink!
    But anyway, enough of that. Can I say that the key to solid food preaching is actually the gospel itself. Are we trying to hard to create a level of distinction between gospel preaching and solid food preaching. Is our assumption that to be evangelistic is to be like a Billy Graham or a Greg Laurie, which is unfortunate. To do the work of an evangelist isn’t necessarily asking us to be like these but to be ourselves in proclaiming Jesus.
    Can I encourage to preach the gospel as it is the only way God’s people will have a passion ignited in them for His Word, for prayer and the mission set before us. It was said by someone only about a year or so ago that it is almost as though the people of God need to be re-evangelized – I think he’s right…

  6. Mark Maffey says:

    What I was trying to say in my original comments is that is dangerous if we have milk diet in our Preaching in our churches, I would equate solid food with well exegeted biblical preaching from the whole bible OT & NT which comes from an understanding of the original context and is able to bridge into our 21st Century Context. For this reason I like the NIV application commentary series for its attempts to achieve this.

    Evangelism should not default to the Greg Laurie’s or the Billy Graham’s of this world but rather should come from biblically literate passionate lovers of Christ whose life example and ability to faithfully communicate that passion is a light to world in the darkness.

    Like Paul says we are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, A large part of the focus on preaching should be in enabling members of our congregations to do exactly this to give them the tool kit, the understanding of the Gospel to Shine Like Stars

    Philippians 2 vs. 12-18 – Shining Like Stars

    Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed not only in my presence,

    But now much more in my absence continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,

    Keep in the word; seek through the Spirit to gain understanding of it essence

    Treat it with reverence and apply it precepts to your life, of its tenets do not be condescending

    For God’s word to you is life giving, to both lead you, and give life resonance

    His word is sound, reliable, trustworthy, its power and authority in our lives never ending

    God’s desire is that we seek first his kingdom, to desire to be in his presence

    For in drawing near to him, he will draw near to us and bring change and spirit enabling.

    For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose

    Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure,

    For we are called to be salt and light, to be beacons of truth and not from it repose

    For as we serve and do so as to our God, of the upward call to him we can be sure

    For it is not by might, nor by power, but we God’s Spirit we can achieve his purpose

    Even though we face the challenges the world present in God we can be clean, and pure

    Children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars

    In the universe as you hold out the word of life in order that I may boast on the day of Christ

    Like the church at Philippi we face the challenge to be blameless in world from which sin pours

    To stand on the promises of God’s word, to be prophetic in our speaking out to put God first

    To love the Lord our God with all our strength, mind, heart and souls, and to love our neighbours

    We like Paul need to have the desire to push on toward the Goal, to boast on the day of Christ

    That I did not run or labour for nothing, but even if I am being poured out

    Like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith

    At times it is a struggle to stand for God, we like we’re blown and tossed about

    That all our energy is being is being drained, and we feel far from safe

    Remember this God in us over the world prevails, over Satan he has clout

    In his word, which does not return void, but prospers we can cling, have faith

    I am glad and rejoice with all of you.
    So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
    This is the day the Lord has made, don’t be blue
    The whole earth is his creation, all land and sea
    Worship him, keep his promises in full clear view
    Seek him while he may be found, in his will be

    Mark Maffey, July 2007 ©

  7. Allen Hince says:

    Couldn’t have said it better Mark… Good chatting with you…

  8. J.O. says:

    Excellent thoughts. We deal with the same issue in Eastern Europe.

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