The other day a frustrated pastor called me crying and said, “my church board just voted another Evangelistic Meeting for this year, just like we did last year; $20,000.00 to pay mostly for flyers and a guest speaker to hold meetings for four weeks.” He added, “I already know the results; four weeks with a handful of people in attendance. They will complain because others are not attending every night. The evangelist will be breathing down my neck for me to get him some baptisms. 5 people will be baptized, three of whom are church children, and two people from the community. The three we baptized last year are no longer here. There is so much to do in this city and the only thing two or three of our very powerful board members want to do is to mail out flyers and bring in someone to speak for four weeks, as if this is all there is to evangelism.”
As I travel across North America, I have asked the following questions among pastors, church leaders, and members:
(1) What do you think of when you hear the word evangelism? The consistent answer, ranking right at the top always has to do with an event that happens, for a few weeks, once a year or once in a blue moon. (2) Who does evangelism? The number one answer is always the same, it comes out quickly, regardless of the group I am talking to, “the pastor” or “a guest evangelist”.
As I hear these replies in our Division, almost without exception, the following thoughts come to my mind. If evangelism is something that we do for a few weeks once or twice a year, what do we do the rest of the time? If the pastor or perhaps the hired-gun-guest-evangelist, is the only one who does evangelism, what do the rest of us do?
Needless to say, the word evangelism has become a difficult term to repeat in some of our circles. There are pastors who dread it and groups of church members who are frustrated by it. Treasurers talk about the huge investment for such low returns even from our full-time evangelists. Church secretaries notice that for every 100 we bring into the church, 49 end up leaving. Some have decided to write off the word and just totally delete it from our vocabulary.
But what if rather than deleting the word, we redeem it? What if rather than seeing evangelism as an event, we begin looking at it as a lifestyle? What if evangelism becomes something that not just a few are involved in, but something everyone is excited to be engaged in? What if evangelism became something we are 100% of our time, rather than something we have to do once in a while? What if evangelism was more than just words, but also action? What if we get to be not only the mouthpiece of Jesus, but His eyes, heart, hands, and feet in our communities? Would this work better? Would the results be any different? Would our attitude change?
During this year we have worked on a definition of evangelism for North America. We have identified five outcomes which will help make evangelism and mission a much more pleasant, relevant, and successful lifetime journey. I did not come up with these on my own, neither did our team. The process included hundreds of pastors, church planters, members, and church leaders.
DEFINITION OF EVANGELISM
We worked on a definition because we understand that it is hard to live out evangelism if we don’t even know what it is. This is a working definition, which can still be improved. In a recent survey 74 percent of the people who responded, scored it 7 or higher in a 1-10 scale. Here it is:
“To reach, retain, and reclaim North America (substitute North America with your city or community) with Jesus’ lifestyle and message of compassion, hope, and wholeness.”
This is not a statement of beliefs or a mission statement. We already have those. This is a concise, practical, and broad definition of what evangelism can be in North America. As a church, we are not only here to reach, we must retain those who we reach, and we are also called to reclaim those whom we have lost. Imagine a baseball team with a great offense but poor pitching and non-existing defense. It does not matter how many runs you score, if your team cannot pitch and defend well, the other team will always outscore your team.
Jesus’ lifestyle and message are both vital. For years, we have been the church of the message. We have emphasized “telling the world”, but for some reason have forgotten to show the world. According to Christ’s Method, we must show the world before we tell the world. It is not just tell, but show and tell. At times, it almost feels as if we have a big mouth but amputated arms and legs. We can quote the method of Christ till we are blue in the face, but nothing relevant will happen until we start doing what Jesus did when He walked this earth.
Compassion, hope, and wholeness must be included in both the lifestyle and the message. People need to know that we love them. People must experience our hope for the present and the future; and they must realize that we care about them and their families in their totality. This includes but is not limited to, their spiritual lives. The gospel that can transform the lives of individuals and lift up families, needs to be seen, felt, experienced, as well as heard in our communities.
Please, share this definition with your colleagues, your church leadership, and your church at large. Brainstorm practical ways to make this definition of reaching, retaining, and reclaiming your community with Jesus’ lifestyle and message of compassion, hope, and wholeness, a reality where God has called you to serve.
In this magazine you will read and watch stories of people who have been called just like you and have decided to redeem evangelism and not delete it. These Best Practices give me hope that it can be done, and it can be fun, exciting, and rewarding with the blessing of the Holy Spirit. Please, let’s work together to redeem it!
Pastor Jose Cortes Jr., is an Associate Ministerial Director and leads Evangelism, Church Planting, and Global Mission for the Adventist Church in North America
*Part #2 of this article will be published in at upcoming Best Practices for Adventist Evangelism Newsletter.