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Is the Church Sliding Farther Away from Its Mission of Evangelism?

Is the Church Sliding Farther Away from Its Mission of Evangelism?

Dear Roger,
Am I right in thinking that the Christian church is sliding farther away from its primary mission of evangelism? Do you know why? And what does that mean for me personally?
Sincerely, Marcia

Dear Marcia,

Yes, to a great degree, I agree with you… as long as we’re talking about most of the Americas, Europe, and Australia. However, we must never forget that there are people and places where the church is on fire with evangelism, sharing the gospel far and wide.

I often hear from missionaries in closed countries throughout the Middle East, areas of China, or isolated regions like Papua New Guinea where hundreds of thousands of people—even millions—are giving their hearts to Jesus every day!

Nevertheless, I’ve noticed some Christians and churches that started with hearts on fire for leading people to Jesus who gradually put evangelism on the back burner and turned to other things which seem more pressing.

The church is involved in all sorts of great activities—from advocacy to poverty relief to Bible studies. However, no matter how many great things we do for the kingdom, Jesus is not impressed if we neglect the most important job of the Christian life, which is sharing the gospel: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him, might not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Darwin Brandis 

Evangelism is the primary passion of the heart of Christ.

Consider Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save those who are lost.” Or Matthew 4:15, when Jesus said, “Come, follow me … and I will make you fishers of men.”

I believe that when Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” He was declaring a statement regarding the Christian life.

In essence, the Christian life is to begin with following Jesus and the resulting product will be fishermen and women for Christ.

Think about it: go to marine boot camp, and you will emerge a Marine. Go to medical school, and you will emerge a doctor or a nurse. Go to flight school, and you will emerge a pilot; go to auto mechanic tech school and you will emerge a mechanic.

Enroll in the School of Christ, and you will emerge as a fisherman or woman who fishes for the souls of men and women who are lost without Christ. It cannot be otherwise.

This is living the Christian life as God intended.

Jesus’ last words to his followers declared our purpose, too:

“Go and make disciples of, all nations, baptize them in the name of the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit. And as you go, teach them to observe everything that I’ve told you, and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Sharing Jesus is the Christian life.

Don’t miss this; there’s nothing special about leading people to Jesus. A passion for sharing the gospel is part of what makes up the Christian life!

If you don’t mind, I’m going to use some stories help to help make my answer clearer.

An old legend describes how the angels came to Christ after His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension back to Heaven. They gazed in amazement at His wounded hands and feet. They shuddered to recall His sufferings.

Finally, Gabriel spoke: “Master, you suffered terribly down there. Do they know and understand the extent of your sacrifice?”

“No,” said Jesus, “not yet. Right now only a handful of people in Palestine know.”

The angels replied, “Then, what have you done to let everyone else know?”

Jesus said, “I have selected twelve men and told them to take the gospel to the entire world.”

Gabriel was shocked! “But, they are just men. Men get sick and die. They get lazy and distracted, disobedient and confused. What if they fail? What is Plan B?”

Jesus: “I have no Plan B. I am counting on them.”

And 20 centuries later Jesus is still counting on us.

By the way, a Baptist survey reveals that over 90% of those who come to Christ do so by the age of 25! We need to lead people to Christ while they are still young.

What happens when the Church loses its passion for leading people to Jesus?

What happens when the Church loses its passion for leading people to Jesus?

The Parable of the Life-Saving Station describes what happens to many Christians and churches if their passion for leading souls to Jesus wanes over time:

On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occurred, there was once a crude life-saving station. The building was just a hut. There was only one boat but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea and with no thought for themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Many lives were saved by this wonderful, little lifesaving station; and it became famous.

Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding areas, wanted to become associated with the station so they gave of their time and money and effort for the work.

New boats were bought, and new lifesaving crews were trained, and the little station grew.

Some of the members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped! They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge for those saved from the sea. So, they replaced the emergency cots and beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building.

Now the life station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully and exquisitely because they used it as sort of a club.

Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired a lifeboat crew to do the work. The lifesaving motif still prevailed in the club's decoration, and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where the club held its initiations.

About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in loads of cold, wet, half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some had black skin and some had yellow skin. The beautiful club was considerably damaged, so the building and grounds committee had a shower house built outside the club where the victims of the wrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside.

At the next meeting there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club's lifesaving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club.

Some members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving club. They were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast a little ways, which they did.

As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that occurred in the old one. It even evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded.

History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that coast today, you will find a number of exquisite clubs along the shore.

Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, and most of the people drown.

Photo Credit: NeOnbrand/Unsplash 

What does fishing look like?

I know of a barber who heard a sermon on evangelism one Sunday and was determined to become a fisherman for Christ.

He resolved to speak to everyone who sat in his barber chair: “I’ll witness to everyone; I’ve just been slow about it.”

Monday morning the first man in wanted a shave. He wanted it sharp and lathered and with a hot towel. The barber sharpened and razor while the man steamed. The barber tried to think of something to say.

Finally, he took off the towel, put the razor to his throat, and said, “Man, are you ready to die?”

How crude! But, so many don’t know how to start. So let’s make this really easy.

There are many ways to share the gospel. All sorts of opportunities may present themselves. Many of us say, “I could never do evangelistic work because I’m shy, or I don’t know what to say, or I may be criticized or embarrassed.”

Let me give you a simple method for evangelism that anyone can use.

First, accept people who are being rejected.

Anyone can do this. The woman with six marriages in John 4 was mercilessly rejected by the people in her town. Jesus talked with her in the hot sun by the side of a well at noon. He accepted her just as she was. Everything in her life changed when Jesus accepted her for who she was!

When you see someone being rejected, make it a special point to accept them as they are. Because of the change in her life caused by his acceptance, she recognized Jesus as the Messiah: “I that speak to thee am He.” His acceptance of her brought an entire town to Jesus!

They said to the woman, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world" (John 4:42).

Second, support the struggling.

The disciples were struggling in a vicious storm on the Sea of Galilee as recorded in Matthew 8. Their fishing boat was in the process of floundering when Jesus spoke to the wind and the waves and everything immediately was calm.

In their shock, the disciples said, “What kind of man is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?” Their faith soared in the midst of his power and strength. They were drawn closer to Jesus than ever before.

Our world is filled with struggling people. Alexander McLaren used to say, “Please be kind to everyone you meet, because everyone is fighting a battle.”

mom hands holding tween kid hands on couch comforting

Third, comfort the hurting.

Jesus wept as he approached the tomb of Lazarus. I’ve often wondered why he was weeping as recorded in John 11:35, “Jesus wept.”

Jesus knew that he would soon raise Lazarus back to life; so, why was he weeping? Eventually, I realized that the reason Jesus was weeping was because he saw the family and friends grieving with pain and sorrow. He brought tremendous comfort to everyone the moment that Lazarus stepped out of that tomb.

“Therefore, many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him” (John 11:45).

When you see someone hurting, put your arm around them and let them know how sorry you are for what they are going through.

I know what to do when I see hurt. I comfort it.

Finally, Jesus said, “The fields are ripe and ready for harvest” (John 4:35-38).

Let me show you what fishing looks like. It looks like accepting the rejected, supporting the struggling, and comforting the hurting.

Anthony Campolo shared the story of a minister friend who is the associate pastor of a large Presbyterian church in California.

She loved to go to Nordstrom’s department store during the Christmas season. She could not afford to buy much of anything there because of the prices, but she loved the decorations and the music played throughout the store.

On one visit she was on the top floor looking at some or the finest dresses in the world when the elevator opened and out stepped a bag lady. Her clothes were dirty and her stockings were rolled down to her ankles. She stood there with a gym bag in her right hand, obviously out of place—she seemed not about to buy anything. The dresses cost thousands of dollars.

Campolo’s minister friend said that she expected some security person to come and usher the bag lady out of the store. But, instead, a stately saleswoman approached her and said, “May I help you, madam?”

“Yeah, I want to buy a dress.”

“What kind of dress?”

“A party dress,” the bag lady answered.

“You’ve come to the right place,” said the saleswoman. “Follow me, we have some of the finest party dresses in the world.”

The sales lady spent 15-20 minutes matching dresses with the woman’s skin color and eye color. After selecting three dresses which seemed most appropriate, she led her into the dressing room.

The bag lady tried on all three dresses and then said, “I think I have changed my mind, I don’t think I want to buy a dress today!”

“That’s OK,” said the sales lady gently. “But, here is my card. Should you come back to Nordstrom’s Department Store, I do hope you will ask for me. I would consider it a privilege to wait on you again.”

Of course, this is a perfect illustration of what Jesus would do, if Jesus were a saleswoman in Nordstrom’s.

Well, I hope that my thoughts are helpful to you.

Love, Roger

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Prostock-Studio 

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier went to be with the Lord on Friday, February 16th, 2024. He was a faithful servant of Christ with a lifetime worth of ministry and mentorship. Dr. Barrier held degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. He used his immense expertise daily to guide and mentor others in their spiritual walks. He had a global impact with his book Listening to the Voice of God, which is available in both Thai and Portuguese. His newest book, written with his daughter Brianna Barrier Wetherbee, is Look Like Jesus: A Guide to Spiritual Growth. He and his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier, founded Preach It, Teach It, a pastoral teaching site that provides countless resources, including articles, sermons, podcasts, sermon starters, Bible studies, and devotionals. His family will honor Dr. Barrier’s legacy by continuing the ministry of Ask Roger and preachitteachit.org for years to come as they share more than two thousand still-unpublished sermons and Ask Roger articles.