We live in a instantaneous society, don’t we. Everything ought to be now. We want faster broadband, same day deliveries, microwave speed cooking and the rest. We like our gratification instant. I wonder whether this has affected our evangelism a bit.
I am in favour of all godly means of evangelism. I think we need a good mix of cold-contact and warm-contact stuff. I think we need stuff that meets needs with gospel input and stuff that just delivers the gospel as is with no frills. What will lead to the salvation of some won’t lead to the salvation of others. We need as many different means of engaging people with the gospel as we can muster because everyone needs the gospel and not everyone will respond in the same way to everything.
But I sometimes sense that we want the quick stuff. The stuff that gives us instant gratification. We don’t want to do the hard yards of walking alongside people. We would much rather serve up the gospel and, if they don’t respond there and then, wash our hands of folk and tell ourselves we’ve done our duty.
Or, we do the stuff that gives us a good crowd but maybe doesn’t have the most gospel impact. If I run a nice event and get 100 people along, we tell ourselves how great it is that a hundred outsiders all came under the sound of the gospel. But each of those people gets a 5-10 minute snippet of a gospel message. Did they get the gospel? Sort of, yes. But impact-wise, whilst I don’t doubt there are some people who would alter the entire course of their life based on a tiny message at a do from a stranger, I sense that isn’t most people. I mean, I don’t so much as buy pegs from people who knock on my door and give me a two-minute spiel, so I struggle to see myself altering my entire worldview based on that and that alone.
I think we forget the value of a soul. I could reach 100 people with a 10-minute slot, which took minimal planning, but how many become believers as a result? Or, I could really pour into one or two people over years. The second one is definitely harder and feels like it has less impact. But which is more likely to see gospel results?
Now, I am loath to push too far down this line. Let’s not forget this is a spiritual work and somebody who is in the sights of the Holy Spirit may well turn to Christ off a seemingly random encounter and a five minute conversation. And those we walk with for years, should the Spirit not so move, won’t be any closer to the kingdom when we’re long gone. So there’s no formula here.
But my point is that I think we are often drawn to the quick stuff, the stuff that lets us feel like we’re doing our bit, which can cause us problems when it comes to our faithfulness elsewhere. Because we are called, not to results, but to faithfulness. And at that, the people still plugging away at their evening gospel service at which no unbelievers ever darken their door are shouting a hearty, ‘Amen!’ But that’s misplaced.
We are called to faithfulness. The problem is that we quickly point to our faithfulness in a particular area whilst ignoring our faithfulness in another. So, we might argue we are being faithful to the Lord ploughing on with a gospel service as our mainline evangelistic outreach nobody attends, which may be faithful to the call to preach the gospel, but it isn’t being faithful to the call to go into all the world on any real level. Similarly, we might be faithful in evangelism – thinking we are pressing on in great evangelistic works – but remain unfaithful in the ultimate call, not to make converts, but disciples. We might reach the lost and hope they’ll convert, but we have no interest in walking with them any further and wonder why nobody is saved. It’s a matter of faithfulness – not just in some areas, but in all areas.
Faithfulness has come to mean, for many, ploughing on with what we’ve always done. Staying the course even though there are no results. And we content ourselves with the idea that the numbers are up to the Lord (which, ultimately, they are). But that isn’t what faithfulness means. Faithfulness doesn’t mean pressing on with fruitless works for the sake of it, it means being faithful to Christ’s commands, which necessarily involve finding new ways of taking the gospel to those who have yet to hear it and finding means of connecting it to their real lives, not the lives that people used to live 70 or 80 years ago.
Those of us wedded to the quick results, the stuff we can get a crowd at, might be faithful in the area of sharing the gospel with people but we are not being faithful in the longer term work of discipleship. Those of us ploughing on with fruitless endeavours might be faithful in that particular work, but we’re not actually hearing what Christ says about a whole bunch of other things that we’re letting slide. The problem, at heart, is one of faithfulness.
Our call comes down to faithfulness. And our faithfulness cannot be cherry picked. Evangelism is simply pastoring those who haven’t yet come to Christ and pastoral work is Evangelising those who have. Playing one off against the other means that we end up being unfaithful in something Christ wants us to do. If we make the work of the church only about evangelism, we may be faithful in that business, but not in others. If we make the work of the church only about preaching the Word, we may be faithful in our teaching, but not in other areas. If we make the work of the church… well, you get the idea.
Our call is to faithfulness. The key question we need to be asking is this: am I being faithful to Christ? And that question presses into far more than whether we are carrying on with the same old things we’ve always done or not. It presses into just about everything.
Are we being faithful to Christ?