It would be easy to begin with the negative: Sometimes I do wonder about “evangelicals” who never evangelize. I’ve gone there too often. After all, if only 3% of churches grow by intentional evangelism, that is something to criticize. But perhaps starting with the critical approach comes out of my background, both from my personal and church histories. It is tough to remain positive. It is hard work to not only have an idea (criticism is easy) but to put one into action.
What I’d like to do here is to make a proposal. It’s proposal for a method that does not make the usual sacrifices. For instance, over the last 50 or so years a number of para-church organizations have sacrificed the local church as the source for the Lord’s efforts and sought to be on their own. Some leaders in certain of these groups have declared the church a failure so that they might replace it with their organization. While these are by-and-large generally godly people there is a serious doctrinal error that comes about by separating one’s self from the church. Acts 2 created not only new believers but also a church, a body of service and accountability.
We also know that the New Testament identifies all believers as witnesses. Along with that, and not in contrast to it, there is the gift of evangelism. For the past two or three centuries we have become accustomed to thinking of evangelism as the public meeting. But the approach that I want to suggest here will take evangelism to a more effective place.
So, you ask, what’s the idea? It’s really simple and it involves just one action: Dedicate one staff member to evangelism. Ok. So what? How does that work? First, make this staff member part-time with an annual salary of roughly $800 per month. That’s not much but it does one thing – it allows this person or couple to have a job and live in a neighborhood where the husband may engage co-workers and do effective outreach through both at-work and at-home Bible studies. It allows the wife to engage women in her neighborhood with home Bible studies. All you’re really doing here is relieving financial pressures so that outreach can take place outside the four walls of the church.
Various types of tentmaking structures exist. Dave English quotes Patrick Lai’s description of five levels of tent-making ministry. He identifies five types of structures based on how income is handled.
What I am proposing is a sixth structure. It falls between T-2 and T-3, so I’ve called it T-2.5. This approach gives the motive for work first access to the people and secondly a modest income. The missions intentionality involves a definite strategy. The missionary is then bi-vocational and full-time in his secular efforts. He is fully accountable to the leadership. But this type of missionary/evangelist must be fully trained for effective ministry. And the income source will be partially from a church or churches and partly from his career.
I say “he” but this approach will work well for couples as well as individuals. In today’s world there are too many wives working though some do not. A wife at home with the children and without serious financial burdens is thus free to engage in the neighborhood.
One of the advantages of this approach is that the evangelists can bring people directly into the local church. No more leaving people to flounder out there without that training, relationships, accountability, and opportunities for service that are part of church life.
This system can also be thought of as a “brick” portion of a larger “wall” of evangelism. A local church might make this investment locally. And a denomination might do it with a group and go into a metro area for targeted evangelism for both church planting and church building. Imagine going into a city or state where there are few Christians, or even one where Christians have been disinvited. Place ten to twenty couples in a city such as New York City, perhaps in a targeted segment of the city, for a 10-year period. This approach would allow the establishment of a Christian presence for further influence.
Of course this system needs to be self-perpetuating. Young Christians are often filled with that “fire in the belly” about forgiveness. This fire can reinforce a local church and it can build additional studies in a modest amount of time. When you get people doing this on their own within the structure of a local church then you’ve got a church doing evangelism. And that’s the goal: Evangelism coupled with solid Christian education. The job gets done without some of the shallowness of certain revivalistic approaches.
This is not a new idea. Mission boards have been doing “tent-making” church planting for a long time. What I am proposing is an alternative – do it here, in this country, with the resources that we have to get something done effectively here that can be translated overseas.
One of the functional characteristics of this structure is that it is “open” for each organization. For instance, if fundamental churches would seek to do this effort in a way that built up believers as they would see fit then the accountability structure would belong entirely to them. Likewise if some of the reformed folks were to seek a way to engage people with the gospel and teach them accordingly.
The key to managing this principle is accountability. That means some work but accountability is a key ingredient to effective ministry. Pastors and church leaders seek results. The goal here is to set both the standards and the outcomes at the appropriate levels so that the work of evangelism gets done instead of just being talked about.
The release of financial burdens also allows a couple to move around as needed. If a neighborhood or job does not make for effective relationships the a couple may be relocated or choose to relocate to find a suitable opportunity.
The Current State of Affairs
For most of the last century the number of evangelicals as a percentage of the population has not changed. It remains at a level between 15% and 18% of the population (of the U.S.). From that I glean a couple of obvious conclusions. First, what we are doing, though it worked in the past, no longer works. Our methods must change. Not doctrine; methods. The revival approach is Biblical and has its place, but it should no longer be our primary method. No longer are people going to the church for answers. America is a pagan nation and needs to be treated as such. It is time we take the answers out to a world that has no idea what the problems are.
The status of the church in the U.S. is changing. For instance, Grand Rapids is debating the tax-exempt status of an evangelical group, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. Normally these situations can be written off as the thoughts of conspiracy-mongers. But in this case
“The Board of Review is prohibiting recording equipment inside the hearing,” Assessor Scott Engerson told reporters gathered at the public hearing. Engerson said the Board of Review made the decision …
So here we have a closed meeting in a state which is suffering because of the financial condition of the country. It’s a city that is looking for revenue. Revenue can easily be generated, perhaps even retroactively, if the definition of a non-profit might be narrowed to begin an exclusion process. Again
This particular hearing garnered unusual attention. Last week, the city of Grand Rapids notified the Acton Institute, a nonprofit educational and research think tank, that it did not qualify as a nonprofit charity, which could exempt it from property tax. The organization, which operates in a refurbished structure at 98 E. Fulton, faces a property tax bill of $91,000 on the renovated building and an adjacent parking lot.
This situation is not an isolated incident. The recent dis-invitation of “conservatives” from the state of New York hints at a developing exclusionary attitude, an outlook which says “you cannot tell us anything” about morality or our source of morality. Of course the governor of New York was not talking about evangelicals. But he was definitely including them in his statement. He was quite clear when he said
extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault—weapon, anti-gay…have no place in the State of New York
My response is this: Evangelize New York. This is not a statement to fight over. This is a statement which should be accepted as an invitation. It is a statement of the moral needs of the state of New York. The city of New York is the same.
Ross Douthat provided a broader perspective in his recent column entitled “The Terms of Our Surrender.” Here Mr. Douthat examines the current situation and looks at the future in light of current rhetoric around homosexual liberties. He says
But there’s another possibility, in which the oft-invoked analogy between opposition to gay marriage and support for segregation in the 1960s South is pushed to its logical public-policy conclusion. In this scenario, the unwilling photographer or caterer would be treated like the proprietor of a segregated lunch counter, and face fines or lose his business — which is the intent of recent legal actions against a wedding photographer in New Mexico, a florist in Washington State, and a baker in Colorado.
Meanwhile, pressure would be brought to bear wherever the religious subculture brushed up against state power. Religious-affiliated adoption agencies would be closed if they declined to place children with same-sex couples. (This has happened in Massachusetts and Illinois.) Organizations and businesses that promoted the older definition of marriage would face constant procedural harassment, along the lines suggested by the mayors who battled with Chick-fil-A. And, eventually, religious schools and colleges would receive the same treatment as racist holdouts like Bob Jones University, losing access to public funds and seeing their tax-exempt status revoked.
The end of this social status is marginalization. Oh, we could complain and write letters to politicians and television broadcasters. But to what end? We have taught for millennia that faith is not a family inheritance and that each person must come to faith as an individual decision and commitment. Does this not also apply to a nation? And is not our national condition a reflection on our failure to reach this lost world. To make a Christian nation is not the goal. But should one come about, that would be a result of the expansion of God’s kingdom. That is the goal.
This is, of course, only an idea. And there are so many people with ideas. Please pray with me that the church would be aware of the consequences of not doing evangelism.