by Lon Allison
(Editor’s note: This is the 1st of a 9-post series on non-negotiables for authentically leading a church towards being more evangelistic.)
What are the non-negotiables when it comes to creating a culture of evangelism (or witness-life) in a congregation? I’m going to really be bold here. First, foremost, essential, absolute is that the lead pastor must buy into it. Further, he or she must not only buy into it, but it must become part of his or her personal life. It must be a priority as high as personal devotional life, sermon preparation, etc. That’s the bottom line from where I see it.
Let me place this statement in context. Two years ago I left a ministry organization (the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism), and returned to the local church. I am a pastor of teaching and the lead pastor of outreach (evangelism and missions here and worldwide). I am not the lead pastor. My top priorities are to teach the word and to stimulate evangelism.
The stimulating evangelism piece is complex and takes blood, sweat, and tears, even in a church that theologically and historically believes in evangelism. But my first objective in that assignment is to make sure my lead pastor buys in and prioritizes witness-life. To his credit, he has asked me to hold him accountable to it.
That is half the battle.
I do that, and he holds me to it as well. Here are a few thoughts as to why this is crucial:
First, only when the witness-life is a first priority for the senior pastor will he or she make it and keep it a priority in the local church. Churches are incredibly complex organizations with loads of essential priorities. When witness-life is not a first priority, it always degrades toward being a non-priority. The lead pastor is, at the end of the day, responsible for the shift. But when it becomes a core part of the lead pastor’s own life, the pastor will make it so in the congregation’s life. Otherwise, he or she may give it lip service, but not heart-driven compulsion.
Second, the lead pastor must talk about witness-life and equip people for it from the pulpit. He or she should share stories of success and sorrow, because that is what happens when we catch the contagion. Witness-life is exhilarating and at times very frustrating. In my personal situation my lead pastor has to be careful to not let this assignment be delegated only to me. Since I am an evangelist by gifting and experience, that would be easy for him to do. But it would be dangerous. It would teach our congregation that the witness-life is only for the few, not the many. In our church, I carry the bulk of the teaching on the subject, but he teaches on it as well. I confess, we need to get better at that.
Third, the lead pastor needs to call for people to come to Christ publicly. Again, he or she may feel inadequate preaching evangelistically (especially when calling for a decision), but it needs to be done. In our situation, I can help equip the lead pastor to do so should he desire it, and even step up to the plate and do it at the end of an evangelistic message he preaches should he wish it.
Either way, when we preach evangelistically, we are elevating the priority of reaching lost people and giving our Christian congregants language on how to do it. A few weeks ago we held a Saturday men’s event with a former NFL quarterback. Many of our men brought pre-Christian friends. The NFL player gave a wonderful message about fathering, being in a family, and more.
He also strongly emphasized the necessity to know Jesus Christ in order to become the dad, husband, and man God wants us to be. I then took the platform and gave an evangelistic call. It was very effective. He passed me the ball, and I ran it into the end zone. (Excuse the metaphor, I couldn’t resist). God was glorified and souls were saved.
Finally, the commitment to the witness-life needs to be a part of the lead pastor’s job evaluation each year, and he or she must make it the same for whomever reports to him or her. The priority of witness-life must be a part of our personal commitment and our corporate responsibility as church staff.
I hope this idea and these applications are helpful to those in church leadership positions. They’ve helped me to remember what I must do! Grace to you all.