by Sam Kim
(Editor’s note: This is the 4th of a 9-post series on non-negotiables for authentically leading a church towards being more evangelistic.)
I grew up in uptown Manhattan, right on Broadway, and what makes the Big Apple one of the most coveted cities in the world is not its influence or affluence, but its confluence of ethnic diversity and cultural creativity, creating perhaps the world’s greatest Kitchen.
However, the downside of walking into a legitimate ethnic restaurant is that no one really speaks English. In fact, the poorer the English, the better the food. As a result, ordering can be a frustrating experience. I always laugh when people visit and experience this obstacle, but some don’t find this amusing like I do—they find it appalling. They mutter, “Don’t they know this is America?”
This is a tragic picture of the culture set in some of our congregations when lost people visit our churches.
I believe authentically leading a congregation in a lifestyle of evangelism involves creating a culture that desires to “lead more like Jesus and lead more to Jesus.”
This has been Arrow Leadership’s mantra since its genesis, which Leighton Ford, lifetime Chairman of the Lausanne Movement
and the brother-in-law of Billy Graham, founded 25 years ago.
Leading More Like Jesus
As the late Peter Drucker reminds us, leading more like Jesus is not about doing things right, but rather doing the right things. It addresses the adopted cultural values in our churches. What do our congregations really communicate when lost people visit us?
When I was in college, I brought a lost friend to my church one weekend, only to be interrogated about his baggy clothes and numerous tattoos. He never came back. People usually know when they’re not wanted. Our character is tested when we’re up against it and not in our vision statements or websites.
No matter how fervent people are about evangelism in a congregation, apart from an intentional commitment from its leaders, as Stephen Covey puts it, “Management without effective leadership is like straightening deck chairs on the Titanic.”
In essence, even passion for evangelism can’t compensate for failure in leadership. Leading a congregation to love evangelism rises and falls primarily on the leaders to lead more like Jesus.
Leading More To Jesus
We would certainly lead more to Jesus if we better understood that sincere evangelism is more about representing Jesus than talking about Jesus. The latter is about programs, but the former is about relationships. Our witness is tested when lost people come through our doors, not on what we print on our bulletins. We fail to lead more to Jesus because for the most part, we usually get in the way.
After reading the New Testament, the great Indian Civil activist, Gandhi, went to church only to be told to go worship with his own people. He said that if he “never met a Christian, he would have become one.”
We can arduously study apologetics or even perfect our gospel pitch, but the problem is not our theology, it is our ontology. The lack of congruence between our values and our lives end up imploding our witness.
Are lost people really welcomed in our congregations? Jesus says in Revelations 3:20 that the greatest longing of his heart is to dine with anyone willing to accept his invitation: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”
How much should we value relationships if the King of Kings is willing to stand up from his throne to personally welcome others? To lead more to Jesus, we must create a culture where lost people are welcomed as much as Jesus values them.
I still wonder what India would look like today if a Mahatma Gandhi Evangelistic Association was established. This little church in India could have led one of the greatest leaders in history to Jesus if only they represented Jesus better.
But in light of all this, there is still good news! We as leaders have the power to create and recreate the culture set in our congregations to lead more like Jesus and lead more to Jesus. I pray that as leaders we would not allow either an iconic revolutionary or even a seemingly frivolous wayward teen from meeting Jesus. Both are equally valuable to the Father, for this is the Kingdom of God.
Sam Kim (@Sam180church) is founder of 180 Church NYC, a community joining God to restore the beauty in all things. He teaches and writes about culture, preaching, and evangelism in various contexts. He is husband to Lydia, dad to Nathan and Josh, and best-friends with his dog, Brownie. Learn more at samdkim.com.