The Evangelism Expectation
by Richard Chowning
Alexander Bett's Message
"If you come to the Lord he will help you in your trials and temptations. He helped me give up drinking and become respected in my family." Alexander Bett repeats words like these at least twice a week before a his congregation. At odd times he tells the customers at his tailoring shop, in Chebalungu, about his Lord. His message is powerful. That same mouth used to swear and tell dirty stories. But now Alexander speaks for the Lord. He is Christian.
Alexander used to be the local leader of the beer drinkers. He had respect, a respect because he imparted wisdom and stories to the drinkers. His respect was on the line when evangelists, some of them in-laws, came to his home from their congregation thirty miles away. He listened on several occasions in a drunken stupor. The three evangelists were not strangers to Alexander. He knew they had not been Christians long, but heard them speak with persuasive boldness. He began to understand that part of the change that took place in the lives of those who became Christians was that they began to be spokesmen for God.
His Influence on Other People
Men from another nearby congregation soon came regularly to his home. They told him that they were new converts, too, and that they must share the gospel. They had been commanded to show their love and the love of God in this manner. Alexander knew that he too must witness if he were to become a Christian. He would be expected to evangelize. He would not only choose to have Jesus wash away his sins and add him to the kingdom, but he would share this message with others. It was part of what was expected of a Christian.
Alexander considered the cost and he bought it. That was only four years ago. He is now the leader of the fastest growing cluster of churches in Kipsigis. Just six months ago his coworker-worker in the tailor shop became a Christian. And he too shares the gospel.
This experience is not only in Kipsigis, or Africa. It was my own experience in California eighteen years ago. When I was at Pepperdine I met Cyndi who led me to her home congregation in Anaheim. Right after I repented and placed membership Cyndi and an elder persuaded, no that's wrong, they assumed I would go on "personal work" studies with them. They thought it very natural to expect me to evangelize I wish I could say that I have always expected those I have converted to evangelize. I came out of preacher's school still thinking every Christian must evangelize.
Then I came over here and began to read some writings concerning spiritual gifts and persuaded myself that only a few Christians had the gift of evangelism, just like only a few had the gift of tongues. I still see "evangelists" listed in Ephesians chapter four as one of the gifts given to the church. I also see that it was the natural and automatic drive of members of the church to share what they were experiencing with the Savior. I am now convinced that some are gifted to do a great deal more of successful evangelism. These are "evangelists", but the Lord expects all to share their knowledge of him. That is no special gift.
In great growing congregations the individuals with this expectation are not the exception but the rule. Without this expectation, real movement to the Lord cannot happen. There would be too few evangelizing for the church to grow rapidly. The growth of urban churches in Korea has come through this same mobilization. There are some key, charismatic leaders, but they have been able to instill in the membership the expectation to bring others into the fold.
The success of the Boston Church of Christ has given each member the confidence that if he will try to reach his friends he has a good chance of converting them. The new convert wants to be like the one who won him to the Lord.
Kipsigis Christians see participation in the praise period as the rite of passage into full participation in the church. More than one hundred and thirty of the Christians formed traveling bands of evangelists who start new congregations on a regular basis.
Evangelism is expected by the congregation and masses take on the role. This evangelism expectation becomes part of new congregations by some common practices. They pray and study the Bible in front of the nonmember, they describe changes in their lives. There are forums where all are free to share on a regular basis. There is an urgency about the whole endeavor. It is a learning, sharing and evangelism session. They are all learners and they are all teachers.
The nonmembers see people becoming Christians because of Christ who is made known to them by common men like themselves. They know they can be successful because they see others being successful. No this is not just sales hype, in fact sales people and businessmen discovered these principles long after they were normal procedure in the church.
Prayer and obedience are at the very heart of forming this expectation and it is these that keep the task centered on the Lord. The motivation and momentum must be understood to have come by the power of God, this is an irreplaceable essential.
This needs to be made very clear. The preachers, these common men, say that God is the one who has changed and charged their lives. He puts the words in their mouths that were never there before. He puts the power in the words. Most people are not confident enough to share the gospel. They need to know that God will do more with them than they had ever expected. They need to hear the Biblical teaching and witness others struggle to let God use them.
The older Christians pray that the villagers' or urbanites' will receive the gospel. They pray in the hearing of the nonchristians. They need to know that the conversion power comes from above. They are not to obey the speaker but the Creator. Prayers need to be said for the new Christians that they will follow all the commands of the Lord, but special emphasis should be made concerning fulfilling their evangelistic task.
Not only do the nonchristians catch the evangelism expectation but they hear God's commands concerning evangelism. These commands are repeated over and over again. When I first started work among the Kipsigis I witnessed Matthew 28:18-20 read to nonchristians and wondered what the Christians were doing presenting such a lesson.
What I failed to realize was that these Christians were stating that they were obeying God. It also let the nonchristian know he will obey in this same manner if he were converted. The commandment was right up front. It is fulfilled as the normal procedure of the Lord's church, not some special emphasis.
A constant urgency is evident in all these churches. Laid back, nonexcited, approaches do not motivate people to respond. When the older Christian is not excited he demonstrates that he believes only the word, and not himself, is filled with the spirit of God. This excitement is in the Christian who is convicted and assured that he obeys his Lord. It also comes when he cries over the state of the unsaved village, town, or suburb.
When the first people are converted in a new congregation they are encouraged to share the gospel with their web of friends and relatives. They are not forced to do it alone. They are assisted by other Christians with more experience. The environment is cushioned.
The Growing Congregation's Structure
Most growing congregations have a structure in which this cushion is seen and experienced by new Christians. An expectation without an easy way to live up to it most often causes the new convert to be frustrated and disillusioned. All suitable structures have some common characteristics. The new Christians need to feel free and accepted when they speak for the Lord. It may be a praise period, a Bible study, teams of evangelists, or informal rap sessions. There is no training in a role playing or substitute environment. They learn in the real situation where someone's eternity hangs in the balance. In this real life situation the convert learns to do his best in a hurry. Memorized pitches or scripture chains are of little value. The converts are
trained to speak from a relationship with God and a concern for their fellow persons.
Evangelism Expectation in an Existing Congregation
All of the above suggestions work best in a new congregation. It is more difficult to develop the evangelism expectation in an existing congregation, especially one that has fallen into a pattern of accepting minimal evangelistic effort from the Christians. It is unrealistic to expect the entire congregation to suddenly flame up with excitement for evangelism, let alone expect each member to evangelize. Such an expectation will lead to frustration. The present pattern will be difficult to break, but it is possible.
A Plan of Action
Start with a small group: some special friends or a few members who have some interest in evangelism. These will become the model for the congregation. Speak to these people out of your relationship or common concern for the lost.
When I was in Hollywood California, on an extended furlough I worked with a small group of interested members. I confided to them that I didn't know how to reach the lost in America but I knew there were many who were lost. I talked about some of the lost I had met. I talked about the struggle we would go through together. The teacher of evangelism cannot set himself on a pedestal because the other Christians will think they cannot climb up there with him.
Set up one of the above mentioned structures to let these neophyte evangelists feel free not just to observe the older Christians as they evangelize, but to participate with them.
The victories must be broadcast to the larger, complacent group. The first victory to celebrate is that there is a group participating and praying for evangelism. Each soul won must become a celebration for the entire congregation. This excitement will cause others to want to be involved, but they will have to be invited. Any excitement on the part of an uninvolved Christian must be followed by an invitation to be a part of the evangelistic group.
The new converts remain a part of the evangelistic circle. They were born into this expectation. Too much exposure to the larger complacent group without large amounts of time with the evangelistic group may cause them to fall into the complacent pattern.
This evangelistic group is becoming a model for the entire congregation, but they must be careful not to separate or alienate themselves from the entire congregation. From such a vantage point they will not be able to help the whole. They should not be overly concerned or critical about those who are not participating, but they should be ruthless about their own responsibility to be a patient model. They should pray often that the larger group will evangelize.
Missionaries or "located" preachers are placed in a particularly responsible position. He must spend great sums of time evangelizing. Others must believe that he expects evangelism, a lot of it, in his own life. A sidewalk superintendent will have little success in creating the evangelistic expectation.
The Older Christian
The older Christian not only expects new converts to evangelize but he expects them to be successful at it. When a great number of people evangelize, there are conversions . As God saved him, the older Christian expects others to give themselves to the Lord. He tells new converts about the village drunkard he converted. He loves to repeat the story of his uncle's baptism.
The older Christian speaks and lives a life that demonstrates that evangelism as an absolute priority. He does not order new converts to evangelize. The new convert heard about the Lord from a friend or relative. He is taught to be a new bridge into the Kingdom.
The older Christian thanks God for His faithfulness. Each small victory becomes praise and thanksgiving in his prayers. He is excited.