Whether or not a congregation will be spurred and equipped to evangelize weighs heavily on one factor—the pastor. And although not all pastors would claim the gift of evangelism, they all are required to personally share the gospel and encourage their congregations to do likewise, said three current and former pastors during a panel discussion at the SBTC annual meeting Nov. 14.
“If the pastor’s not going to lead the flock in that gospel conversation and to love people and have gospel conversations, then it will not happen,” said John Meador, pastor of First Baptist Church of Euless.
Meador admitted his own shortcomings until convicted by the admonition of 2 Timothy 4:5.
“It spoke to me powerfully,” Meador told an audience that included pastors and lay leaders. “I [had] spent a lot of time teaching but not a lot of time doing the work of the evangelist among our people.”
Meador and his fellow panelists—Matt Queen, associate dean for doctoral programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Kevin Bautista, pastor of missions and evangelism at First Baptist Church of Dallas—discussed with panel moderator Shane Pruitt, SBTC director of evangelism, the tools they’ve utilized in training their congregations to share the gospel. But each said it is crucial for pastors to lead in the effort.
Evangelism “slowly becomes part of the culture” when the congregation sees church leaders acting on their admonitions from the pulpit to share the gospel, Bautista said.
What excuses do pastors use for not developing a personal habit of evangelism? Pruitt asked.
“I think pastors don’t have a plan,” Meador said. “They do not spend the time. They do not see the call of mobilizing the gospel as a priority when it is their call.”
Bautista said accountability among staff members goes a long way in keeping FBC Dallas members mindful of their witnessing role.
Queen credited SWBTS President Paige Patterson’s heart for the lost as a significant motivating factor in his own evangelism efforts.
The panelists’ efforts at sharing the gospel varied from public invitations at the end of every worship service to intentionally striking up gospel conversations with strangers and acquaintances. Most of the methods included training church members on how to engage people in gospel conversations.
At FBC Euless, “Can We Talk?” a six-week gospel training program, grew out of the church’s realization that the ethnically changing neighborhood surrounding the church was not being drawn to the church.
“I found out many of our people were not equipped to have that conversation well,” Meador said.
Two-and-a half years after the first “Can We Talk?” training, 750 members have been equipped to share their faith, area churches have asked to use the program, and FBC Euless created a non-profit organization—One Conversation—to expand evangelistic training.
To date, 500 pastors in 20 states have been trained to use “Can We Talk?” for equipping and encouraging their congregations to share the gospel.
While “Can We Talk?” is primarily used in follow up meetings with people who have visited the church or utilized one of the church’s ministries, Queen said the “Everyday Evangelism” he uses is an old-school throwback of sorts. Patterson’s evangelistic zeal spurred Queen and seminary students in 2009 to begin a door-to-door campaign to share the gospel with every home within a one-mile radius of the campus.
That done, Queen said it would have been easy to rest on their laurels having accomplished a years-long evangelistic outreach. Instead they went the second mile, expanding their gospel-sharing radius to two miles, striking up gospel conversations at mosques, Buddhist and Hindu temples, universities, coffee shops and more front doors.
“Now we do ‘Everyday Evangelism’ with everybody, everywhere, every way,” Queen said.
At least one person a week since 2014 has made a profession of faith and been connected to a local church through the seminary’s outreach, Queen said.
Pruitt asked if other means of witnessing, like “relationship evangelism”—beginning relationships before sharing the gospel—are effective ministry tools.
“I’m all for relational evangelism as long as there is a relationship and there is evangelism,” Queen said.
Sharing your faith from the beginning of a relationship makes broaching the gospel message a natural part of conversation, he said. But having the desire to share your faith does not prepare a Christian to do so, Meador said, emphasizing the need to have a plan and prepare for intentional, effective gospel conversations.
The panelists concluded where they began—pastors must have a personal practice of evangelism and lead their congregations to do likewise.
“It doesn’t take a scholar to see the [biblical] imperative commands,” Meador said. “If a pastor doesn’t do gospel work, I’m not sure he’s qualified to pastor his church.”
Even if no one responds with a profession of faith, sharing the gospel benefits the person sharing the message, Queen said.
“Sometimes there is no greater encouragement for you than to go out and share the gospel,” Queen told the pastors in the audience. “You are reminded of why God loves you and sent his son Jesus to die for you.”