Earl, the commenter on John’s blog (Locusts & Honey), who sparked my post yesterday, responded again to the discussion we had. Rather than write a long comment over there (original post here), I am writing a response here:
In my initial post I did not intend to be caustic, volatile or provoke an argument. I sought to respond to the question specifically and thoughtfully. It is obvious some have found that post offensive. I apologize.
There was no need to apologise – his post was none of those things. I just disagreed.
I do not live in and have no knowledge of what might be the dynamics of evangelism in the European context. Having lived in major metropolitan areas I do have some first hand experience with inner city ministry as well as working with a culturally diverse population.
Fair enough, but he seemed to have in mind a form of evangelism that would suggest it works over any culture. He hasn’t outlined exactly what it would mean to evaluate someone’s ability to evangelism (though there appeared to be an emphasis on the number of people ‘won’ to Christ).
As concerns social ministry, without exception every church that I have led has continued ongoing or instituted practical ministry to needy persons. When need exceeded resources my wife and I have personally taken clothing from our closet, and food out of our kitchen, paid grocery bills, gas bills, and made house payments.
This sounds like a deep and committed ministry, and I will be honest: it calls me to account and forces me to think about practicing what I preach!
By all means we have sought to win lost people to Christ. Not always but at least more than occasionally we have been successful. In the midst of such ministry to have failed to make the best possible purposed effort to so share the Gospel that a person would commit their lives to Christ would have been to act unfaithfully.
With respect and without apology I stand by what I wrote. By advocating for a central primary emphasis on evangelism I addressed the issue of how to improve seminary training. “If the devil is in the details” then I am not surprised that the details of implementing a greater emphasis on evangelism would be disputed.
Evangelism is not antithetical to social ministry but neither is it subordinate. The Gospel intersects life at the point of human need. To say and/or do otherwise is an inexcusable failure of faith. (Matt. 25:31-46). But however laudable social concern is no adequate substitute for evangelism. And in such ministry by inattention or timidity (Matt. 25:1-30) to fail to make practical efforts to lead individuals to personal faith in Christ is an equally inexcusable failure of faithfulness to the imperative of Christ (Matt. 28:18-20).
I don’t know what is meant by ‘win lost people to Christ’. I just don’t see ‘winning’ as a useful category in evangelism. I associate the term with those who typically mean that one is ‘won’ when they follow a set pattern (like the 4 Spiritual Laws) or accepted some sort of proposition. I think Earl and I will be at a standstill here because I simply don’t separate meeting needs as he described from the work of evangelism. Maybe I am not being fair to Earl: perhaps he means ‘commit your life to Christ’ in a much more nuanced way than I have heard many say it, i.e., once one has said a prayer than one is ‘saved’ and therefore the commitment is made.
I don’t say ‘social concern’ is done because it is laudable or some kind of extra add-on to the Christian life. I would say that preaching the gospel means preaching that Jesus is Lord, but goes far beyond a ‘personal’ realm (though it is personal). This is at heart what I believe about the resurrection and the promise of a new creation. It is also putting into action those things that testify to the kingdom Jesus rules over and will one day be on earth (this would include feeding and clothing the poor, but also challenging the sinful structures and systems that we find ourselves in). This is where I believe the term Kevin Watson used in his comment earlier comes in, ‘incarnational ministry’. It is indeed seeking to go out and meet people where they are.
For both lay and clergy Jesus granted no exemption to this imperative. In carrying out this imperative I respectfully suggest a better model for the pastor than equipper is the player-coach. And whether in college, university or seminary level instruction I would suggest that those teaching evangelism should without exception be individuals who have demonstrated effectiveness in actually doing the work of evangelism.
I don’t doubt that as a pastor, evangelism is part of my calling, but it is the task of the entire community. Perhaps also where he and I would disagree is that he seems to understand evangelism as primarily an individual task, where I see it as involving a more community approach. [I am not here discounting relational evangelism, nor am I advocating an approach that demands the person come to us when I say ‘community based’.] Regardless, to place such a primary emphasis on the pastor’s studies on ‘evangelism’ (in particular as described by Earl detached from what he calls ‘social concern’) would make for a lopsided curriculum.
Again, I don’t know what he means by those having demonstrated effectiveness in evangelism to say whether or not I agree with him.
Earl’s post came at a good time. I have had ideas about evangelism running around my head, but haven’t given it serious orderly thought. Earl is forcing me to think this out. Hopefully, there will be other posts and comments that will help me to think through these issues.
 Kevin Watson made a comment on the post in which he characterised by view (wrongly in my opinion, but that’s not the point). Since he challenged me, I found my way to his blog and found it great. He is currently doing a sermon series on John Wesley’s General Rules that I highly recommend, if for no other reason than we ought to look more at the General Rules! But, luckily it’s more than that! He has some great reflections on them.