At a ministerial gathering last week I was part of a sobering conversation with my colleagues in ministry about how to deal with the struggle for institutional survival. Most churches (though not all) are at least partially distracted by the concern that they are a few bad months from institutional death. Whether the church is struggling to pay the bills or is simply watching dwindling attendance figures, many churches are concerned with their own viability.
So how does this impact evangelism? A number of my colleagues observed that the struggle for institutional survival can have a huge impact on your motivation for evangelism, to devastating effect. Even the right action, with a selfish motivation can become destructive.
One minister in the area works for a church where his home, and the church building are both owned by the denomination. The weekly collection is directed to the denominational headquarters and then it is redistributed to the churches according to their Sunday am attendance numbers. There has been anxiety for months about the church’s survival, and about my colleague’s job. They asked him, “what if we lose our church?”
My friend replied, “My ancestors grew up on Russian farmland that was stolen from them. They lost their farms, homes, and church buildings but they never lost their church. This is no different. We can lose everything; even our church building; but we will never lose our faith.”
When evangelism becomes a means to keep the institution alive, we lose sight of our faith altogether. Evangelism does not serve to keep our faith alive, or keep the church alive. Jesus sustains our church by the word of his mouth (Heb 1:3). It’s His body! (Col 1:24) Evangelism doesn’t serve faith, faith serves evangelism.
It get’s under my skin every time I see people quote Luke 18:8 “…when the Son of Man comes, will He find find on earth?” The implication is that we need to clean up our act or Jesus won’t have anybody to come back for. It is such a ‘famine mentality’ and it ignores the context of the quote. In Luke 18 Jesus is telling a parable about a woman who comes to a judge begging for justice and after a delay the judge finally gives it to her. The analogy here is found in the Rabbinic teaching approach that Jesus is using. It’s called “the lesser – the greater” What Jesus is saying, ‘if an unrighteous judge will eventually do what is right, how much more does God who is a righteous judge do what is right? By asking the question “will the Son of Man find faith” He is encouraging his followers to continue to watch and pray. God will be just! Watch and pray! Additionally, Revelation 21 is clear that somebody of faith is still around when Jesus returns.
As long as evangelism is thought of as an institutional survival strategy it will always be received by our culture as a sales pitch and if there is one thing our culture is getting good at ducking is a sales pitch (Have you answered your phone during dinner lately?)
Evangelism is the humble response of a wicked heart that has been transformed by Jesus and knows it.