Rev. Mahtani is eastern home missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches. Previous article in this series: April 15, 2005, p. 331.
Preachers can help a great deal to equip the saints by the preaching itself.
Believing that the best way to equip our people for personal evangelism is by the lively preaching of the gospel, I wish to return to the subject of preaching and discuss some of its finer points as it relates to evangelism. I think we need to remember a few things about preaching.
First of all, let us not forget that the lively preaching of the gospel goes on not only from the pulpit on Sunday and during a formal worship service, but also from house to house through necessary pastoral calls or via regular family visitation. It also goes on in the catechism room among the children and young people.
Preachers can give much aid to God’s people in personal evangelism. Recognizing differences in personalities, abiding weaknesses, feelings of inadequacy, fears, etc. in Christ’s sheep, preachers must strive to give help to God’s people and seek to equip them to this task.
Allow me to be specific without sounding critical in any sense, for I know I have a long ways to go in the blessed work of preaching. Questions should not be limited to: “Do you know the comfort of this truth?” or “What does this mean for you?” Rather, God’s people must constantly be placed before their God-given task to do personal evangelism with questions such as these: “Does this truth mean something to you so that you are excited enough to talk about it at work tomorrow?” or, “How is this reality going to affect the way you live so that others can see Christ in you?” or, “Does your hope in the coming of Christ manifest itself in the way you think, talk, and live?” We might imagine that these questions are easy, or that they come readily to mind. Truth is, God’s people do not always think in those terms. Often these questions are considered more in connection with the teaching of children. I am in no way minimizing that aspect of our calling. But I am saying that our preachers can help equip our people to do personal evangelism by asking pointed questions that will help God’s people remember this important calling.
But preachers too are different, and so it will come across in their preaching in different ways. I often hear the comment that because I was brought out of heathendom I naturally ask these questions. I think that this is true. But I was humbled and encouraged by an elder out west who responded to a sermon I preached there not too long ago by saying: “You know, I thought that with your background, you were going to pound us with guilt about not being mission minded enough. But you did not! You called us to be faithful to the truth!” I was humbly thankful for that observation and encouragement. Those of us who are given to talk about missions should temper it with solid doctrinal teaching that will persuade our people that evangelism and contending for the faith are not opposites. Hopefully, those of us preachers who are not as ready to emphasize missions will also be willing to inject a dose of mission zeal in our sermons. A balance of this sort will help our people not to say: “I am of Mahtani, he is mission-minded; or, I am of Engelsma, he is doctrinal; or I am of Haak, of the Reformed Witness Hour, he is brief!” We are of Christ, and let us as ambassadors of Christ bring the whole counsel of God’s Word, and that includes the emphasis to be busy in personal evangelism. I think this balance will help our people tremendously. For as the leaders, so the people; if our people need help in evangelism, let us preachers examine ourselves and be willing to develop and improve.
In that regard, a personal comment and request: please do not feel that every time you ask a missionary to preach or write an article it should be about missions. This is a mistake. Our people want to hear our missionaries preach the same truths they hear at home. I am glad that at the YP’s Convention this year I have been asked to preach on “The Worship of the King!” Now what in the world does a missionary have to say about worship?! Everything! If he has nothing to say about worship and everything to say only about evangelism, he had better not be a missionary!
Let us remember too that we promote personal evangelism not only through the choice of texts and themes, but by the attitude that we portray in our preaching. We must be polemical; we must condemn error. But we must do so in such a way that the people of God do not become lopsided in their thinking, for then we are in danger of begetting a bunch of haughty minded people who think that to behave in a condescending and unfriendly manner towards unbelievers is to be commended in us. We may not intend it, but somehow God’s people might take that with them to the workbench and classroom in a totally wrong way. To avoid this, if we temper our polemics with a mission zeal, pointing out the urgency of the gospel as the only power that can turn a man from such lies, and pointing out that only by grace have we ourselves had our blindness removed, and urging the saints to be ready to speak of that hope to all around them with meekness and fear, then we are doing a good service to the cause of personal evangelism.
To defend our hope, to give an apologia instead of apologizing for our faith or becoming brash about our convictions—this is not an easy task. It is a spiritual toil. God’s people must see in our preaching that we toil in prayer to be faithful instruments on the pulpit, and then, taking heed to our instruction, they too, by the grace of God, will seek that wisdom to save souls. Proverbs 11:30: “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.”
Not only the preacher but also the elders and deacons must work to equip the saints.
It is not only the minister’s duty to equip the saints for evangelism but also the calling of the other officebearers. It is, after all, the church that is called to evangelize. That is why I would like to focus now on the work of elders and deacons in helping to equip our people for personal evangelism. The Form for the Ordination of Elders and Deacons mandates the elders “to look diligently whether every one deports himself in his confession and conversation.” It instructs the elders “to serve all Christians with advice and consolation.” In the oversight of the congregation, the elders ought to be mindful of this their duty to equip the saints for personal evangelism. By their instruction and warning, they must instruct God’s people of the importance of giving a good witness so that the Word of God is never blasphemed on account of the sins of the saints. By their own godly example, they must show the saints the way to make a good confession. Looking to them, and thus looking to Christ Himself, the saints will know that personal evangelism is part and parcel of their Christian calling in the midst of a sinful world.
As the elders go in and out among the saints, both from week to week in informal settings and from house to house in official family visitation, they can help equip the saints by prodding them with questions on evangelism such as the following: What is your example in this neighborhood? At work? In school? At college? Do your neighbors and colleagues know you? Why not? How about your children? Are they known to be rowdy and lazy, or godly and hardworking? What kind of friends do you have? Are you giving a good testimony in your neighborhood and at work? Is your lawn such that you are not ashamed to be called a Christian? Is your desk at work a reflection of your Christianity? And addressing young people, they could ask: Is it the love of God, or the love of the world, that drives you in your life? Are you giving in to the pressures of the world, or are you instead giving a good witness to all those around you? They can remind the saints of the calling to love the neighbor, whoever that person is that God has put on their pathway, with questions such as these: Is there a need at work or in school that you can meet that will show Christ’s love? Will your neighbor come to you in time of need? Why not? And the elders, in taking heed to the flock, can surely help the saints to be alert to their calling to give a good witness to what is happening in the world, with questions such as: Are you conscious of what is happening around the world? If not, why not? Did 9/11 affect you in any way? How about the recent tsunami in Asia, have you had occasion to talk about the judgment of God to come? As Christians, do you speak of your blessed hope of the coming of our great God and Savior? Do you speak of your covenant life with others outside the church so that they know why the gospel is so precious to you?
Another practical way by which the elders might equip the saints for personal evangelism is by leading the way to show how every visitor God brings is welcomed in an appropriate way. Considering all the advertising we do, and all the planning and expenses that go into evangelism, no one can justifiably say we are not involved in evangelism. But it is the personal touch that is often missing. A new person comes into our midst, and perhaps such a one has no clue of what a Psalter is, or where to turn to in the Bible, etc. Here is an opportunity for the elders to help our people learn to show godly concern for the stranger. I am not talking about walking across the sanctuary to reach the visitor — that can be rather distracting for others and even embarrassing to the visitor. But if the visitor is sitting nearby, walking up quietly to help the visitor, or simply nudging someone else to pass on an open Bible to the page where Scripture is being read, or turning to the Psalter number to be sung, are things that can help the visitor feel at home.
Making it a point to shake hands with every visitor (and yes, it will not hurt to walk across the hallway to meet and greet) will show our people that this is important. God shows us His love by inviting us into His house where we taste His covenant mercies in fellowship with Him and with His people. Making a newcomer feel at home at church is a wonderful way to show our concern and love, and it can serve as an excellent opportunity to open the door to talk about the faith. When our people see our elders do that kind of thing, hopefully they will be encouraged to do the same.
What all has been said with regards to elders can surely also be applied to the deacons. They, too, are in an excellent position to help equip the saints for personal evangelism. Since the office of the deacon (again according to the Form of Ordination) is “to assist the poor with compassion and hearty affection, as the apostle requires in Romans 12and II Corinthians 9,” they can by their example show the saints the way to do good to all men; yes, especially to those of the household of faith, but also to all men (Gal. 6:10).
As the deacons administer relief to the poor not only with external gifts “but also with comfortable words from Scripture,” so they can teach the saints a vital lesson: God’s people must not only be a witness by their life and by what they do for the neighbor, but also by the choice of words they employ when they speak to the neighbor. It is not enough that I bring a plate of cookies to my neighbor to welcome a new family to the neighborhood. I ought to be willing and ready to speak of my hope and to invite such a new family to church. It is not enough that I keep my yard neat and tidy so that the neighborhood looks decent, I should make an effort to get to know the neighbor and explain why I live the way I do. Does this mean that we must necessarily go door to door, knocking on everybody’s door, or that each time I see my neighbor coming out of his driveway I bang his head with the Bible? Of course not! But to go to the other extreme is also inexcusable. “I don’t know my neighbors; I never talk with them!” Please, brethren, why would we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on missions and evangelism and neglect to do personal evangelism with our neighbors?
Clearly, the preaching and teaching and godly example of the minister and the other officebearers will be effective means in the equipping of the saints for personal evangelism. God’s people are not blind; our children, and our young people especially, are watching, and although they insist they want to go their own way, ultimately they do follow. If our people are not interested in evangelism, the next generation is going to be even more close-minded to the work of missions; if our people are busy and lively and zealous in giving a personal witness to all those around them, our children are going to follow their godly example.
… to be continued.