Rev. Kortering is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Most, if not all, of our congregations have an “Evangelism Committee” or have what is sometimes called a “Church Extension Committee.” The general purpose of such a committee is to put forth effort to get the message of the gospel, as proclaimed in the local church and in our churches, to those who are without. The scope of their labors usually is not limited by geographic proximity to the local congregation; rather, most of them develop contacts anywhere in the world. The reason for this is obvious: whenever efforts are put forth to get the word out into the world, God is sovereign in its distribution. An interested person who lives next door to the church building may send a copy of some literature to a member of their family who lives in Brazil, and one never knows where all of this may lead. Truth is, that most of the effort of our evangelism committees is concentrated in our own local area. This is good and proper, for the purpose of all such effort is to be obedient to the mission mandate to begin at Jerusalem and then go unto the uttermost parts of the world. We begin our outreach with those who are closest to us and then extend the contact to others.
These committees have to be commended for their efforts to diversify the approach. Let me just list a few of those efforts. They publish and distribute literature; some of them even develop a rather extensive mailing list. Closely connected to this is a tape ministry. They prepare and distribute both audio and video copies of messages on various subjects. In some instances, this has led to the broadcast of the worship service over both radio and cable television. Others make use of our denominational broadcast and sponsor that in the local area. Usually, the committees sponsor some form of seminar or lecture series on a current subject of interest and advertise that so others can attend. On a more intimate level, some committees become involved in Bible Studies that are geared to a specific audience, it may be college students or anyone interested in the study of a certain subject. Another method used is that of “Newspaper Evangelism,” in which a certain brief message is published in the local paper with a view to the general public reading it and becoming acquainted with some important aspect of truth. Usually, at various times, effort is put forth to contact the neighbors. This can be done through mailings or by personal distribution as the members go door to door. The emphasis here is to acquaint the neighbors with the gospel or with some aspect of its message, which may include a special invitation to come and worship or to attend some specific event. Finally, there are more specific ministries to meet special needs that may include prison ministries, hospital visitations, and such like. If my memory is correct, I think that some of our pastors have in the past engaged in “street preaching.” That may be more European or Asian, so I am sure many of our foreign readers are familiar with this ministry as well.
The effectiveness of all such outreach efforts is connected with personal contact. This is true because the goal of outreach is to communicate the gospel. The chief means to that end is the preaching of the gospel. The real encounter of all ministries is that one may come to hear the voice of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. It stands to reason, then, that the efforts of outreach by the Evangelism Committee must be personal. Yes, God may use a piece of literature sent through the mail, but nothing can compare to that same piece of literature given by one person to another. It allows for more opportunity not only to talk, but far more importantly, to convey the love of Christ, which is what the gospel is all about. Methods that involve face-to-face contact are far more effective for this same reason. God uses human instrumentality to convey to others the sincerity of the message. Urgency, conviction, passion, and love are demonstrated in personal contact.
The conclusion that I draw from this is twofold. The first is that our membership must be personally involved in the efforts of the Church Extension Committee for those efforts to be effective. Every one of us as members of the congregation must know what our committee is doing and we must ask ourselves, how can I do my part to make that effort more effective. A committee trying to do outreach without the involvement of the members is greatly handicapped. Secondly, the motivation to do this rests in the fundamental calling of every member to be burdened with the spiritual welfare of his neighbor. The heartbeat of all evangelism in the local church is the living testimony of a godly walk by the members and their eagerness to share the gospel with those who cross their pathway. The great motivation for effective evangelism in the local church is a heart that truly loves God and loves the neighbor for God’s sake. If we truly love God, the goal of evangelism is not self, not even the neighbor, but is God and His glory through the gathering and strengthening of His precious people.
The purpose of this short series of articles is to motivate each member of the local church to be personally active in evangelism and to give the work of the Evangelism Committee the spiritual impetus it needs.
One approach I like to take is to encourage you to read some of the challenging literature on this subject. More than likely we need help if we are to reach out personally to our neighbor. Interestingly, we have very few Protestant Reformed publications from which we can quote. Precious little has been written on the subject of missions and local evangelism. Our Evangelism Committees have observed that we have very little literature specifically written for non-Christians. We do not have booklets that guide the committees in various methods of personal outreach. We cannot pick up a Protestant Reformed publication that helps our members share their personal faith with a non-Christian. I am not being critical here, nor am I belitting our past efforts, for I understand very well our history and the focus of our attention.
We must not reason, however, that since we did not have need for such material in the past, we do not need it today. Certainly, I trust our discerning readers will understand that the great blessing of God upon our churches and their history is that now is the time for outreach. We have been guided by God’s providential history to set forth clearly the Reformed faith, especially as it relates to the gospel and its preaching. In addition to that, we have been tested in our sincerity of that faith by a massive split in our churches. God has enabled us to recover; we have gone from strength to strength, as is evidenced in the practical demonstration of love for our children in covenant instruction. These events have taken the lion share of our efforts and they have been greatly blessed by God, so that now we stand strong in the truth of the gospel and the covenant and in the practical working out of these convictions in our daily life. Now is the time that we can truly say, from this foundation of strength, God commands us to reach out and share this with others.
I am convinced there is no church that has the gospel of the “full counsel of God” as we do. We have consistently worked out the practical implications of the antithesis in our daily life. God does not want us to keep this simply for ourselves; it is this glorious truth that God has committed to us to share with others, even at this late date in history. As we reach outside our churches we will accomplish two things: we will witness to non-Christians and bring the gospel to them, and we will encourage fellow saints outside our churches. Probably more than at any other time in history our fellow saints need encouragement to stand for the truth, even unto death. We need to show God’s love to our neighbors, whether they are here in America or young Christians in remote countries throughout the world. True unity and love is critical in these last days, and we as Christians must put forth effort to do our part.
Besides this, there is one more reason why it is necessary that we emphasize personal contact with our neighbor. Our social culture has changed. We have shifted from a predominantly agricultural society to a highly urbanized one through economic changes. As a result of this, personal contact with our neighbors has diminished. I remember the day when members of the rural community died, the local church bell would toll the number of his/her years. It was a moving tribute to everyone who lived in the town and adjacent country. Now we cannot even have a procession to the cemetery because drivers are so rude they interrupt the cars of the procession. With automatic garage door openers we come and go without even seeing our neighbors. Emphasis on privacy laws make us afraid how much we can even talk about our faith with others when we do have a face-to-face chat. If there was ever a time when we needed encouragement and instruction how to share our faith with our neighbors it is now. That is why we need to face this as we have not done before.
Having said this, I must admit that it is not easy to recommend what books can be helpful. If our attitude is that we have to be completely in agreement with a book or it cannot be read or used, we are in desperate straits, for there are precious few such books on outreach. I like to believe that our readers are mature enough to read with discernment, as we must with almost all books. The ultimate test of any writing must always be the Word of God. Preferred writers are those who set forth their ideas from a Reformed perspective. Even then, we have to be discerning. Others may be able to give us suggestions, especially in some of the practical ways of interacting with non-Christian neighbors. They too must be tested by the Word of God.
One book that I found encouraging is entitled Get Out & Get Rid of Dilemmas, by G. Vandoornen. This book is out of print and can be found only in libraries. Since it was written in 1972, when immigrants from the Netherlands had settled in Canada, the author addresses the attitude of the people in which they express their fear to share the gospel with others. Much of this is evident in our churches today as well. Let me quote from the introduction:
The general single topic of the following pages will be to underline the necessity for the Church of Jesus Christ to “become an open Church.”
“Being” and “becoming” always go together in the Scriptures. Paul, addressing the “saints” in his letters, does not get tired of pointing out that they have to become, more and more, in daily conversation and sanctification, what they already are “in Jesus Christ.”
Being the true Church must never mean that we have attained it and now can relax. When the Heidelberg Catechism speaks (L.D. 44) of “a small beginning of the new obedience,” this should not only be understood as applying to the individual believer, but also to the community and fellowship of the believers.
By the expression, “an open Church” we do not only stress that according to our nature, the Church of Jesus Christ welcomes every one who desires to join her in true faith but also that she looks around, opens her arms, “goes out” to bring in the lost, in one word, the Church bears the image of her Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Will Metzger wrote Tell the Truth, The Whole Gospel to the Whole Person, by Whole People. This one is still in print and published by InterVarsity Fellowship. It is the one I used when we had a special class on outreach when I pastored our Grandville PRC. It has Reformed emphases, contrasts the man-centered gospel with the God-centered one. It is not simply a book on principles, but it has many practical suggestions on how to do outreach in the local church and in your personal life.
Going and Growing is a book written by Dick and Thea VanHalsema when they were involved in Reformed Bible College. They brought the Baker Mission Lecture series to that school in 1990 and these are summaries of their messages. I don’t know if it is available today. Let me quote from this book,
In the spring of 1983, Robertson McQuilkin, president of Columbia Bible College, visited RBC in Grand Rapids, Michigan to present the twelfth annual series of Baker Mission Lectures.
From a lifelong involvement in missions—including twelve years of missionary service in Japan—President McQuilkin asked why Christ’s Great Commission captures the enthusiasm and enlists the service of so few Christians.
The speaker stated his own conclusions about why mission laborers are in such short supply. McQuilkin ventured to say that, in general, Christians have “heart trouble” (Christians do not love, do not really care about those who are outside of Christ). We have “eye trouble” (we do not see the plentiful harvest on the one hand and the shortage of workers on the other). We have “head trouble” (that something is wrong with our thinking processes, our brains, when we spend most of our time in theological speculation instead of engaging in witness and evangelization). Again, the guest speaker charged that Christians are prone to have “knee trouble” (for many, prayer is a neglected means of grace) and “ear trouble” (God calls, but we do not listen or obey).
President McQuilkin’s main point was that many Christians have exchanged the “Great Commission” for the “Great Omission.”
I am limited by space, but we must mention a couple of the classics: God—Centered Evangelism, by R. B. Kuiper; Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, by J. I. Packer. Even though Charles Haddon Spurgeon was addressing pastors when he gave the lectures contained in The Soul Winner, and though he comes from a believers’ baptism tradition, he still inspires me as only Spurgeon can. He was a Calvinist who had a burden for lost souls. I am sure he will inspire you as well.
There are other writings. Perhaps we can quote and refer to them as we go along.