Speech and salvation: a role for pastors?

This is an appendix to a series about gospel speech. Read parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.

On my previous article about gospel speech, Craig made some comments and suggestions that I thought were so good they were worth a whole new post.

Craig was responding to my suggestion about gifted gospel speakers:

Secondly, treat them as role-models. Learn to imitiate specially gifted gospel speakers wherever you can.

Craig raised the issue that often the most encouraging gospel-speaking role models are the ‘lay’ people, not the full-time ministers:

As a layman, what encourages me in evangelism, more than anything else, is hearing about other laymen doing it. For example, a while ago I heard a mate at church describe how he was planning to witness to the bloke in the next cubicle. That did more to encourage me than 10 sermons on evangelism would have done.

But there’s a problem: we don’t always get many opportunities to hear stories like this or to be encouraged by particularly gifted ‘evangelists’ in the congregation. So Craig had a suggestion for what pastors could do about this:

My completely untested suggestion would be for you to find the 2 or 3 laypeople in your church who are naturally good at gospelling and give them many opportunities to share their stories, either from the the front or through the chuch newspaper, or whatever. Real people, really doing it.

The other thing I’d do is get those 2 or 3 people together into some kind of lay evangelists society, and make it a priority to meet up with that group every month, and coach and develop it. I reckon you’d see that group grow, and it would leaven the whole church.

This kind of structure is a great idea. As Craig suggested, we might have a very ‘flat’ model of evangelism, where we simply assume that everybody is an ‘evangelist’ and so we pitch all of our encouragement to the people who aren’t doing any evangelism at all. On the other hand, we might have a very ‘static’ model of evangelism, where we assume that some people are gifted evangelists and others simply aren’t gifted at evangelism and so there’s not much point encouraging people to do something they’re not very good at. Craig’s suggested structure, on the other hand, is a way of getting a more dynamic thing happening. The idea is that pastors identify people who are particularly gifted ‘evangelists’, encourage them personally, and ask them to encourage other people in the congregation who aren’t so gifted.

As I was reflecting on Craig’s ‘untested’ suggestion, I realised that I have actually had a go at testing something like this in the past. Unfortunately, my test failed. I reflected on the reasons why the idea didn’t get off the ground in my own case. Here are two hurdles that I encountered:

  1. True evangelists are often the kind of people who are so busy speaking the gospel that they see structured meetings as an annoying distraction from the real task of personal evangelism. So they said they didn’t have time to meet.
  2. True evangelists often can’t understand why other people find evangelism hard. They reckon the task is straightforward, and so everybody should just be ‘getting on with it’. So they didn’t see the point.

I didn’t really deal with these hurdles myself. But I reckon I could have done it better. Here are two things I think I should have done:

  1. I should have spent more time showing the ‘evangelists’ why they are different from other people, and how they can use their special gifts for the good of the whole congregation. I was thinking about this kind of thing when I wrote Jedi Masters and the Body of Christ and compared specially gifted people to Star Wars Jedis:

    In other words, we needed the Jedis to become Yodas. Yoda was more than just a Jedi. He was a Jedi master. He knew that other people didn’t share his natural intuition. He reflected long and hard about his own innate Jedi skills. He was patient and kind. He shared his Jedi powers with Luke, in simple steps, so that Luke could understand and learn.

  2. I should have spent more time personally with the evangelists. Instead, I delegated the task of organising the group to our ministry apprentice. The ministry apprentice in question was a godly, faithful, gifted evangelist himself, and he did a brilliant job. But what the evangelists really needed was some encouragement from a more ‘senior’ person, to make them realise how important this whole thing was. As Craig says:

    My leadership texts tell me that the most valuable thing I can give my subordinates at work is my time. Same is true for a pastor. As soon as you are in a position of authority, people will value your time. Investing your time in the lay evangelists group every month (fortnight?) sends a very powerful message.

Pastors and others, what do you reckon? Have you tried something like this? Is it worth it? Are there other hurdles you’ve encountered? Do you have any other ideas about how to overcome these hurdles?

6 thoughts on “Speech and salvation: a role for pastors?

  1. We have a regular time on Sunday mornings called “This Time Tomorrow” where we have someone interview different people from the Church about what they’ll be doing “this time tomorrow”. It’s a very flexible format and gives opportunity to get to know what each other is doing in their day to day setting (minding homes, working, studying, looking for work etc.) We’ve found it a very helpful way to get all sorts of people speaking about how they work out their ‘mission’ within their work place. It doesn’t have to be all superbly gifted lay evangelists up there…but you could include them as well :-)

  2. Thanks for this Lionel, and I hope it inspires some discussion. Really interesting to hear of your experiences.

    That’s a great point about talented people finding meetings of this nature to be a distraction. It’s something you encounter in the secular workforce as well.

    For example, I once wanted to introduce a regular quality control meeting in my team. I was convinced that the junior people would learn heaps from the seniors, and the seniors would actually learn quite a bit from each other. But some people weren’t sold, as it was a substantial hit on time.

    A couple of things I did. First, I accepted the hit on productivity. That is, I told them I knew that a meeting like this would mean they get a little less done that day, and that was cool.

    This was important, because I’ve often seen managers just pile on an extra task like this with the message, “you’ve got to do everything you’re doing now, and this as well”. Very unfair, and leads to poor results as people scramble to do the minimum so they can fit everything in.

    The reason I was willing to accept a hit on productivity, of course, was because I was convinced the long term benefits would outweight the short term cost. And so it proved.

    The other thing I had to do was sell them on the concept. So I prepared a number of presentations on the idea of quality review to prepare the soil a bit, and we were able to get a super-smart consultant to come in and walk them through the process as well. By the time we got around to actually scheduling the meetings, most people had been sold on the concept.

    Now, some people really hate management-speak being introduced into church discussions, so I guess such people can disregard my thoughts! But others might find them useful.

  3. I think Ralph makes a good point – and “This Time Tomorrow” is a great model.

    I wonder if gifted evangelists often have trouble understanding why others struggle in evangelism because their personalities are so different. It’s a generalisation, but the people I know who are gifted in evangelism tend to be extroverts with the gift of the gab. Some are gentle, some more ‘pushy’ (in a good way), but all are chatty, confident extroverts. (I’m sure there are others I haven’t met who don’t fit this category!)

    This means that it can be hard for them to pass on their skills to others, who may be more introverted and less confident, as the way they go about evangelism doesn’t translate well into another personality type. As you said in one of your posts, we all do gospel speech in different ways.

    Which means you don’t just want to get the gifted evangelists up the front of the church talking about how they share their faith (although this is a great idea). You also want to get the strugglers who are faithfully living and speaking the gospel up there too, to talk about how God has used them in their friends’ lives.

    This is important not just because it models different kinds of personal evangelism, but because different personalities reach different kinds of people. It also shows that we can all share our faith, even those who find it harder.

    I think one of the reasons I’ve found evangelism hard over the years is that I thought it had to look a certain way: the clever-conversational-gambit turn-any-conversation-into-a-chat-about-the-gospel model. I’m learning that there are different ways to do evangelism: slower, more relational, but still effective. It would be great if we could model all kinds of evangelism in our churches.

  4. Lionel,
    Thanks for this appendix. Very helpful ending (is it?) to a helpful series. The suggestion Ralph makes is excellent. It is similar to what Tony Payne has suggested in his stuff on the Sunday morning gathering. Perhaps we have a 14:26 time (1 Corinthians that is, and make sure it is 26 and not 36)? I often think that the best way to enculturate a congregation is by having keen lay people do a lot of the convincing.

    The hurdle we have in our context is finding those people are actually gifted evangelists. I know lots of people excited about the pastor or the church or some program but have come across few who just love telling people about the gospel (including the judgment and punishment bits).

    The last point from Craig is a helpful reminder to all pastors. We just spent weeks working with a couple hundred pastors here in the US. One of the most important points Colin Marshall and Tony Payne make is that we have to re-train the way we think of training. It isn’t always an extra thing we have to add in but rather use the things we already do for training. I was convicted about how many guys I am training in evangelism simply by taking them with me. I don’t even take myself with me.

    Thanks for the challenges and suggestions!

  5. That’s a great point Jean. What I think it reinforces is that people are looking for practical help with the whole evangelism thing “on the ground”. I think our approach has often been “here’s all the theory – now apply it to your own context”. I think many people find that too hard.

  6. Thanks for all the comments, everyone – a very fruitful discussion. Among other things, your comments have highlighted one of the big challenges of ministry – the tension between (1) providing the people under our care with concrete, observable, imitatable examples of God’s word in action and (2) ensuring that people realise that God’s word isn’t limited to these concrete examples, and thus that living in the light of God’s word will be different for them. Doing (1) always risks undermining (2). But if we don’t take the risk of doing (1), people will have no idea what we’re talking about.

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