By Dick Loizeaux
I have a dinner knife with a bent blade in our silverware drawer. Someone (who shall
remain nameless) tried to use it as a screwdriver. The dinner knife did not remove the screw. The screw damaged the knife. Because dinner knives are not designed to remove screws.
Pastor’s Tool Time lesson: Using an evangelism tool to accomplish a job it was never designed
to do will usually both fail to do the job and damage the tool.
You see, we pastors sometimes grab an evangelism program and expect it to accomplish something it was not designed to do – win people to saving faith in Jesus. We expect programs to accomplish what only people can do.
Pastor’s Tool Time Principle: Programs do not do evangelism; people do evangelism. Programs
do not do acts of compassion; people do acts of compassion. Programs do not share the Good News; people share the Good News. When we expect outreach programs to accomplish something that only personal relationships, personal witnessing, personal acts of compassion, and personal words of invitation can accomplish, the outreach tool will fail and the tool (program) may be damaged.
So what is the purpose of evangelism programs? Programs are the tools that build relational bridges, or contacts, where evangelism can take place. People must know how to use the relationship for Jesus, and be motivated to use the relationship for Jesus if actual evangelism is to take place.
“Of course our church believes in Evangelism. We have an Awana program, or an Alpha program, or an Annual Sportsman’s Banquet or….” Yet those programs can have a huge outreach impact in some churches and little outreach impact in others. What’s the difference? Answer: Whether or not people use the relationships the tool creates to then function as an effective relational witness.
It is our job as pastors to make sure people understand what part of outreach is the job of the tool, and what part is their job.
Mistake #1: We identify the program, rather than our people, as the evangelism ministry. When we think of and refer to the program as our evangelism ministry, we create false expectations. Then when the program doesn’t live up to expectations because the people did not utilize the relationships, we damage the people who volunteered, and damage faith in the effectiveness of the program. The solution is to stop referring to your programs as your evangelism ministry. Call them your pre-evangelism ministry or your community connection ministry. Your evangelism ministry is your people.
Mistake #2: We train people to run the program without training them how to use the relationship for Jesus. If they are too busy running the program to invest time building relationships with people in the program, the program will have low spiritual impact regardless of how high the attendance might be. The solution is to train volunteers to understand the purpose of the program is to provide the relational connection, and without their investment in a redemptive relationship all their program effort will have little impact. Another solution is to either staff programs with extra volunteers to lighten the program load so they can invest in relationships, or assign people to the program who have no responsibility other than to build redemptive relationships for an evangelistic harvest.
Mistake #3: We try to substitute program activity for spiritual vitality. The truth is that high quality programs sometimes fail spectacularly and mediocre programs sometimes succeed outrageously. What makes the difference? The spiritual vitality of the volunteers. Spiritual passion is contagious. When volunteers are on fire for Jesus the fire spreads. When volunteers are going through the motions all you create is motion. How do you make sure your volunteers are on fire for Jesus? Same way you build a campfire. You put a log that is not on fire against a log that is on fire. You have to be on fire for the Lord and connect yourself relationally to key leaders so they catch the passion. Then they build relationship through the program and the fire spreads.
Mistake #4: We let a program that was once vibrant and effective slip into routine. What made the program vibrant and effective was not the program mechanics but the spiritual vitality and relationships of the volunteers. It was more than a program, it was a people movement. At some point we came to believe the success was due to the program rather than to the people. We slipped from investing in people to just running a program. The solution is to revisit and correct mistakes #1,2, and 3.
A dinner knife is great at cutting food but it is a lousy screwdriver. An evangelism program is good at training people or creating relationships but is lousy at leading people to a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. That is a relational job. When people use the evangelism tool correctly great things
- Are you guilty of calling your programs, rather than your people, your outreach ministry? How has that confused people? How can you correct that?
- Are your people too busy running programs to invest in relationships? How can you tell? How can you
- Are your ministries settling for physical activity rather than spiritual vitality? How can you tell? What part must you play in correcting that?
- Do you have a once effective program that is just limping along? Does that mean the program is past it’s effective shelf life, or does it mean the leaders and volunteers have slipped from a people movement to program mechanics? How can you help them return to what once made the program
- How have these thoughts changed the way you will pursue evangelistic outreach?