A Future for Vocational Evangelism
Yesterday, I listed a few reasons why vocational evangelism is on the decline in Southern Baptist life. Today, I’d like to imagine what this evangelistic method might look like in the future.
1. Informative preaching.
In a post-Christian context, the traveling evangelist can no longer assume that listeners have a cursory knowledge of Christian doctrine and need only to be persuaded to “make a decision for Christ”.
I serve in the middle of the Bible Belt. I often meet young people who are completely disengaged from church. If they were to come to an evangelistic service where the preacher focused only on “getting right with God,” they would have no context with which to understand sin, guilt, and the cross. They might come down the aisle at the end, but they would probably not know what they were doing.
We need vocational evangelists who will excel at telling the Christian Story in a winsome, memorable, and penetrating manner. We need men who can unravel the competing worldviews of our society and then lift up the Christian gospel as the answer to the world’s evil and our own personal sin. We need men who can deal with the complexities of life and paint a vision of the Christian gospel in all its glory.
Information is crucial. People who come to a revival service are interested in Christianity. When we neglect to tell them what Christianity is all about, we miss a grand opportunity.
2. Participatory Teaching
In the 1800′s, a common practice for traveling evangelists was to host an “inquiry sessions” after the service. Rather than focus primarily on getting people down the aisle for an immediate decision, the evangelists focused on answering questions and counseling seekers.
Inquiry sessions give an opportunity for the lost person to find answers about Jesus and Christianity. The vocational evangelist of the future cannot rely on wowing everyone with his oratorical skills in the pulpit. He will have to be good at speaking one-on-one with people afterward.
3. Missionary Thinking
If our churches are to reclaim the need and desire for personal evangelism, leaders must train members to think and act as missionaries within their own particular context. Church members should not wait on an evangelist to do their work for them. Instead, the evangelist’s ministry should assist, come alongside, and strengthen the personal evangelism already going on in the congregation.
In their best days, revival services played this important role. But now, as fewer people engage in personal evangelism, the revival service can degenerate into a mere formality in which congregants often attend out of guilt rather than passion.
4. Weekend Evangelism or Conference Styled Services
Remember the days when a revival service might last several weeks? I don’t. But I do remember revivals that went from Sunday through Friday. Now, most revivals last from Sunday-Wednesday. And even then, we have fewer people on Monday and Tuesday nights than we’d like to admit.
There is something powerful about sitting under the Word of God preached for several nights in a row. I hate to think that Christians are now so busy that we cannot devote four consecutive nights to hearing the Word preached.
Still, realistically, if attractional evangelism is to persist into the future, the attractive part will need to be reinvented. A traveling evangelist (unless it’s Billy Graham) will probably not have the name recognition to draw a crowd from outside the church. But if church members invite others to an event (for example) on a Saturday evening, an exploration of Christianity for seekers, they may be more effective in bringing people in.
5. A focus on the urgency of the decision.
The old-time evangelists excelled at putting one’s eternal future before his or her eyes. You will either be part of God’s new world or you will perish forever. The stark knowledge that “this decision is life or death” made the evangelistic plea urgent and timely.
In contemporary society, we practically ignore death. We simply don’t want to deal with it. Death is sanitized and papered over. Whereas the coming of death was a common dread for people a hundred years ago (a high percentage of young women died in childbirth, many men died in farming accidents, and a flu epidemic could wipe out millions), that dread of death is conspicuously absent today. Because we don’t like to think about death, evangelistic calls that focus on eternity can come across as manipulation, even if they are true!
The future evangelist will have to think creatively about how to stress the urgency and importance of trusting in Christ, all the while recognizing that death is generally far from people’s minds. I’m not sure how an evangelist can accomplish this task effectively, but it’s important that we maintain an emphasis on the urgency of a decision.
What am I missing? Is there a future for vocational evangelism? If so, what kind of evangelism do you see in the future?