ďCONGREGATIONAL EVANGELISMĒ

First Corinthians 14.23-25

 

INTRODUCTION:

1.   Our Church is rapidly approaching what has proven over the last few years to be our harvest season.  Our greatest successes in seeing sinners come to Christ have been during our annual camp time and immediately following camp.

2.   Our Church simply has not seen, over the last ten years, despite my best efforts, despite my earnest prayers, despite my greatest hopes, more than an extremely small number of hopeful conversions during or following our regular services.

3.   So, itís not a matter of having any great discernment.  Nor is it related to any mysterious theological speculation.  The objective numbers speak for themselves.  Our Church sees converts at camp, or conversions right after camp of those who attended camp.

4.   This does not seem to be the case with Dr. Hymersí Church.  Most of the conversions at his Church in recent years, if memory serves me correctly, have come about during his winter meetings that I have preached for him, or those who heard me preach in those winter meetings.

5.   So, despite the fact that they have had no conversions at camp in the four years weíve had our camp together, they have mustered an even larger number of campers this year than are going from our Church.  And I am delighted that they are backing this camp so strongly.

6.   So that you will know for next year, I have secured the camp during the last week of August next year, August 24th through the 29th, in the year 2003.  And I hope that we can successfully transition to a family camp next year, with many families taking a weekís vacation for that camp.  But thatís next year.  Tonight I want to talk about this year.

7.   Since our greatest blessings have come during or following camp, a great deal of attention has been paid this year to the Friday night services leading up to camp.  And we have generally seen a good turnout for our Friday night services, though there have been some no shows that have profoundly disappointed me.

8.   I think it is time for me to spend an entire service addressing an issue that I have only remarked about from time to time in the past.  You folks need to understand, with some of you needing only to be reminded, about the important part you can play in bringing a sinner to Christ.

9.   Dr. Hymers mentioned in his instructions on Friday night how profoundly important it is for lost people to miss no services, and he was absolutely correct.  You parents, especially, need to move heaven and earth to get your unconverted children to Sunday services and to whatever special services being conducted.  I dare say that your children missing such services reveals how little you understand the issues involved.

10. But tonight I speak to you who are converted about your attendance at such services as we are conducting on Fridays and, of course, both of our regular Sunday services.  There are many who think to themselves, ďBut I am already converted.  I donít need to attend such services.Ē  My task tonight is to convince you that you are committing a grave error when you think that way, and an even more serious error when you act out such thoughts by missing any of these services.

11. My text for this evening is First Corinthians 14.23-25.  Please turn to that passage.  And when you have found that passage, please stand for the reading of Godís Word:

23     If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?

24     But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:

25     And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth. 

12. Please recognize that tonight I will deal with some of the means of Godís grace.  That is, I will deal with some of the instruments and vehicles through which God ministers saving grace to the lost.  At no time should you think that I believe anything can happen for a sinnerís eternal good apart from the blessing of God, even though my main thrust this evening will be your role and responsibility in evangelism.

13. I am going to say nothing about the message that is preached that leads to conversions, or about the work of the Holy Spirit in convicting sinners.  My message will be primarily practical and application oriented, seeking to show you where you fit in to Godís plan for reaching the lost for Jesus Christ. 

14. There are three basic views employed in constructing a philosophy, an approach, to evangelism.  That is, there are three basic approaches that are used to get the message most effectively to the people in need, those who do not know the Savior.

15. Let me make mention of them one at a time, commenting a bit before moving on to the next: 

1A.   First, THE ROLE OF THE INDIVIDUAL IN EVANGELISM

1B.    This is the so-called personal soul winner, the personal witness, the individual who recognizes the personal responsibility he has to do what he can to bring the lost to Christ.  But misunderstanding what the Word of God says about evangelizing the lost, this sincere fellow believes that it is incumbent upon him to begin a conversation with the lost man, to then broach the subject of spiritual things and eternity, and to then persuade the lost man to pray a sinnerís prayer and receive Christ.

2B.    This individual may be profoundly sincere, but does not at all recognize what must happen to bring a sinner to faith in Christ.  The first factor in bringing a sinner to Christ, and one that is most frequently ignored, is time.  Unless there is an unusual moving of God, it just takes time to get a sinner to Christ.  Time spent praying.  Time spent counseling.  Time spent striving.  Time spent thinking.  Time spent counting the cost.  And time spent doing many other things besides.

3B.    A second factor in bringing a sinner to Christ is the call of God.  Study the Word of God and find a single place where a sinner was brought to Christ without the involvement of a God-called preacher.  In those places in Godís Word where enough detail is provided for us to discern, we see remarkable similarity to what happened when Philip dealt with the Ethiopian eunuch.  But Philip was an anointed preacher of the Gospel who God had already used in starting a revival in Samaria before he was dispatched to deal with the eunuch.

4B.    If you are looking for the Biblical pattern of evangelism you must quickly discard the notion of any single individual normally dealing with a friend and bringing her to Christ.  It doesnít happen that way.  Thatís why the spiritual members of our Church will bring a friend to Church, or bring a coworker to Church, or bring a neighbor to Church, and will then direct them to me for answers to their questions, will direct them to me for counseling, or will direct them to me simply so that visitor can establish a relationship with the man they hope will become their friendís pastor.

5B.    John R. Rice once admitted, and I canít remember where I read this, that most people do not get converted by means of personal evangelism.  I would go one step farther and state that it is unlikely that you will ever bring a sinner to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Why not?  Am I saying that there is something wrong with you?  Not at all.  I am simply stating what is evident from observing the Gospel ministry for 25 years, and from studying evangelism in the New Testament, and from reading about evangelistic practice in centuries past.

6B.    I refer to individual efforts at getting the lost saved because there are times when a Church member behaves as though a visitor is his personal property, not to be handled or befriended by anyone but him.  May I suggest to you that when you approach evangelism that way it is virtually guaranteed that the person you bring to Church will not get converted, and that because the supposed Christian is grieving the Spirit of God by being selfish and trying to meet his own goals and needs, rather than selflessly see that sinner come to Christ.

7B.    So, recognize that it is not always the case that you will be the key figure in that person continuing in the Church, or that you will be the key figure in encouraging that person to close with Christ.  Sometimes, and every one of you folks should recognize this, the person God uses to get the sinner to Church can end up being a real obstacle to that same personís conversion, unless you are willing to step out of the way if necessary for that sinnerís benefit.  And this you will do if you are spiritual, because love seeketh not her own, First Corinthians 13.5.

8B.    Now, turn to Second Timothy 3.16 for some corroborating testimony:

16     All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

17     That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

1       I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;

2       Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.

3       For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. 

9B.    Who are these words directed to?  Timothy.  A pastor.  Itís not a popular truth in these days of free lance Christianity, in these days of antiauthoritarianism, in these days of pride and rebellion, in these days when the calling and enabling of the man of God is denigrated by false professors, but the Bible was given to Christians for use, primarily, by the man of God.  Look at verse 17:  ďThat the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.Ē  So, the idea of each Church member becoming an accomplished soul winner is a false notion that was introduced by the decisionists who undercut the ministries of God-called pastors.

10B.  Your role in evangelizing the lost is absolutely critical.  But itís not as a so-called soul winner.  Itís not as an evangelist.  Itís not typically as someone who opens the Bible to deal with the lost in an attempt to persuade them to pray and ask Jesus to save them.  Thatís not the Biblical way of doing it. 

2A.   Next, THE ROLE OF THE FAMILY IN EVANGELISM

11B.  Some people are really good at bringing in visitors.  You have winsome personalities and the most charming personalities.  Keep up the good work.  Itís a wonderful benefit to a Church and to the cause of Christ if your social skills are properly channeled.  But there are others whose attentions are directed elsewhere, to their families and through their families.

2B.    That is, they will focus their entire evangelistic efforts and concerns on their own family members.  Or, if their immediate family members are converted, they will work through their kids or other members of their families to bring the lost to Christ. 

3B.    This is wonderful, but there is nothing in Godís Word that expresses the thought or idea of a family being an effective evangelistic tool.  Itís a nice idea, and quite popular these days, but thereís no Scriptural support for the notion.  Paul was unmarried and the apostle Peterís marriage is only mentioned in a couple of passages in passing, and never in the context of effective evangelism.

4B.    I am a pastor who is sharply focused on issues of marriage and family.  When I came to Calvary Road Baptist Church 17 years ago I found a Church that was profoundly ignorant and unskilled in matters of family.  One person in a leadership position admitted to me that he didnít know how to act toward his spouse.  So I worked over the years to strengthen the family units in our Church. 

5B.    But I have noticed that there is still a strong tendency toward Scriptural imbalance in our peopleís views about the family.  Our Church families have a tendency to view their families as the be all and end all of happy Christianity.  And that view of the family is wrong.

6B.    The Christian family unit should be seen as a means to an end, but never as an end in itself.  That is, the family unit should be seen as a means of meeting the physical needs of spouses and children, and a means of supporting the ministry the Church and the pastor to meet the spiritual needs of the family members. 

7B.    For example, who in Godís Word is clearly shown to be responsible for the souls of family members?  Is it dad?  No.  Is it mom?  No.  According to Hebrews 13.17, itís me:  ďObey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.Ē  How strange this must seem to people who have an unbalanced view of the family, with the pastor occupying a position of prominence that they think rightly belongs to moms or dads.  Could it be that some peopleís views of the family unit and its proper role in the grand scheme of things is wrong?

8B.    Despite what is clearly taught in Hebrews 13.17, there exist in this world parents who think it their ďdutyĒ to protect their children from the overzealousness of the pastor, when they are actually interfering with my efforts at trying to see them and their kids come to Christ.

9B.    Other parents see the Church as a ministry of support to the family, when actually the family is a ministry of support to the Church.  ďBut the family existed before the Church, pastor!Ē  Yes, but the Church will exist long after your family has been disbanded to greater things, and Christ died for the Church and not the family. 

10B.  I say this so newer Christians will recognize that a family event should normally defer to a Church evangelistic effort, rather than skipping Church to do some family or home thing.

11B.  Iíve saved something for last under this point to make a final strong point about the family.  Turn to Matthew 10.32-38: 

32     Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.

33     But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

34     Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

35     For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

36     And a manís foes shall be they of his own household.

37     He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

38     And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. 

12B.  Jesus warned His disciples about family members.  That word ďfoesĒ in verse 36 refers to an adversary.  So, the Savior predicted that members of your own family would be your adversaries in spiritual conflict.  Thatís not a good foundation on which to build a philosophy of family-centered evangelism, is it?  And how is one to tell when a family member is a ďfoeĒ?  If the family member opposes your committed involvement in the Churchís efforts to reach the lost for Christ that family member could be a ďfoe.Ē

13B.  So, donít think family duties and responsibilities should be used as a a substitute for serving God.  Families should be rightly seen as support ministries, not ends in themselves.  And far more important than you playing with your children on Friday nights, or on Saturday nights, is for your kids to see you serving God on Saturday nights, and in Church during special services and on Sundays. 

14B.  Give your kids what Gary Isenbergerís dad gave him, and Janice Isenbergerís mom gave her . . . a legacy of faithfulness and personal commitment to being in Godís house and ready to be preached to and ready to serve.  And some of you are to be commended.  You are building such a legacy to give to your children.  Keep up the good work.

15B.  How can you have this kind of family?  Sometimes it comes about when first one and then another spouse who are already married get converted and their home is transformed by Godís grace.  But more frequently it occurs when a strongly committed Christian marries a strongly committed Christian and their family life takes a back seat to their service to Christ.  When the husband and the wife have misconceptions about the place of marriage and family in the Christian lifestyle, or when one of them is an adversary to real commitment and ministry, then itís tough.

16B.  And what should you do when some member of your family opposes or impedes your commitment to faithful attendance in Church and your steadfast determination to serve God no matter what?  Do right.  You donít need to argue with anyone, just do right.  If your wife wants to stay at home, put the kid in the car and come to Church.  If your husband wants to take off every weekend to go kiting around the country, stay home and attend Church and serve God.  After all, you, not your family, have been created in Christ Jesus unto good works, Ephesians 2.10.  Amen? 

3A.   Finally, THE ROLE OF THE CONGREGATION IN EVANGELISM

1B.    The view that the individual or that the family unit is the primary means of evangelism in the spiritual conflict for lost souls is, in my estimation, the result of at least a woeful misunderstanding of the role of the Church congregation in a Christianís life and in a Christian familyís life.  In the worst case, the inclination toward stressing the individual in evangelism or the family in evangelism is the result of rebellion and a refusal to bow to Scriptural authority.  The individual or the head of a family wants to retain autonomy, thus relegating the Biblical approach to evangelism to the back burner.

2B.    Our text, however, shows the true place of the congregation in evangelism.  Letís read First Corinthians 14.23-25 together again:

23     If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?

24     But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:

25     And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth. 

3B.    Of course, most of the occasions in the New Testament when we see Godís Word being preached itís to a large crowd, marvelously brought together by the Holy Spirit by one means or another during that time of great revival and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  But even on those occasions the effort to reach the large assemblies of lost people involve the efforts not only of the preacher, but also his teams of co-laborers in that baby Church being started.  What we have in our text thatís so unusual is a glimpse of what happened during a Church service.

4B.    We see the whole assembly come together, with lost people of various backgrounds in attendance, verse 23.  And notice this.  Verse 24 shows the role that the entire congregation plays in the preaching.  That unsaved person is ďconvinced of all,Ē is ďjudged of all.Ē  The result, verse 25, is that he gets converted.  So you see, each and every one of you is vitally important in connection with the preaching of Godís Word, referred to as ďprophesyĒ in verse 24.  Your interest, your enthusiasm, your agreement, your rapt attention, the body language, the eye contact, the nods and murmurs of ďThatís rightĒ and ďAmen,Ē all have a have a profound effect on the preaching of the Gospel.

5B.    How damaging it is, then, when you come to Church yet do not sing.  Our ushers should bellow during the congregational songs . . . or resign as ushers.  Amen?  Our staff should lift up their voices during the congregational songs . . . or resign their positions.  Amen?  Our Sunday School teachers and choir members should sing loudly. . . or quit.  Amen?

6B.    Can you imagine what harm is done by a man or a woman whose unsaved brother or sister, whose unsaved son or daughter, whose unsaved coworker or neighbor is in the auditorium, yet he does not sing, yet her voice barely rises above a whisper?  And what do you suppose happens when someone is out of sorts with the preacher and refuses to even look at him when he preaches?  Imagine.  Bring someone to Church and refuse to sing loudly and refuse to look at the preacher.  Incredible.

7B.    Now, it is unlikely that most visitors would notice such a thing, though many members notice, and this preacher notices.  But though the visitors do not notice, do you not think a visitor would be less convinced of all, less judged of all, than if all sang, than if all made eye contact, than if all were enthusiastic in their support of the preaching?  O, how important it is that you come to Church ready to sing, ready to be attentive, ready to make eye contact, ready to eagerly convince and judge the lost.

8B.    And if it is hurtful to the evangelistic effort to come and mumble rather than sing, to come and sit but not look at the preacher, to display animosity and disinterest by your body language and posture, then imagine the damage you do by staying home, by thinking the need to come to Church so inconsequential that your attendance is not necessary, not urgent.  Your absence speaks volumes to the unconverted, and to your lost family members.

9B.    If I have a lost brother in the auditorium, how could I stay home when the Gospel is preached?  If I have a lost sister in the auditorium, how could I stay home when the Gospel is preached?  Or a niece or a nephew, or a mom or dad?  To stay at home when the unconverted are at Church, or even worse, to stay at home and thereby keep the unconverted at home with you, does not only fail to convince them and to judge them that they need Christ.  You do by such neglect convince them and judge them that they do not need Christ! 

CONCLUSION:

1.   Have you ever had a tremendous opportunity come your way, only to let it slip through your grasp because of inattention or foolishness?  I have.  And I am thoroughly embarrassed by some of the missed opportunities I look back on from time to time.

2.   I love you folks.  Thereís not a single one of you here tonight that I wouldnít give my right arm for.  You have such talent, such potential.  You are in so many ways so gifted.

3.   But unless your efforts and skills and abilities are channeled through Godís ordained Gospel enterprise, the Church, your life will end up a hollow and unfulfilled shell compared to what might have been.

4.   Do you have an unconverted brother or sister, son or daughter, mom or dad, friend or coworker?  Then do what is necessary to be in Church whenever the Gospel is preached.  And do what is necessary to participate in our Churchís outreach.  And volunteer in whatever ways you can to improve our Church.

5.   Maybe youíre not even married, and have no children to be concerned with.  Or perhaps your kids are very young.  Or maybe your brothers and sisters and parents are already converted.  Donít you have nieces and nephews you care about?  Isnít there a future to prepare for?

6.   If you are so selfish that you care for none but your own, then at least invest your life today in the hopes that your efforts and participation will be used by God to make our Church better tomorrow.  And some of you are thinking, no doubt, ďBut Iím in school.Ē  Let me tell you that I wouldnít give five cents for any so-called Christian who wonít serve God in college, and who wonít miss a class from time to time for Christís sake.

7.   Better a B in a class with God pleased with your life spent for Christ, than an A in a class and no service to God in college.  If you canít serve God and go to college, too, then youíre not college material.  Letís do things Godís way around here, and in the years to come, if Christ tarries, I promise you that you will not regret it. 

8.   Serving God together and seeking to reach the lost and bring them to Christ as a whole congregation, working together, supporting each other, praying and giving together, weíll see God work in ways that will never be seen when the effort is unscripturally confined to individual effort or to a misguided notion of the family.

9.   Let us be a Church that knows what to do come special services.  We pray hard, turn out, sing loud, and pay attention.  And letís be a Church that knows what Saturdays are made for.  Theyíre made for reaching out as a Church.  And Sundays are the Lordís day, made for Church and preaching.

10. I am excited about what I want God to do with our Church.  And I am looking forward to seeing God work in your lives, seeing God more tightly knit our hearts together, as we serve Him and seek to bring sinners to Christ in this great Gospel enterprise.

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