Monday, May 21, 2012

Church Success: Evangelism

Biblical success is sorting out what Scripture says and doing it.  Worldly success doesn't care what Scripture says.  Our nation obsesses over faithless, tangible success.  Who makes the most money?  What has the most people?  In the end, God's Word will stand.  Like gravity, you can argue with it, but that won't change anything.

A family in our church has a local mega church pastor as fellow parent on their daughter's soccer team.  One other set of parents attends that church.  Our family has heard him talk with the other parents about his reason for multiple services.  You've got to have an earlier service for the guy who wants to watch NFL football, east coast games. You've got to have another service for the typical Californian who wants to sleep in on Sunday morning.  Church growth is tricky business.  Since success is the size of the church, the discussion becomes what will make the church bigger.

Is size of church success?  Does the Bible offer a strategy for making churches get larger?

This is where a view of success guides what a church, its pastor, its members will do.  Jesus said go and preach to everyone.  Success is preaching a true gospel to everyone, not leaving anyone out, and going as far out from where you are as possible, starting with where you are.  So today we have these huge churches that know how to make the crowd get big, and yet the gospel isn't being preached to everyone.  I know this to be true.  Is this success?

Where we are at up in Sacramento evangelizing, we see numbers of different evangelical churches with names like "Journey" and "Adventure."  I'm not speaking metaphorically---that's what they are called.   There is a huge Southern Baptist megachurch.   Both where we have been for 25 years in the San Francisco Bay Area and up in the Sacramento area for about a year, we have not run into one single other person out preaching the gospel.

Churches have a certain paradigm for growing their crowd, increasing their numbers, but they aren't preaching the gospel to everyone.  Some of them have watered down the gospel to begin with, and they are not seeing their churches grow through preaching.  Are they a success?  I say, "No."  The church hasn't influenced its own membership to obey what Christ left believers here to do.  It has made a pariah of the task Jesus practiced and to which He commissioned all believers.  Churches are actually further away from success.

Evangelistic success does not either even relate to number of conversions.  It relates to faithfulness in preaching.  If a church is preaching a true gospel to everyone, it is fulfilling its responsibility, and is, therefore, a success. If the people of a church are not preaching the gospel, they are not obedient, so they aren't successful.  The church that isn't preaching the gospel to everyone is not a success.   Success is sorting out what God said and then doing it.

Preaching the gospel singles out a church.  It marks a church.  Non-Christians will not want to join that church.  They don't want to become what this church obviously is.  That's part of the turn off of this obedient church to the megachurch.   The megachurch spawns disobedient, self-serving, professing believers.

Many churches, fundamentalist ones, conservative evangelicals, and others, have gotten bigger without being obedient to preach to everyone.  They would even explain how that not preaching to everyone has been part of the means for garnering the success that they have reached.  Not necessarily in just those terms, but for all intents and purposes, they grow through strategies that don't relate to how Christ said He wanted a church to grow.  As a result, Jesus Himself isn't glorified through this strategy, and for that reason, it also is not a success.

We've got a few steps to take to be a success as a church that relate to church growth and evangelism.  First, know what the gospel is.  Look at what Jesus preached in the gospels and the apostles in Acts.  Second, begin preaching it to everyone.  Expect all of your men to be involved.  Not preaching should not be an alternative for men.  God didn't put you where you're at to work at making a church get larger, but to spread the gospel to every person.  Don't let the worldly success get in the way of real success.

20 comments:

Robert said...

Jesus said He would build His church, not grow it. Perhaps we need to remember that those aren't necessarily the same thing.

Charles E Whisnant said...

Good articles. By what means do we present the Gospel of everyone? TV, Radio, Tracks placed in at Wal Mart? I am not trying to be fun by the way. How is the best way for a church body to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Charles,

Thanks for asking. We do it by leaving our church grounds and systematically visiting every person, so as to miss no one. Not everyone wants to hear it, but that's also the example that Jesus gave in the gospels. If they don't want to hear it, then we move to the next person. Thanks again.

Larry said...

Kent,

You say, If they don't want to hear it, then we move to the next person.

Do you consider this preaching the gospel to them even if you never get to the gospel?

I ask because it sounds like what you do is simply a different method of what other people do, namely, seek out those who are interested to give them the gospel. If they aren't interested, you simply move on to someone else.

RJ said...

KB,

Could you expand a bit on what exactly a Gospel visitation from your ministry involves, i.e. presentation, materials distributed, dialogue, etc?

Thanks!

Kent Brandenburg said...

Larry,

What I'm advocating here is what Jesus did, and I believe Paul and Peter and the apostles copied. The pattern is go to everyone, and preach to everyone in order to find out who wants to hear. You'll know when someone doesn't want to hear---he'll let you know, and then you dust your feet there.

It's not the same as "trying to find out who wants to hear," because you find out who wants to hear by preaching to them. If we regulate our method by Scripture, that's what we'll do. The analogy of finding where the fish are biting is not in Scripture.

Thanks!

Kent Brandenburg said...

RJ,

That would be a whole separate post, and perhaps I'll write on it soon.

There are two parts to evangelism: evangelizing where you are and evangelizing everyone. One should not be excluded for the other. Both must be done.

I call the first salt and light evangelism, because where ever you are, you are salt and light. And then there is the going and preaching to everyone, covering the ground, sowing the seed, finding some hard, stony, thorny, and good.

For both, we train people in how to preach the gospel. Getting the gospel right means including in that all the necessary aspects found in Scripture, not leaving anything out. We train in how to go from zero to a gospel conversation with anyone anywhere. For neighbors, the where-you-are people, we have neighborhood kids clubs, neighborhood evangelistic Bible study offers. We do tract distribution at big events. When "The Passion" came out, we passed out a tract I wrote on the Passion to those walking toward the movie theater playing that movie. They took those gladly, we noticed.

On preaching to everyone, we go door-to-door. And we keep doing that, covering out entire area.

I don't mind getting into more detail, but that's the essence of it.

Larry said...

Thanks Kent.

Are you saying that door-to-door evangelism is the only or the main NT method? Do you have some scriptural support for that? The only verse that comes to mind is Acts 5:41, but it doesn't seem to be what you suggest, and it doesn't appear to be done anywhere else that I can think of.

So when you talk about the NT method and pattern, I am not sure exactly what you are referring to.

A couple of things come to mind all surrounding the lack of evidence for door-to-door evangelism in the NT. I am curious as to how you say you are following the pattern of Jesus, Peter, and Paul when, so far as I can recall, none of them participated in door-to-door evangelism:

1. Jesus' method of evangelism seems to be relatively large public meetings for the most part. I don't know of any pattern of Jesus going door to door. In fact, in some cities, he left prior to seeing everyone who wanted to see him, and Matt 15 he says he came only for the lost sheep of Israel, so it doesn't appear that the method of Jesus is similar to what you suggest.

2. Peter and Paul's pattern in the NT seems to be "marketplace evangelism" more than anything. I take these to be public meetings of some sort. I can't recall any evidence of them going door-to-door.

3. I am not sure I see the distinction you are making between trying to find out who wants to hear and finding out who wants to hear by preaching to them. It seems to me that even if you just start preaching (in one fashion or another) you are still trying to find out if they want to hear.

4. I think if we regulate our method by Scripture, we can do a number of different things, though probably the least supported is door-to-door evangelizing.

If you main point is that we should go to them rather than them coming to us, that is the point of the missional advocates of today (interestingly a return to the old ways, IMO). But I think that while the Bible commands us to go and preach, it does not command the specific structures through which that is done. There are a number of different ways that the task can be carried out.

Thanks if you have time to reply.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Larry,

Jesus preached the gospel everywhere in Galilee, Perea, Samaria, Judea, Caesaria Philippi, and Tyre and Sidon. He started where He was and moved concentrically out. You see Philip preach the gospel to the eunuch and then everywhere up the coast. You see Paul go into a town, on the way in preach to a Lydia, go to the synagogue, and then once he was kicked out there, to move out preaching to everyone. I believe we can argue for door-to-door (see this: https://sites.google.com/site/thross7/BiblicalMandateforHousetoHouse.pdf?attredirects=0 ). But my defense is preaching to everyone. Of course, Jesus didn't preach to people who didn't want to listen. That's part of the philosophy--you don't have to preach to people who don't want to listen. But you go to them to preach to them and then find that out. I don't think that cancels out, "preach to everyone," because you don't know until you try. And I'm guessing that you don't think that Mark 16:15 is in the Bible, and I do. How do you "preach the gospel to every creature" without preaching the gospel to every creature? When we combine Jesus and that Apostle's example with that command, you get door-to-door. I've always said that if you've got another way to preach it to everyone, I'm open to it. I just want to obey what He said.

Do you think that it is acceptable that everyone in your area does not at least get an opportunity?

Larry said...

Thanks Kent

As I read the Scripture, Jesus didn't "start where he was and move concentrically out." He started in Galilee and spent time in the northern area for the early part of his ministry and then moved south to Jerusalem. And I don't read anything about door to door there.

Paul, as I read Acts, did not participate in this door to door evangelism either (at least in the NT record). He went to cities, preached publicly most often (it appears), and then moved on. In fact, he was able to say he had fully preached the gospel to an area that still had unbelievers in it.

So in neither case can we say that the NT pattern and method is door to door as we think of it. I think your paper is a fairly strained attempt, and not even necessary. I think door-to-door is one way to do it, but it not mandated, nor is it exclusive. I think your tactics are fine, but not mandated.

Your comments on preaching to everyone are a bit confusing to me: You say we must preach to everyone but not preach to people who don't want to listen. Then we preach to people who don't want to listen to find out that they don't want to listen. And I say "Huh?" You don't preach to people who don't want to listen but you preach to them to find out that they don't want to listen so you don't have to preach to them? It's confusing to say the least, and I think that maybe just a semantic thing that you haven't entirely thought through in a formal way, which is fine. At some point, early in the conversation, you are trying to ascertain whether they are willing to listen. Fine, and a good idea. But I think your construction of it here is a bit convoluted in his expression.

I think we should preach to everyone. (Mark 16:15 is off topic, but the church largely agrees that it is not authentic and I agree with the church ... Of course you will likely say that the church believes it is authentic and then we are into one of the primary reasons why I think your position is untenable. It requires you to define terms only in ways that support you, while failing to acknowledge that the terms are not used as you use them.).

I don't think it is acceptable that everyone in our area not get an opportunity. So we give them opportunities all the time. We have regular public services where the gospel is preached in a variety of ways connected to a variety of topics, much like Jesus and Paul did. In fact, this summer we are having an open air public series of evangelistic talks (not really sermons, per se, but clear presentations that are interactive in nature).

So I would say, based on what you have said here, that you have overstated the case for door-to-door in the NT. Furthermore, you have admitted that it doesn't even accomplish what you want since you don't preach to those who don't want to listen, thereby not preaching the gospel to everyone but only to those who want to listen. Furthermore, in some communities, you can't even go door to door for various reasons (gates, distance, etc.). So IMO, it is best to focus on the biblical idea of evangelism, and talk about the various ways in which that can be carried out.

Thanks again.

Joshua said...

Larry,

Are you with the church or against the church on the authenticity of John 7:53-8:11?

http://bible.org/article/my-favorite-passage-that%E2%80%99s-not-bible

Therein Dan Wallace bemoans the widespread acceptance of the verse among Christians, and their refusal to buy Bibles that remove it, or for Pastor's to explain to their congregation that the passage is false.

Again the question comes. Are you still with the church on that one, or with the modern textual critics?

Larry said...

Ironically Josh, you bring up a point that completely undermines Kent's position (and apparently yours). There is no single view of the church or the churches on these passages.

To present the argument as "the church" vs. "modern textual critics" is a false dichotomy. Many modern textual critics are part of the church and are being led of the Spirit.

These types of arguments don't work with people who know.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Larry,

I'm glad you've come to discuss this, because I believe you represent a position that a lot of people take, but wouldn't say it here.

Jesus grew up in Galilee and He started there and moved outward---North, East, South, preaching everywhere. Matthew 9:35, "And Jesus went about all the cities and villages. . . .preaching the gospel of the kingdom." Luke 10:1, "After these things the LORD appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place." Every city and place.

It isn't a "tactic." It's preaching to everyone like Mark 16:15 says. But you've got Paul in Colossians 1:23 if that's not good enough: "...the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;" Where ever Paul was, he preached it to everyone.

Jesus said, go into the highways and the hedges, the most out of the way places, to compel them to come in.

This isn't confusing. You preach to a person, he doesn't want it, and you stop. Is that confusing? It happens every week with us here. We start to preach, someone says "not interested," or "no thank you," and we try to give them a tract, and they say, "no." And it's over. You've still preached to them. You've sown seed on hard ground.

Mark 16:15 is not off topic, because it tells us to preach to everyone. You're the first critical text supporter I've heard mention the church agreeing on the text of Scripture. It's not a critical text argument. The Holy Spirit isn't going to change His mind about what the Words are, and the church agreed on those Words. Post textual criticism and enlightenment we've got people changing on a lot. If that is unique teaching in Mark 16:15, then that would mean that here's a textual variant that results in changed doctrine. You are admitting that.

It isn't a "tactic." Preaching the gospel to everyone is what Scripture teaches.

What do gates have to do with it? We get into areas that have gates and preach to them too. If there was a gate, I couldn't get in, I wouldn't say, "So much for what Jesus said!"

It seems you are arguing that Jesus wants us to preach the gospel to everyone, but since not everyone wants to hear it, that means we don't have to do that. What He wants is simpler to understand than that. When He said preach it to everyone, He wasn't saying that there wouldn't be some that didn't want to hear it or allow us to get to them; therefore, we don't have to preach to everyone. You go to preach to everyone, then when you arrive, you find out that not everyone wants it. Jesus included that part too in Luke 10. Until then, you preach to them.

Our desire not to preach should be superseded by our love for God and our desire to obey Him by doing what He said. I've read where you say you don't like to preach to people. I understand that. It's not good, however, to craft a belief that will allow us not preach then. We should just do what Jesus did and said to do. The reason it's not getting preached everywhere and to everyone today is because this kind of talk that you're doing, and instead people are coming up with new fangled methods that distort the gospel. I'm not saying you're doing that, but it will result in that.

Having regular public services and inviting people to hear the gospel is not in the Bible at all. People that come should be able to hear it, but the invitation philosophy isn't in Scripture. I don't know what your open air evangelistic talks are, but I do that around three times a week when I go out and I get in several "evangelistic talks" usually every time I go.

Thanks for dropping by, Larry. Others are free to disagree with me too, or agree. And explain.

Joshua said...

Larry,

You brought up current majority "church" support to back your view on Matthew 16. A bit disingenuous of you to pretend that's a good argument, then turn around with "aha, there is no church agreement on these passages" later on...

If church support or agreement on a passage means so little, you need to stop pretending it adds weight to your arguments.

I think it would be a lot more honest for you to admit that the majority support of modern textual critics is actually the deciding factor for you, and if the church agrees with them you'll back the church, and if the church disagrees you'll back the critic. Replace critic with "truth" if it helps to make this paragraph more palatable.

Joshua

Larry said...

Thanks Kent. Wow ... so much to say but I want to try to keep this short.

I think there's a reason that a lot of people take this position ... because it's a biblical one. The biblical command is to preach the gospel to everyone (Matt 28, Luke 24, Mark 16, John 20, Acts 1, etc.). That is not in dispute.

But you seem to limit "preaching the gospel to every creature" to door-to-door as the biblical method. That is not seen in either the teaching of Scripture or the pattern of Scripture. Nor is it seen in the way that God has blessed his church for 2000 years. So I completely agree that we should preach the gospel to every creature. The question is, How best do we do this?

The travels of Jesus aren't in dispute aside from the places where he left while there were still people wanting to see him and aside from his comments that he came only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. What I disputed was the "concentric circle" comment which isn't borne out by the geography in the NT (the geographical travel wasn't concentric circles) and the door-to-door tactic (Jesus and Paul do not appear to have done door-to-door as you seem to conceive of it). It's just not in the Bible. There are many tactics to preach the gospel to everyone. Door-to-door is only one of them. And that is what I am talking about when I say "tactic"--door-to-door.

The reason Mark 16:15 is off topic is because you brought up the text critical issue. The teaching of the verse is not in dispute though I am not sure why you would claim a doctrine has changed, since this teaching is found elsewhere. The authenticity of it is in dispute for some. You are correct that the Holy Spirit won't change his mind on what the words are. But that begs the question. The question is What did Mark actually write? And about that, there is some dispute because of what God has preserved for us. The church today is largely in agreement that Mark did not write vv. 9-20.

What do gates have to do with it? Simply that in some gated communities, no one but residents are allowed in.

I am not sure what you are referring to with a desire not to preach. I haven't seen anyone here reference anything remotely similar to that. I am curious where you read me say that I don't like to preach to people. I love preaching to people.

My talk is not why it isn't getting done. If people did what I talk about, evangelism would be taking place all the time all over. If it's not getting done, it's because of disobedience.

My open air evangelistic talks are just that ... I am inviting unbelievers to come and listen to the gospel proclaimed outside.

To say that the invitation philosophy isn't in Scripture is strange. To invite people to hear the gospel and respond to it is the heart of biblical evangelism. Public evangelism in large groups is well testified to in Scripture.

In conclusions, if your point is that door-to-door is one tactic we use in preaching the gospel to everyone, then I completely agree. If your point is that door-to-door is the only tactic used to preach the gospel to everyone, then I disagree based on the teaching of the Bible.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Larry,

Door-to-door, as I've said, is definitely not the only way of evangelism. I mentioned "salt and light" evangelism, doing it where you are." However, it is the only way I know to go and preach to everyone. It is certainly an implication of "go," but it is also explicitly found in "every creature," which is in Mark 16:15 and Col 1:23. That is also the model of Jesus as He sent out the seventy to every city preaching.

Regarding concentric, I never said "concentric circle" and never meant that. The meaning of concentric has to do with the "center," a starting point, and then going out from there, which we see Jesus do in all the surrounding areas, moving increasingly further. You see this in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, etc. in Acts 1:8 too. We are most responsible for those who are closest to us, but we keep going out as far as we can. We right now have one starting point in El Sobrante for this and another in Sacramento. We're hoping for more of these that will collide with each other, meaning that we have covered our area with the gospel. Jesus wanted this. He gave it as an example and commanded it.

Regarding what Mark actually wrote, we have two different approaches for determining that, because we don't have the original manuscripts. Mine is a scriptural one that is also the position of the church in history, that is, the testimony of the Holy Spirit through His people. And yours is a new one, forensics based upon so-called science. It really is two different means with varying certainty. Bart Ehrman uses the same means as you and he sees other early books that have been excluded. His textual criticism credentials trump yours. Mine says that what the church has said (past tense, completed action) is true science.

I'm happy for all the gospel preaching you do, Larry. I'm happy you are preaching. I truly am. I think that we are likely closer on the gospel than a majority of other KJO would be. If someone has the KJV and doesn't preach a true gospel, that is missing the point of having every Word. And many do miss the point as well with their non-biblical preaching. So I am happy you preach. I rejoice in that.

Larry said...

Josh,

(Numbered for ease).

1. I didn’t say “majority” church.
2. I didn’t pretend it was a good argument. It was used a bit ironically to point out that Kent’s method of argumentation undermines itself.
3. I am not sure what the distinction is between “modern textual critics” and “the church.” So far as I know, many modern textual critics are part of the church, and the Holy Spirit seems to have led the church today to accept their work.
4. In the end, no matter which side you are on, you are still making an educated determination (or accepting the educated determination of others) on the issue.

Larry said...

Thanks Kent for the discussion. I will end with this (unless you direct something to me for response). Again, numbered for ease.

1. You are correct that you didn’t say “concentric circle” but rather “concentrically.” My apologies for that. Either way, the point is that it shares a common center, and as I read the NT, it doesn’t seem to jive with that. But that’s a smaller matter since I have no problem with the way you are doing it, and I think Christ preached all over. We have done the same thing here, but we target neighborhoods. I hope that God is at work in your work. I have found door-to-door evangelism to be rather ineffective and offputting here because it associates us with the Jehovah’s Witnesses who are very active, and well-known for standing on people’s front porches and browbeating them. When they come to my door, I try to tie them up for as long as possible so they are not talking to other people. Nevertheless, I try to regularly walk the streets looking for people who are willing to listen to the gospel. I knock on doors at times. Other times, I just look for people on their porches (which is common) or people in the parks or various places.

2. Regarding what Mark said, you claim the scriptural position, but as you have shown you have no Scripture to back that up. You use a lot of Scripture and then draw a conclusion from that. But as others have shown, those conclusions are not necessary inferences. They may be right, though there would be numerous problems if they were. Nonetheless, claiming Scripture to be on your side does not make it so. I think this is a case where you have some good scriptural support but then draw a faulty position from that.

3. Bart Ehrman doesn’t use the same method I do. I wish you wouldn’t say things like that because it greatly distorts the truth. My position is based in the truth as revealed in Scripture (that God has inspired his word and preserved it), and the evidence that God has preserved for us. I think your arguments in this regard are exceedingly weak. But I am fine to differ on that. I don’t think there is any great profitability in discussing it.

4. Your last sentence however proves my point when you talk of what “the church has said (past tense, completed action).” Your position depends on very particular definitions. You can’t accept “the church” now the way it has been historically defined because it would make you change your position. It seems to me that you essentially have to say that the Holy Spirit was at work in the church confirming his Words until the relatively recent past, and whoever does not accept the previous is not accepting the work of the Spirit. I find that to be troubling for several reasons, mostly theological and some practical. In the end, it has the effect of undermining people’s trust in God. I have had to try to pick up the pieces in people’s faith whose confidence in the Bible has been undermined by these types of arguments. They don’t know if they can trust God’s word because of what has been said by people like you. It is not a pretty sight when the faith of God’s children is being damaged by well-meaning, but unbiblical arguments and conclusions. Just two weeks ago, I had a guy having a tremendous struggle with it because of stuff he had read on the internet. I believe that the eclectic text is a superior Greek text of God's word in the NT, and versions such as the NASB are faithful translations of that. I believe that the Spirit has confirmed that to me in line with what he has done in the church in the past. And I suppose you would say I have misunderstood the Spirit, or followed a wrong Spirit, but at the end, you don't have any biblical standard by which to judge that.

5. But nonetheless, I am also thankful for the preaching and the work you do, and I praise God for it.

Lastly, I am curious as to where I said something about not liking to preach. I can’t recall that. If you can, I would love to see what I said. It may in fact need some clarification.

Thanks again.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Larry,

Thanks again. Regarding Bart Ehrman, I listened to the debates between Ehrman and White and between Ehrman and Wallace. I would have considered you to be in the White and Wallace type of camp, but in listening to the debate, they used the same methodology as Ehrman, but coming to different conclusions, because White and Wallace chose selective reliance upon theological presuppositions. The preponderance of textual critics back Ehrman, but evangelical textual critics allow their theology to curb the criticism, as I read it. Both are left with various levels of uncertainty and both contradict historical bibliology. Wallace said that very thing to me personally in my deliberations with him.

If the church decided Christ wasn't God, that wouldn't make it true, and that wouldn't be historical theology. What the church has said it believed, if it now says that it doesn't believe it; they both can't be true. I believe you get what I'm saying, Larry. It might not be convenient to say that you get what I'm saying, but we deal with lots of doctrines this way. There is a recent kerfuffle about orthodox Trinitarianism in evangelicalism and we reject a new position on the Trinity.

I consider people influenced by your bibliology to be getting the raw end of the deal. I would be happy if they believed like me. I've written plenty on this.

I don't know what post you said what you did about evangelism, but I would be happy that you had an easy time preaching.

Drop by any time.

Joshua said...

Hi Larry,

Thanks for taking the time to reply. I didn't realize you were using that argument ironically, hence my attempts to prove the contradictory approach there (which you intended).

Kent has essentially said everything I want to, particularly regarding your third point, so I'm happy to leave this one here.

Thanks again for your time.

Joshua