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Speech and salvation: a role for pastors?

From The Briefing:

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?


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