The most self-destructive and counter intuitive mindset of our church today, is our measure for successful evangelism. Whether it is pastors unsatisfied with the number of baptisms in a year, or lay members disappointed their personal ministry has not led to any commitments to Jesus, overall, our church seems to be weighed down by an overwhelming sense of defeat and failure in regard to evangelism.
This mindset however is not merely problematic but incredibly dangerous, as it was this same mindset which drove the prophet Elijah to the point where he begged God to take away his own life (1 Kings 19:4).Elijah had completed the grandest evangelistic crusade in history, bringing fire from Heaven, purging the nation of pagan priests and proving once and for all the identity of the one true God of Israel.
Yet in spite of this, the spiritual state of Israel remained the same, with no immediate repentance or visible change taking place in the hearts of the people. Three years of Elijah’s life had culminated in one moment, and it had been a failure. Or had it? God would reveal to Elijah that he had been viewing evangelism incorrectly, and that perhaps we have as well.
THE CYCLE OF EVANGELISM
Elijah’s primary failure was not the effectiveness of his evangelism, but his inability to perceive the grand scope of God’s bigger plan for his evangelistic efforts. Evangelism can be described as happening in three stages:
- Sowing the seed
- Nurturing the plant
- Harvesting the crop
Understanding the use of plants as an analogy for growing people into a relationship with God, these three stages provides scope for the evangelistic process.
Sowing refers to making an initial contact with someone, whether it be sharing your personal story of faith, performing a kind act of service or inviting a friend to attend church. These are day-to-day interactions that either explicitly refer to God, or implicitly reflect His character.
Nurturing may involve regular Bible studies, more frequent church attendance, and continuing to help an individual mature in their faith and create a personal relationship with God independent from external sources. This stage is more involved and requires a larger level of commitment and mentorship.
Harvesting the crop is the final stage of the cycle, in which an individual decides they are ready to wholly commit their lives to God and make Jesus Christ their personal Lord and Saviour. Once this stage has been reached, that individual well then join the church in evangelising to others as he or she experienced first-hand.
With this understanding of evangelism, we will avoid disappointment when we appear to fail in our evangelistic efforts. Elijah’s vision was to see a harvest of the crop, when God intended for him to sow the seed. It would be Elijah’s protégé, Elisha, who would nurture the seeds his mentor Elijah had sown, and eventually harvest the crop of Israel, leading the nation into a period of spiritual revival. In the same way, God may not always intend for us to harvest the crop but instead nurture. Or perhaps at another time with a different individual, God will ask us to harvest as opposed to sow.
If we can recognise which stage in this cycle God has placed us in, not only do we avoid an overwhelming sense of failure, but we also become more focused and effective in our ministries, fully understanding the goal which God has set before us.
Furthermore, too often evangelism is deemed only successful if we see the harvest, when in actuality every stage of the cycle is a measure of success.
Speaking to neighbours and friends, door knocking, outreach initiatives are all success through sowing. Continuing to grow an individual to be ready for baptismal commitment is equally a success. These intermediate stages are integral in faith development and should not be seen as failures. Instead, each stage should be thought of as a success, thus changing the mindset from a series of failures leading to success, and instead to a series of success culminating in a decision for God.
The attitude of Elijah is prevalent in our church today, but the hope of Elijah’s story, is that his mindset changed. Following his overwhelming sense of failure, Elijah began to train his protégé Elisha, who would complete the work his mentor had begun. So to can our church shift our perspective on the definition of successful evangelism and create a vision with God’s greater scope in mind.
By Christopher Petersen
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