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Chapter 2: The Evangelist and The Church

If Christian Research are correct, then the Decade of Evangelism failed to arrest the steepening decline in church membership in England, let alone promote growth. A number of good things emerged during the Decade, most notably Nicky Gumbel's Alpha programme providing a valuable resource in the form of a really well-presented Christian basics course, which has achieved wonderful results amongst those attending church. As a former barrister, now ordained and working at Holy Trinity, Brompton, Nicky has excellent presentation skills and many have come to a saving understanding of the Christian faith through this course. The Navigators in the United States offered a similar programme in the 1940's widely used amongst University students, at Christian meetings for businessmen, and on the mission field overseas where I first met up with it in 1958. In our own church in Bristol about 350 people have attended Alpha over the last four years and many of those have found a personal relationship with Jesus Christ - quite a few having attended church services for many years, and never having understood the Gospel before.

Once upon a time Anglican ritual was a valuable means of assisting people to understand aspects of faith: at a time when most of the population were unable to read or write, the images portrayed in the theatre of ritual would have been a valuable teaching tool. For many, ritual still achieves this. I remember being very moved by my friends, Roy and Sylvia Percy, describing the superb service at St. Alban's Cathedral when their son Martin was inducted into his ministry there. Martin is a wonderful scholar who has written some very helpful books on the Church. Roy and Sylvia were practically in tears describing the event which had clearly affected them deeply. Sadly, in the modern world the majority of our population do not understand these codes or the messages that are hidden within them.

Having taught at the Greek Bible Institute for twenty years as a visiting lecturer on open air evangelism, I know quite a number of Greeks and often enjoy fellowship with them when they visit England. It was a great privilege to assist with arranging a Greek wedding in Bristol recently, the bride with a Greek Orthodox background, and the groom the son of an Elder of a Greek evangelical church in Athens. Each family of course wanted the wedding to take place in "their" particular church and it was ultimately agreed that there would be an evangelical service at Pip'n'Jay in Bristol which Canon Malcolm Widdecombe and his church laid on superbly, followed by an Orthodox wedding service at the local Greek church conducted in Greek with a certain amount of translation. The latter service was fairly incomprehensible and the ritual surrounding the actual marriage ceremony impossible to follow although most entertaining. It is rather like this for most people in England today, who fear to enter a church lest they be made to feel out of place.

The "Greater Grace World Mission" fellowship in Baltimore have come up with a magnificent solution: their building is actually an old supermarket, cleared out and carpeted, with a platform, and seating for a congregation of 3,500. Half the floor area is clear, and quite a lot of people from the community, which is notorious for high levels of crime and drug abuse, will wander in during the service to see what is going on. Chatting quietly in small groups, they are provided with coffee and Bagels and counsellors are on hand to assist them with their needs. In passing, it is worth noting that the Greater Grace church people are almost all involved with the church's mission in one way or another, and Pastor Carl Stevens leads 1,000 of the men out on the doors each Saturday morning at 10 a.m. after the Saturday morning prayer meeting.

Every Friday night the Youth Group go out on the streets with questionnaires. Youth Leaders shepherd them in small groups as they seek to talk to people, and I was practically in tears acting as chaperone listening to one girl lead a middle-aged woman back to faith in Christ: she asked the woman if she had a New Testament to read, and when it transpired she had thrown it away on losing her faith years ago, the girl gave her own. Going back to an ice cream parlour afterwards with them all, I asked the girl if she would mind my asking how old she was as I would be writing a report for O.A.C. and I felt the way she had helped the lady was absolutely marvellous. She turned out to be 14 years old... In the Baltimore world of Christian ministry, the introduction of obscure ritual associated with mediaeval costumes would merely present an additional hurdle to faith rather than a means of grace.

In our modern European societies I am finding more and more that those beyond the reach of the Church no longer find the theatrical ritualistic elements provide a means of authenticating its activities.

At theological college years ago, most of us felt that the Anglican ministry was far and away the "best boat to fish from" to facilitate a life of effective Christian service. Ordination provided a respected position in society, a free house and a regular salary. It was obviously the sensible way to go for an intelligent young professional with wife and young family to support. Many of those being ordained in those days through my college were of Baptist and Brethren background, and many were from industry or the teaching profession. Talk in the common room was much affected by the revelation from one of my fellow students who had been a statistician that over the previous 20 years, 45% of those ordained to the Anglican ministry had moved on to some other occupation within 8 years. This greatly occupied our minds for a number of weeks and all sorts of theories were propounded as to why this might be: the general consensus was that, hopefully, they were within the Lord's will and had found something productive to do for the Kingdom.

My favourite fellow student was Tom. Tom had been an executive in the Post Office and was a year or two older than me; he and his wife were terrific fun to be with. Each morning at 8 a.m. Tom would stroll down to the newsagent to get his Times, and years afterwards the folk there were still asking after him. When he was ordained, they left for their ministry in the Midlands and although we kept in touch occasionally, we did not see them again for twenty years. Three years ago we pulled up outside their Vicarage in an industrial suburb near Birmingham - it was wonderful to see how little they had changed, and talking to them it was as if we had seen them yesterday.

Living in a large Georgian rectory with substantial outbuildings including stables and workshops, in a large garden surrounded by a brick wall in the middle of what appeared to be a mainly World War I period housing development, they struck me as being rather isolated. Walking round the parish, Tom met only one friend to introduce me to, otherwise people in the High Street ignored him. It was the same everywhere we went, nobody really knew him. Few regulars attended his church, and the Church Army lady assistant had a ministry to the elderly rather than to the young so the Sunday we were there it was announced that the Sunday School had closed... but Tom had an ace up his sleeve. He buries people. Each month he held a special memorial service for the bereaved families, very well attended by about eighty people and obviously very much appreciated when we were there. Apart from that, the ministry did not appear to be touching the community on a grand scale.

Tom had been able to achieve small things through membership of the local Council and was able to get a public telephone kiosk installed on the estate down the hill where most of the old people live. As Governor of 8 local schools, Tom did a lot of committee work where he felt he had established useful relationships, but he did not feel qualified to assist with Christian education in the local schools, or have the training to secure children's attention during assembly. Tom's experience is that the ability to run a church really well does not bring many people to faith in Christ. These days the non-conformist churches have similar problems: in Tom's area the Methodists had closed 15 years earlier, the Baptists were very few but holding their own, and the Pentecostals were apparently also very discouraged. Clearly, new patterns of ministry must emerge if the church is again to serve some useful purpose in the community in the 21st Century.

The picture I have in my mind is of a car slowing down on the Motorway because only one of its four cylinders is functioning. St. Paul clearly says the Lord has appointed "Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors/teachers". None of the denominational establishments in Britain today appoint evangelists to positions of responsibility in the church. One of Peter Brierley's statistical forms sent round to church leaders a few years ago, identifying the different ministries within the churches, did not include a box for evangelists. When I rang up to question this omission, Peter explained that there are so few of them, they are statistically non-existent.

In church in Dallas, Texas, with one of the Dallas Theological Seminary students who attended there, he and I were invited back to lunch by Pastor Bill. He explained that if Matt went ahead and joined Open Air Campaigners as a missionary evangelist in Europe, then his church of 2,000 or so members could not afford to support him - but if he did what the Elders suggested and accepted the position of Youth Pastor with their church (Matt had been a very popular and successful Youth Leader there while studying for his Degree) then they could offer him a free car, an apartment, and a salary of $20,000 p.a. In fact Matt chose to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, and after his training with O.A.C. went to France, married a French wife, and developed a highly productive ministry, partly in street evangelism, but principally as a superb Bible teacher much in demand at conferences all over France. Not having the support of his home church meant that they had a really difficult time financially, and have now had to return to the U.S.A. in order to raise sufficient funds to continue.

Those who sense a call to evangelism invariably face this problem. Those who manage church ministries have a total focus on the weekly services and the church programme, and even reaching the community in which they live for most of them is of very little interest. In Bristol the most "successful" church by far is Christ Church, a very lively evangelical Anglican fellowship with a membership of around 1,000. The focus is the Sunday worship led by a large and outstandingly good music group made up of church members of all ages, originally under the direction of Berj Topalian, an absolutely marvellous musician who is now a vicar himself. The services are a super experience with excellent teaching and very popular with the large student population. Canon Paul Berg, recently retired, for many years built a very effective teaching ministry there, even to the extent of seeing two of his trainee clergy appointed Bishops, encouraged our evangelistic ministry in Bristol and provided a small amount of financial support each year.

Paul made a prophetic statement to my administrator, Brian Raybould, some years ago which helped me a great deal to understand where church leaders are coming from. He said:

Evangelism is alien to the modern Church and irrelevant to its ministry

Brian had been an executive with British Aerospace, and had played a large part in the sale of aeronautical technology to the Americans in California in the '70s and '80s, and was absolutely shocked by this statement. He never again visited another church leader in Bristol on our behalf. His report of what had been said was the most enormously sobering experience for me. I realised that reaching the lost in Bristol was our call, not theirs, and we might as well get on with it. Certainly experience over the last 25 years in Bristol has shown that most churches are not in the business of raising up men and women to be evangelists.

No church manager has ever attended any of our Christian education programme presentations in Avon and Somerset schools where our team can now lead over 35 school assemblies in a week for something like 7,000 children and staff. In a month we minister to something like twice as many souls as attend all the Bristol churches put together in a year. I will be saying a lot more about the opportunities in schools in a later chapter but want to record here that no support specifically for schools ministry has ever been provided by any church over the last 25 years. It appears that if a ministry is not for their own congregation, on their premises or at one of their services, it is of very little interest. One of the reasons for this is that evangelism is seen as a rather uncomfortable pursuit which "we know we ought to do, but we are not quite sure what it entails, and in any case we are awfully busy and can't really see how we are going to fit it in".

Research shows that most Christians "know" that they are saved on an intellectual level, but they don't actually "feel" saved. The Church in Western Europe has been immensely successful in establishing the Christian ethic as the basis for living, even having it enshrined in the law, so that most people are perfectly reasonable citizens before they get saved, and becoming a Christian actually makes very little difference to their weekly programme apart from attendance at church on Sunday .... so helping other people to get saved is not a life and death issue, which is how it is perceived in Scripture. Often the few people who find conversion a really life-changing experience and are dramatically different as a result, go on to achieve wonderful things in Christian service and in evangelism. I shall talk about Ian Loring, the famous missionary to Albania, in the next chapter.

Those who do go on to exercise wonderful ministries go through five stages:

  1. Repentance and faith
  2. Discipleship leading to full church membership
  3. Discovery of God's call on their life
  4. Proper training to fulfil the vision
  5. Release into ministry by the church

Very few churches understand the relevance - or even the existence - of the last three stages and see the ultimate destiny of every believer purely and simply as a faithful church member. Indeed, evangelism to them is the process whereby people come to attend their church, not the process of bringing people into the Kingdom. The evangelist is seen as some sort of pastoral assistant with the ability to make friends and influence people, rather than someone who leads people to Christ. Evangelism in our Bible colleges is often about social programmes which somehow result in people coming into our building. David Watson, a huge influence on us all through his superb books, said in "Discipleship" that he did not see how anyone could truly become a believer other than as a full member of a loving fellowship. Like all sensible church leaders, David saw the extreme importance of establishing lively fellowships and the value of peer pressure on the life of the individual, to be found there. Clearly, however, this is not the same view of evangelism that St. Paul had - or the great revivalist preachers, either.

The Failing Church

Dr. Dan Peters, one of America's foremost writers on church growth, publishes wonderfully succinct diagnostic sheets pointing out the undesirable and desirable characteristics of different kinds of churches. Those that fail have the following characteristics:

  • primarily focussed on meeting the needs of people who have been in the church a long time, and their family members
  • limits its programmes solely to meetings on church property
  • seeks to grow by transfer growth, not evangelism (i.e. recruiting members of other churches)
  • regards its community as unreachable
  • has a "fortress" mentality
  • continually refers to past glories
  • allows nepotism to severely limit access of new people to ministry and leadership
  • regards evangelists with suspicion
  • spends its budget on social needs and edification of those within its membership
  • is interested in foreign missions but does not welcome them in church
  • requires its pastors to do all the work
  • has no desire to grow
  • has a core group based on long-term relationships
  • has a strategy directed towards maintenance of the status quo
  • measures success on quality of church services

Dan Peters considers that a church like this can survive for ages as a sort of social club but there will be little opportunity for change and in fact the church services themselves are often rigidly programmed to the point where individual members of the fellowship may never have the opportunity to share a testimony or even take part in leading prayers. My own experience of churches in the United States, which are mainly non-conformist, is that they will often be the responsibility of a local family who may be owners of the largest local business, who will effectively control everything that happens even to the point of hiring and firing the pastor. Very occasionally this will be the family after whom the town or village is named. In England, by contrast, the pastor is all-powerful and one way or another if a dispute arises in the church, it will be the eldership that resigns, not the pastor. In the last 5 years this has happened twice in my experience in Bristol.

In either case it is almost impossible for the church to play a responsible part in co-operation with others in local mission. In England particularly, if a member of a congregation senses a call to evangelism or mission, the first question asked by the pastor is "How will this affect my control of the candidate?" and "Will I be Chairman and Director of his local support group?" . Church pastor/managers of this sort, while not necessarily being "control freaks", are nevertheless extremely anxious to have the whip hand.

The Successful Church

Dan Peters says that any church that wants to grow must have the following characteristics:

  • an active programme to fulfil the Great Commission
  • requires all staff members to be primarily involved to equip the saints to enable them to play a full part in the church's ministry
  • cares deeply about lost people in the community
  • de-centralises ministry out into homes, and various community institutions
  • sees the community as having many reachable, open people in it
  • studies the community to develop strategies to reach these people
  • has its focus on the future, having learned the lessons of the past
  • clear paths to involvement for people joining
  • small groups provided for new people at all levels
  • commits the budget to reflect the priority of evangelism
  • accepts local minorities into the church
  • its focus is on making more and better disciples
  • the pastor's ministry is as a facilitator enabling the congregation to reach their world
  • helps people to discover their own ministry styles
  • helps people to discover spiritual gifts and encourages them to go out and use them

Dan Peters outlines several steps that can be taken to promote the idea of the local church as a ministry team. Amongst various things he suggests are practical teaching in evangelism with on-the-job training; the re-evaluation of all the church's ministries in the light of the Great Commission; he advocates advanced study for the Elders to enable them to play a greater part in leadership and suggests - very importantly - that evangelists should be recognised and authenticated as a valued part of the church's ministry. Leaders must help the church to have as big a vision as the harvest. That is to say, if there are 100 schools in your neighbourhood, put in progress the infrastructure to raise up and train enough people to establish an effective Christian education programme in each. One of the sad things in Bristol is the churches' ability to see the need to minister in schools in disadvantaged areas while young people from the vast majority of middle class homes in the community go unreached.

Dan sees it as very important to encourage the dissemination of news about evangelism taking place, both locally and on the mission field, so that as a church, through their prayer meetings and financial support, they can really be an effective part of building the Kingdom on a wide scale. He is not afraid that as a result of this sort of activity numbers of people of all ages may sense a call to evangelism and the mission field. My own experience in Bristol suggests that the absence of role models in any of our churches means that those who might to respond to a call either to evangelism or to mission effectively cannot receive a call from God. Over the years almost every time I preach in a church, someone somewhere is challenged seriously about full time ministry in this field.

It must now be perfectly clear to anyone involved in Christian ministry that England (or any other country for that matter) cannot be reached merely by pulpit preaching. The idea that you can reach a community simply by preaching at a Gospel service once a month on a Sunday evening is unbiblical if not clearly absurd. Likewise, the wrong-headed idea that if you consistently teach people they will automatically reproduce converts. The current major focus on special interest groups such as the poor, those with life-controlling problems, etc.,etc. means that the majority of ordinary people in society go completely unreached. Many churches I know have become so inward looking without any knowledge at all about what God is doing in the world or even in other parts of Bristol that they have a powerful isolating influence on all those who attend them, which actively discourages their members from playing any part in Christian ministry in the city - or elsewhere. Many years ago, one house church (with whom I have an excellent relationship) said they were not inviting me to preach that year because they did not want to hear anything new from the Lord.

For many fellowships there is a real fear that God might speak to them and really upset the applecart!

As we enter the third Millennium the Christian Church stands at a particularly exciting crossroads; whatever modern politicians may think, by and large the nation accepts the Christian ethic as a basis for living. However, needs which the church has met more or less successfully in the past, such as welfare, medical help for the poor, schools, trades unions, hospitals etc., are now almost all the province of the State and no longer remain the avenues they once were for Christian service and witness so, rather than try and make the church fellowship meetings themselves, the only avenue for Christian witness ("Go to Church or go to Hell"), the Church needs to establish front line ministries which stand on their own feet out in the community and win converts from the vast majority of people who will never darken the door of an ecclesiastical building.

On housing estates in Southern Europe over the years we have been able to present the Gospel to around 12,000 or 13,000 people in 4 days; from those we would see 2,600 enquirers and 63 converts. In the modern world, to find the converts the net must be spread very wide. In the chapters 6 to 9 I will set out in detail how this works.

The ministry characteristics of any individual church are greatly influenced by the leadership. The outlook of the individual pastor in the long term will be the major factor in determining the world view of the individuals in the congregation. Average church members do not make notes during teaching sermons and their memory recall is very much clouded by the pressures of every day life. Employment and family are their main concerns. Most pastors do not have teacher training and their ability to impart digestible Christian teaching is restricted. Christians are by and large surprisingly inarticulate and very few would feel comfortable sharing their faith with a non-Christian. Very few would be able to give a coherent account of the Resurrection (the foundation of our faith) or give any account of the implications of that event. The best they can do is to rely almost totally on their pastor. At one church where I was preaching, I heard a full time parish worker ask the vicar "Is that what I believe?"...

For all these reasons, in England particularly, the church pastor will determine the church programme. During my church experience over the last 49 years I have identified 3 specific categories of pastor:

The Pastor/Manager

He is a superb management specialist, probably with experience in industry. His theological knowledge will be basic rather than profound and his church fellowship will be very well run indeed. The worship services will be an excellent experience with a professional worship group, well led prayers and a very carefully prepared teaching programme. Attending the church, one will be greeted by well organised and friendly welcomers providing for an excellent overall service experience. The church will grow and the different people groups represented will be encouraged to join clubs or house groups. Mums and toddlers, Sunday school, Pathfinders, teens, single parents, young marrieds and old wives, musicians and men, will all have special fellowship groups. Experienced people will be recruited to run these groups and there will be a steady flow of individuals becoming Christians through these excellent ministries.

This pattern of ministry can only succeed in the areas where people are "Club-oriented" and will therefore succeed in mainly middle class areas. While having an outward image of great success, such a church has a very limited contact with the community as a whole. The important part of a tyre is the bit in contact with the road and even a large and impressive tyre is only effective in so far as it makes good contact.

The Pastor/Evangelist

He will have many of the characteristics of the Pastor/Manager but is likely to have been exposed to world mission on an Operation Mobilisation or similar team in student days. He tends to see church worship meetings as an evangelistic enterprise and has a burden for church revival. He may have good preaching ability and will welcome Alpha and outreach programmes such as Evangelism Explosion. He will have a lively interest in reaching out to people on the fringes of the fellowship through door to door visiting. He will probably regard care ministries as an important opportunity to bring people into contact with the church.

He will have a burden for world mission and will endeavour to assist with support for missionaries overseas. He will seek to identify areas of opportunity for personal evangelism such as university students or remand centres. Scores of people have become Christians through such ministries in Bristol in the last year or two. Where the rubber hits the road however, their impact remains relatively small.

The Evangelist/Pastor

The Evangelist/Pastor has a vision which embraces the whole potential harvest. His vision is not only for his church to grow, it is to establish a ministry which embraces all the people groups in the entire community. To do this he is keen to establish a team ministry. Jim Reed of Madrid, who established 11 churches in Madrid in about 11 years, had as his vision the establishment of the Apostolic team. Like Frank Tillerpaugh in Denver who had the same idea. Jim's vision involved preaching the Gospel to as many people as possible as often as possible and implied a very high dependence on the Holy Spirit - as opposed to modern church growth canning-factory techniques.

Having worked with the most successful missions ministries in Europe, I find a surprising number of them are from the Columbia Bible College or the Navigators or both. Such people regard the establishment of the Apostolic team as an imperative step in their work of church planting across an entire country. Ian Loring, whom I shall be writing about in a later chapter, has so far been the only Evangelist/Pastor produced in Bristol in a hundred years. He was trained at the Bristol School of Evangelism. Two other good examples are Dr. Al Nucciarone and Pastor Rob Prokop of Vienna, whose Apostolic teams touch a number of neighbouring countries as well as Austria. These teams include professionals with excellent ministry skills. This opens up all kinds of opportunities for ministry such as street teams which can reach many thousands of people with the Gospel in a few days and can provide many opportunities for individual church members to practise their evangelism skills on interested live contacts. This is a much more encouraging experience for an average church member than doing door to door visiting, which may lead to a discouraging and sometimes hostile response. Another opportunity open to professionally trained specialists who have done an appropriate course of training, is the Christian Education programme in our schools, where one can meet tomorrow's potential congregation today.