How should a church revitalizer do evangelism? Does evangelism in revitalization matter? Does theology matter?
J.I. Packer probably isn’t the first author that comes to mind when considering revitalization. But church revitalizers would be mistaken to disregard Packer’s book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. Consider these three truths from Packer that relate to church revitalization.
Scripture is clear: God is sovereign and man is morally responsible. Too often pastors want to fall on one truth or the other, and ultimately the two doctrines get pitted against one another.
Packer recognizes that both are absolutely true. He calls it an antinomy. “An antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable,” Packer writes; “It is a mystery to you how they can be squared with each other.”
God is the sovereign God of the universe, and at the same time, each and every man is responsible for his sin, and Packer shies away from neither.
Church revitalizer, you better believe that the sinners in your community will have to give an account for their sin, but you must also trust that only the sovereign God of the universe can save sinners, and that He will. Man’s responsibility matters. God’s sovereignty matters. Theology matters.
God pleases to use redeemed sinners to spread the good news to other sinners.
Packer defines evangelism as being the mouthpiece of God, delivering His message of mercy and good news to sinners.
God pleases to use redeemed sinners to spread the good news to other sinners. Christians are called to this work. Pastors are called to this work. Revitalizers are called to this work. To be clear: to be an effective mouthpiece, one must open his mouth and actually proclaim the gospel of Jesus.
Packer argues that evangelism is not defined by the particular style of the worship service or meeting, or by whether or not an appeal for a decision is made, but rather on the theological soundness of the gospel of Jesus that is proclaimed. Brothers, open your mouth and proclaim the gospel of Jesus. Communication matters. Proclamation matters.
Some Christians use a gospel presentation with every stranger they meet; others silently leave tracts. Some treat evangelism as a chore, marking evangelism off their “to-do” list.
Packer argues that proclamation through relationship, even friendship, is necessary. He writes that without friendship, personal evangelism should be called “impersonal evangelism.”
An evangelism founded in friendship is costly though, and perhaps this is why only distributing tracts has been so popular. Relationships require time, commitment, sweat, blood and even tears.
You can proclaim the gospel to the masses from your pulpit and you should, you can use presentation tools and devices, but you must build relationships too. Intentionally develop friendships inside and outside of the congregation of saints. Build relationships with lost sinners in the community.
Packer encourages his readers to even pray for the gift of friendship. Give of yourself as you give the gospel. Think about the relationships Jesus built. He gave of Himself. In fact, He gave Himself, totally. Relationships matter. Investments matter. Friendships matter.
Imagine a life intentionally making new friends with sinful people, telling them about the best thing that has ever happened to you, and then trusting God to transform your new friends. At the risk of oversimplifying, that is evangelism in church revitalization.
Build relationships, tell them about Jesus, and trust God to save sinners.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is the first in a series focusing on notable voices in revitalization.