In recent blog posts I have criticized the evangelism methods of the PRC. I wish to offer some helpful suggestions on how these methods can be improved in this article.
Suggestion #1: Prayer. Prayer. Prayer.
I cannot emphasis this enough. The congregation must be earnestly praying for the salvation of souls, both publically and privately. It must have a prayerful zeal for the conversion of the hearers. It must have a passion for the gospel. Prayer is a means of grace: God will only give to those who ask Him. This is the teaching of the Heidelberg Catechism in Question and Answer 116:
- 116. Why is prayer necessary for Christians?
A. Because it is the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us because God will give His grace and Holy Spirit to those only who desires continually ask them of Him, and are thankful for them.
Rev. Hanko states in his pamphlet Reformed Evangelism,
- We need to emphasize the fact that because evangelism is the work of the church all believers have an important part in that work, though they themselves do not preach. They have the important calling to pray for the work, to support it in that way and with their gifts, and to be themselves witnesses of the truth in all their life. Without faithfulness on the part of God’s people, no evangelism work can prosper.
In preparation for the evangelism sermon you could have a prayer service and a psalm sing.
Also publically announce that you are asking the congregation to pray for the upcoming lecture, that God would use it as a means to the salvation of many (and keep reminding them). Remember also to pray for the minister, he needs your prayers.
Suggestion #2: Make it a Sermon and not a Lecture.
I do strongly believe that there should be evangelism sermons and not lectures (and I write this as somebody who was once on the evangelism committee of a PRC and organized “evangelism” lectures. When the PRC has “evangelism” lectures they are stating a number of things. First, I would argue that they are stating they are more interested in reaching out to other Christians, and not directly to the lost, when giving lectures. Second, they are implicitly denying that the preaching is one of the keys of the kingdom and a chief means of grace when having these lectures. Perhaps, in some fundamental sense, they have forgotten the power of preaching when witnessing to the lost, or at least lost the distinction between preaching and lecturing. Third, they are implicitely stating that they are more interested in an intellectual change in the hearer, rather than a radical spiritual change (i.e. conversion).
What is the difference between a sermon and a lecture?
I think Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains it well in his book Preaching and Preachers.
- I assert that preaching a sermon is not to be confused with giving a lecture. This, again, is something quite different, and for these reasons. A lecture starts with a subject, and what it is concerned to do is to give knowledge and information concerning this particular subject. Its appeal is primarily and almost exclusively to the mind; its object is to give instruction and state facts. That is its primary purpose and function. So a lecture, again, lacks, and should lack, the element of attack, the concern to do something to the listener, which is a vital element in preaching. But the big difference, I would say, between a lecture a sermon is that a sermon does not start with a subject; a sermon should always be expository. In a sermon the theme or the doctrine is something that arises out of the text and its context, it is something which is illustrated by that text and context. So a sermon should not start with the subject as such; it should start with Scripture which has in it a doctrine or a theme. That doctrine should then be dealt with in terms of this particular setting.
- I therefore lay down this proposition that a sermon should always be expository. (71 – 72)
The Heidelberg Catechism also helps differentiate the difference between preaching and giving a lecture. In Question and Answer 84 it states,
- 84. How is the kingdom of heaven opened and shut by the preaching of the holy gospel?
A. Thus: when according to the command of Christ it is declared and publicly testified to all and every believer, that, whenever they receive the promise of the gospel by a true faith, all their sins are really forgiven them of God, for the sake of Christ’s merits; and on the contrary, when it is declared and testified to all unbelievers, and such as do not sincerely repent, that they stand exposed to the wrath of God and eternal condemnation, so long as they are unconverted; according to which testimony of the gospel God will judge them, both in this and in the life to come.
Preaching then contains the fundamental gospel message via the proper exposition of a passage of Scripture and is not some discourse on a theological topic, church history, or a specific issue of Christian living. It is the clear exposition of a passage of Scripture, with the intent of preaching of the conversion of the hearers, the edification of the saints, and the glory of Christ.
It is through the means of the preaching, not giving lectures, that God is pleased to gather His church. As the Compendium states,
- 48. Who worketh that faith in thee?
A. The Holy Ghost.
Q. 49. By what means?
A. By the hearing of the Word preached (Rom. 10:14-17).
Thus, Rev. Hanko states that “the gospel is the means God uses to gather His elect and to bring them to saving faith in Christ and so to salvation.” (Reformed Evangelism). Rev. Hanko also states that
- As obvious as this seems, many have forgotten it. Thus they talk endlessly about evangelistic methods and spend a great deal of time drawing up complicated and expensive evangelism schemes for their church. It never seems to enter their mind that evangelism means preaching. (Reformed Evangelism).
What should this type of sermon look like?
Rev. Hanko argues in his pamphlet Reformed Evangelism that anytime “the Scriptures are properly preached, Christ is preached. If Christ is being preached, the gospel is being preached.” I whole heartedly agree. He also argues that
- This does not mean . . . that there is not a difference between preaching the gospel in the church and to those who are outside the church, or that Reformed people believe only in preaching the gospel within the church.
I also agree with this, qualifying that statement with something else that Rev. Hanko states:
- We would add that the call to repentance and faith is not just for unbelievers either. Those who are already saved need to hear that call in order that they too may turn from their sins (and they do commit sin as long as they are in this body of flesh) and that their faith may be stirred up and strengthened. This is also part of true evangelism.
- With this in mind there is no need for the preacher to divide the congregation up into groups in his own mind or in his preaching, directing some of his preaching to one group and some to another. ALL the hearers need to hear whatever God the Lord says in a particular passage of His Word. There is not one message for the church, another for the world, one for the “unconverted,” another for those who are “saved and safe.”
While I agree with that I would further qualify it (as a bit of a sidenote) by stating that we should not look at our churches as simply composed of the saved, or believers. We should also realize that there are the unconverted elect and reprobate in it as well. We should then never preach inside the church assuming everybody in it is saved, we should preach what the particular text demands of us. Sometimes that text will be directed to the saved, other times it will be directed to the unsaved. We should always preach the text and not necessarily let our ecclesiology dictate how we preach.
By that I mean that I have no trouble calling the visible church, “the church of God.” I have no trouble calling the visible church “the beloved of God.” I have no trouble calling the visible church “believers.” This is Biblical. God called Israel, “His chosen people.” That does not mean that everybody is saved in it or that I should preach as though everybody is saved inside the church. I should preach as the text demands.
Rev. Hanko makes three suggestions for preaching, when it is particularly directed to the unsaved. While he is speaking particularly of the mission field, I believe this same advice is useful for our own evangelism sermons.
- First, in preaching to those who have not heard the gospel before, the message must be simplified and preached in such a way that those who hear understand clearly what the evangelist is saying. This is especially difficult when preaching to heathen who have never heard of sin, grace, redemption and of so many other great gospel truths. . . .
- Second, this kind of gospel preaching will address the audience as unsaved in showing them the need for repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation. The preacher will beseech and exhort those who hear, pressing upon them the demands of the gospel and the urgency of their own need (II Cor. 5:18 – 21; cf. Matt. 3:7 – 12). [So here the minister might want to pick a text that directly lends itself to this kind of preaching] . . . .
- Third, mission preaching involves going out to preach to the unsaved (Matt. 28:19). . . . It will not do, therefore, for the church to attempt to carry out its calling to engage in missions by holding an “evangelistic service” every Lord’s Day evening.
Suggestion #3: Personal Invitations
The more believers see the preciousness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the more willing they are to start sharing the gospel with unbelievers. This can be classmates, coworkers, neighbours, etc. The individual members of the congregation need to get passionate about the gospel of Jesus Christ. They need to radically see the wonder of God’s grace and salvation. They need to see the absolute importance of spreading it. Part of this passion will be one of the spiritual blessings of good gospel preaching.
The question always is: how to go about sharing the gospel?
Well for one, you may find it helpful to write up a short pamphlet explaining the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. It does not have to be very complicated, it could just be a couple of sentences with a bunch of Bible verses. Hand these out to the people you invite, mentioning the topic of the sermon (and obviously the date and time of the meeting).
Two, train people in basic evangelism. Maybe here you could have some actual lectures that teach people in your congregation how to do this.
When I talk to people, I often ask them: “If you were to die today, would you end up in heaven or hell?” Most people say heaven. Ask them why they think that. Again most people say because “they are for the most part good people.” From there you can go on to talk about the Law of God, maybe asking the person some pointed questions like: have you ever lied? Have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever looked lustfully at another person? From there you can go on to talk about how because of our sinfulness, we are all deserving of the righteous judgment of God. God is a holy God and must punish us for our sins. From there, you can go on to talk about Jesus Christ, the cross, and the need for us to repent of all our sins (an actual turning away) and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Suggestion #4: Be Active
It is very easy for us reformed folks to get complacent when it comes to evangelism. We can often get discouraged in the battle by seeing the complete disregard people have for the truth, the sinfulness of society, and the mockery it makes of the Bible. We can then enter into the type of thinking that states that “nobody else wants to hear the gospel. It’s too radical. Why should I even try? This church has been in this neighbourhood for years, everybody who is going to come has come. I then don’t need to actively go out.”
You should try because God commands you to speak of Him, to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
You should also try because God commands you to love your neighbour. It is hateful of you to be silent regarding the gospel and let your fellow human beings go happily on their way to destruction and the fires of hell.
There is also another way we can get complacent. This is when we forget that God works through means. We can use the age old excuse that God is sovereign and thus, if He wants somebody to get saved, he will get saved. Yes, God is sovereign but He works through His people as a means of spreading the gospel. You are to be a witness of the truth and God will use you as a means to bring people to a saving knowledge of the truth. This may be through a conversation with a co-worker in which you encourage him to come to church on Sunday. This may be through a random conversation with somebody on the street. But always God uses means to spread the gospel.
Let us ever grow then in our zeal for the salvation of souls and in the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ! Let our desire ever be that of Whitefield:
My heart is full of love to you. I would speak till I could speak no more, so I could but bring you to Christ – George Whitefield