March 7, 2022

Pastors Respond to my “Don’t Ask a Pastor About Evangelism” Post

My recent post, on why one should not necessarily ask a pastor why evangelism for most people is hard, elicited some spirited responses.

Tucked between that initial post and this one, was one of the reasons that orthodox Christians are concerned about evangelism: Shane Warne’s death ushered him into an eternity without God, and a universalistic, flabby faith won’t mourn that for anything more than the loss of earthly life. Evangelism – sharing the good news about Jesus – is a critical matter if one day we must all stand before his throne with either an alien righteousness or our own self-righteousness.

In light of the initial post I received a number of PM comments and emails (I generally don’t read or respond to FB comments about my blogs). They could be categorised into posts from “secular workplace workers”; “church workplace workers who agreed with my premise”; “church workplace workers who did not agree with my premise”.

We’re going to concentrate on church workplace workers who did not agree, all of whom I know of in some capacity whether virtual or in person, and all who are ministry leaders with good character and reputations.

A number felt I had over-egged the cake, or even gotten it wrong.

So, as before, here are some observations that I think need to be taken seriously (names and recognisable data removed), from a couple of full time Aussie pastors:

I just read the latest post on your site about pastors and evangelism, and I wanted to say that I found it a bit discouraging. When I read your post last night we had two of our pastors leading a team of volunteers pumping water out of someone’s house that is flooded and one of the pastors stayed there with 6 youth leaders pumping all night. They were doing this so that an elderly couple who can’t get a trade or SES, didn’t have to stay up all night and pump water themselves.

And further:

I do appreciate there are some lazy pastors and There are some pastors who are wolves. Even good pastors are not perfect, but many pastors are trying as hard as they can. Yes many pastors have not worked in the workplace for a long time, but that is mainly because they have devoted their lives to their congregations who they love.

This pastor explained how a pastor he knows is bi-vocational and totally gets the tension going on. It was a good conversation. It shows that many pastors not only want to get involved in their communities, but are seeking to do good where they can alongside their congregants, in order to open up opportunity for gospel telling further down the line.

Or as another East Coast pastor whose ministry is super encouraging to me remarked:

“Hey Stephen, great article on evangelism. But…looking at the two quotes you shared. It seemed to me that the issue was a value one! I know that isn’t the whole story. But… if I’ve read them rightly… aren’t they saying that they value their income and livelihood over the value of sharing the gospel? I’m not disputing the main point of your article. But I think this is significant. It goes to the challenge of take up the Cross and what are we prepared to lose for the sake of others. Or put it another way, the cost of sharing Jesus is now higher than it has ever been…”

That was the beginning of a good engagement. Can I note, and this is a conversation for further down the line, I do think that we are to take up our cross and lose for the sake of others. I guess the key for me, and this was in light of chats with secular workers, is how exposed this makes a secular worker in terms of livelihood, compared to a gospel worker making the same call.

In a sense, if a church is keen to get its members to risk their livelihoods (and it’s not that they will become unemployed, it’s more that they will become unemployable when their referees say things like “He didn’t fit company culture, we had to let him go.“), then the church has to have a strategy of financial, moral and relational support for such a move.

For one reason or another, our individualistic culture means that even among Christians you’d be on your own if you lost your job sharing the gospel. Yes the cost of sharing Jesus is now higher than it’s ever been. But I guess that’s my point. That means the cost has to be shared around. If they lose their job for sharing the gospel at work; then perhaps the church loses out on its new renovation in order to fund that family for a year until they get on their feet. My issue is always about where the cost lies. And I think as churches we don’t yet have the level of “one anotherness” that could bear up that sort of cost across a congregation.

Still it was an enlivening and enlightening conversation that included this:

A ps thought. I wonder if for some pastors and churches they think they’ve stepped across the risk line already. As you know to be a pastor is, to often, chosen a lowing paying profession with little likelihood of financial progress like you get in a profession or even in a growing trade.

I get that too. Though there would be many places in Australia (outside the main cities), where the pastor’s pay may well be the highest. Postcode matters. And on that front, the places in urban centres were secular wages are far higher than the pastor’s tend to be the places you’re most likely to face censure for sharing the gospel. I actually think one of the costs long-term for Christian workers in the secular sphere is that some advancements or even some professions, will be beyond their reach, if they wish to maintain fidelity to gospel realities. There’s a cost there for sure.

And yeah it’s hard & sometimes costly but how good when you see that happen. As a church we try to celebrate these conversions as much as possible just to remind people that a simple conversation at work can lead to further conversations maybe even an invitation to something down the track and that is actually the means by which God saves people.

I think this nails where good evangelism works. The process over time in relationships of trust. And it’s not rocket-science, as this last quote points out! I think there’s room for some conversations at both the top tier level, and at the grass roots level, about what makes evangelism hard in the workplace.

Industry leaders who are Christian can have conversations with recognised ministry leaders at a national level, and explain the complexities of HR decisions, exploring together the worrying trend in which many major firms in professions such as law and finance, no longer recognise “off-the-clock” activities as merely private.

So for example, bringing a work colleague to a church event is suddenly fraught with disciplinary danger, if the colleague later complains of being “forced” or “triggered”. This stuff happens already. We need to get ahead of the game by bringing our brightest and sharpest minds into the room on this.

But also – and I know it happens through events such as City Bible Forum’s “Life at Work” conferences – pastors should sit down with their congregational members and go through the issues. Life at Work is a great example of how to help secular workers grow in gospel confidence in the workplace, and I wonder if more pastors hosted a “watch party” themselves or attended a live event with their congregants, how much further that would go towards a gospel partnership in the workplace. Some may be doing this already, I don’t know.

This quote was also worth considering:

I do think conviction is key. When I think about evangelism & my parents, mates from the gym, school gate etc. I need to constantly keep reminding myself of the realities of heaven & hell & my God given role in this world to be an ambassador for Jesus. So conviction is always necessary. Third, the people you quoted don’t seem to believe that God could use them to save some. Perhaps we have lost sight of the fact that the gospel is powerful to save and sometimes we make the decision ‘to remain in unbelief’ on behalf of others.

And so, in a sense, that is the primary work of a pastor: To make Jesus so compelling and the gospel message so convincing and convicting in your own ministry and life, that you’re running out of time-slots to meet up with and train the eager people in our congregation who want to evangelise their friends.

Conviction is critical. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. I think the key is marrying that conviction with a strategic insight into what has changed about both church and work (neither are the same as what they were even 25 years ago), and how we can as pastors (and I am one!) create a sustainable supply line to those going to the front line on Monday morning.

Keep the conversations going.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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