Preconditions for an Evangelical Congregation:
What basic preconditional elements do all churches, large or small, poor or affluent, urban or rural, progressive or fundamental, need in order to engage in effective evangelism? In “Transforming Evangelism, The Wesleyan Way of Sharing Faith”, a description of evangelism gives us a framework to determine these preconditions; “Our sharing and inviting others to experience the good news that God loves us and invites us into a transforming relationship through which we are forgiven, receive new life, and are restored to the image of God, which is love.” According to the authors, Hal Knight and Doug Powe, “evangelism is about relationship: how we are in relationship to God, who is able to transform us into new beings; how we are in relationship to our neighbor, whom we must love like ourselves.”
If it is God’s desire to be in a relationship with us, then understanding the nature of that bond becomes the keystone of our faith. Love, then, is the foundation of God’s relationship with us and so it should also be at the foundation of our connection inside and outside the congregation. Three viable and necessary preconditions to be considered are: the relationship between God and the congregation, the relationship within the congregation and the relationship between the congregation and those outside the church.
Intentionally connecting with God is an essential component of a relationship. Without this connection a church cannot know God’s purpose for its ministry or engage in the world with faith and conviction. Congregations need to engage with God on many levels and through multiple ways. Equally important is that these engagements be spirit led, spirit filled and centered on the presence of Christ who is manifested by the Holy Spirit. A congregation should strive to be authentic, genuine and desirous of God’s love whether it is in a service, Bible studies, covenant groups or a soup supper.
Intentional connection with God creates a congregation that strives for Christ-centered love such as Jesus expressed in John 15:13, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”[iii] If there is not a loving and healthful congregational relationship between God and the church, then there cannot be healthy relationships within the congregation or with the secular world. Nurturing this relationship with love and respect creates a healthy spiritual connection among the congregation. While evangelism is an outward expression of faith, it is equally an inward manifestation of Christian love.
Congregations need to embrace an accepting ministry. Churches which adhere to a narrow ministry path based on strict scriptural interpretation or dogma will not be able to engage in transformational ministry either within the church or outside its walls. Judging others based on traditional beliefs, especially those derived from cultural tradition rather than scriptural principles will restrict the relationship God seeks to share with all people. Jesus declared, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”[iv]
Evangelism outside the church should be the goal of a congregation which is seeking to be transformed by God’s evangelical love. In sharing God’s love, churches nurture themselves as well as those who are unchurched. The act of giving God’s grace energizes members to overcome discord and actually enhances the growth of healthy relationships within the congregation. Sharing becomes a part of the process of nurturing a dynamic and spirit filled church family. And this brings them back to being an accepting congregation that recognizes God’s desire to have a relationship with all His children.
Salvation is conferred by Jesus at the cross and not by the church or its people. The church does lead to the cross and the empty tomb and from that spiritual point we journey together to build the Kingdom. Without a loving and genuine relationship with God through Christ, a sacrificial relationship with our Christian brethren and a desired relationship with all others there can be no fulfillment toward the Kingdom of God.
Arguments for other tenants or preconditions can be made with equal justification. These are not the templates for building evangelical congregations. However nurturing an evangelical church, one which seeks to nurture both its members and those outside its confines, requires a relationship with God that is loving, accepting and sharing.
Three Elements of Faithful Evangelism:
If these are the preconditions for mission, what are the three elements of evangelism? As Christians we need to be reminded that Christ’s church is a missional church. Therefore understanding what our mission is helps us discern what elements or tools are required to fulfill the mission. “We have two mission fields. The first is to deepen the connected people we already know in their love of God and their love for one another in our church. If we don’t care for this first mission field properly, it will stop us from reaching the second mission field. And yet, if all we do is take care of the first mission field and we miss the second mission field, the church becomes inwardly focused and dies a very slow, painful death. This second mission field is to take God’s love to the people we don’t already know and who are not already Christians (the unconnected).”[v]
This question requires more of nuts and bolt answer than the first. Specifically, what three tools does a church need to effectively engage in evangelism? Building on the relational preconditions discussed, we need to explore how to implement those relationships in practice. Though arguments can be made for others, let us consider three key elements for establishing a missionary church: Worship, Covenant sharing and Christian action.
Worship is the heart of building and maintaining a relationship with God. Early Christians met each day for devotion to their new faith. “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”[vi] This was a time of intentional devotion, fellowship and bonding. Worship equips and holds the faithful together, reminding them of Jesus’ teachings, sacrifice and their own purpose in God’s mission.
A service should be transformational, genuine and relevant in people’s lives. It needs to build stronger relationships among its members. Perhaps the two most important goals of worship are to instill a desire to have a relationship with God through Christ, and to share that relationship with others.
Without a relational worship service people will not want to engage in a deeper connection with God, the church or each other. They will simply stop coming or search for another church. Spirit filled and spirit led worship can instill a desire for discipleship yet worship cannot prepare a church for service to the world by itself. Its primary function is to motivate. Meaningful worship can lead to a viable covenant sharing ministry which, in turn, will strengthen and prepare the “body of Christ” for discipleship.
Covenant sharing involves holding each other accountable in acknowledging our sins, reminding us of our Christian duties toward others and faithful worship of God. Where worship is a communal inspiration of God’s love, covenant sharing prepares members to become the “body of Christ” “For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.”[vii]
“Anyone who has tried to begin a daily devotional life, much less make major lifestyle changes, would testify how difficult something like this is. This is why early Methodists did not try to do it alone. Instead, they came together in weekly class meetings to report on how well they had done in keeping to the discipline the preceding week, and to receive advice and encouragement for the week ahead.”[viii] Modern congregations should utilize small groups for encouraging members to explore and deepen their relationship with God, each other and the mission of God’s church.
Churches need to provide a place where members can share their stories, strengthen their identity as Christians and deepen their relationship with Christ. They are sanctuaries where members can learn to experience God’s presence in their everyday lives and share that awareness.
We can also refer to this as discipleship, mission, service or “college evangelism”.[ix] If worship is the heart that circulates God’s spirit within the body, and covenant enrichment is the brain that directs the body to act, then Christian action is the response of the muscle to both the neurological stimulus of sharing and the nurturing blood that flows from worship. Christian action is the second of two mission fields and turns worship and covenant from passive ministry into transformational ministry. It is the time and place in which “Our loving God must intersect with loving our neighbor.”[x]
If worship and covenant do not lead toward discipleship outside the church then both missions of Christ’s church will fail. First, those within the church will experience a shallow and disingenuous relationship with God, which is no relationship at all. Secondly, the unchurched will never experience a personal God because they will never witness the relationship God wants with them in the lives of others. “If any denomination is to have a future, it must reconnect to the biblical purpose and mission of making new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. To accomplish this mission, it requires us to be once again people who widely, continually, and fervently share their faith in Jesus Christ with those who do not yet have such a faith.”[xi]
 Knight, Hal; Powe, Doug. Transforming Evangelism, The Wesleyan Way of Sharing Faith (Kindle Locations 892-894). Discipleship Resources. Kindle Edition.
Knight, Hal; Powe, Doug. Transforming Evangelism, The Wesleyan Way of Sharing Faith (Kindle Locations 892-894). Discipleship Resources. Kindle Edition.
[iii] Harper Bibles. NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha John 15:14 (Kindle Locations 62947-62948). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
[iv] Harper Bibles. NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha Matthew 5:43-45(Kindle Locations 58275-58277). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
[v] Anderson, Doug; Farr, Bob; Kotan, Kay. Get Their Name: Grow Your Church by Building New Relationships (p. 28). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.
[vi] Harper Bibles. NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha Acts 2:46, (Kindle Locations 63535-63536). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
[vii] Harper Bibles. NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha 1 Corinthians 11:29, (Kindle Locations 65931-65933). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
[viii]Knight, Hal; Powe, Doug. Transforming Evangelism, The Wesleyan Way of Sharing Faith (Kindle Locations 181-184). Discipleship Resources. Kindle Edition.
[ix] Anderson, Doug; Farr, Bob; Kotan, Kay. Get Their Name: Grow Your Church by Building New Relationships (p. 21). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.
[x] Knight, Hal; Powe, Doug. Transforming Evangelism, The Wesleyan Way of Sharing Faith (Kindle Location 902). Discipleship Resources. Kindle Edition.
[xi] Anderson, Doug; Farr, Bob; Kotan, Kay. Get Their Name: Grow Your Church by Building New Relationships (p. 4). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.
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- Anderson, Ken. Where to Find It In The Bible (A to Z Series). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition
- Reese, Martha Grace, Unbinding the Gospel, Real Life Evangelism, 2nd Edition 2008 Chalice Press, St Louis MO.
- The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. Dictionary.com http://www.dictionary.com/browse/gospel.
- Oxford University Press 2016 https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/gospel
- Farr, Bob; Kotan, Kay. Get Their Name: Coordinator’s Guide: Grow Your Church by Building New Relationships (Get Their Name series) Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.
- Richey, Russell E.; Rowe, Kenneth E.; Schmidt, Jeanne Miller. American Methodism: A Compact History. Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.
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