Can We Talk? The Story of One Texas Church's Road to Evangelism
We often find that God does his greatest work out of times of difficulty. For me as a pastor, 2013 was a difficult year. Our community was facing rapid demographic changes that were bringing transition to our own church membership. Large numbers of first-generation immigrants were moving to our area, and increasing lostness was apparent. Just a few miles away was a Muslim Prayer Center, where reportedly more than 3,000 worshipers of Allah gathered weekly.
During this time, I felt a strange sense of emptiness in my own role as senior pastor of this historic and strong congregation and a nagging sense of deficiency in how we mobilized our congregation with the gospel. We weren’t actively sharing the gospel and reaching those who might never attend our church. And if we didn’t do it, who would?
That summer, I received an invitation to preach the upcoming Convention Message of the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore. The timing was ironic. As I prayed, I felt the Lord saying to me that he would show me what to preach, but that it wouldn’t simply be another message; rather, it would be a life-altering shift as he said, “You will live this.” I had no idea what this meant.
What happened that year changed my world. God brought great definition and clarity to my role as a leader of our congregation with the central focus of sharing Christ. He moved me to form a plan to equip our people to have gospel conversations. Our congregation responded, and in one year alone we saw over 300 people trained to share the gospel. We did this through a very simple way of sharing Christ called, “Can We Talk?”
We’ve now taken more than 700 people through our six-week equipping. This has resulted in thousands of gospel conversations outside our church walls and many decisions for Christ.
Seven Convictions that Changed Our Evangelism Ministry
Let me share seven key convictions and actions that changed my ministry—and our church culture—when it came to evangelism.
1. God convicted me that the senior pastor was the key. Specifically, he convicted me that I was the problem. If I did not personally lead from my role in the area of evangelism, our church would never embrace it whole-heartedly.
The conviction came from 2 Timothy 4:5, where the Apostle Paul admonishes young Timothy, who is pastoring the church at Ephesus: “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” When I realized I was disobedient to doing the “work of an evangelist,” I turned away from my apathy and embraced this definition of pastoral leadership. As a pastor, I faced a crossroads where I had to stop talking about equipping people to share the gospel and start doing it.
2. I came to grips with a theological and practical truth regarding the gospel. Here’s the truth: The gospel has enough power to change the world. How deeply we believe this is revealed by what we do with the gospel. To believe it and not make every effort to mobilize the gospel is to betray either one’s lack of belief or our lack of compassion for the lost. We began to embrace this as a theological and practical truth.
3. We realized our church had to own the deficiency of the gospel in our local culture. If my community didn’t know the gospel, it would be because I didn’t lead well and our church didn’t mobilize the gospel. We’re placed where we are by the sovereignty of God, and by that same sovereignty people from all over the world are coming to our community.
4. We redefined gospel-centeredness. Christians in America have been in a decade of relying on books, preaching, and conferences focused on the gospel, and yet we have seen little real movement in gospel-conversations outside the walls. We say we’re gospel-centered, but are we? Our own definition of gospel-centeredness must address how we share the good news. A gospel-centered church is not one where the preacher preaches the gospel, but where the people share the gospel. This is our end game.
5. We settled on a plan for training our people to share Christ. Having a repeatable plan that is doctrinally robust and conversationally simple is a huge part of mobilizing people. If you want something to multiply, make it reproducible. “Can We Talk?” gave us that plan and our people are easily able to learn and share conversationally with a hands-on training approach. Without a strong plan, a church will never multiply witnesses.
6. We began to see our community as our primary mission field. Somewhere along the way, missions became ‘cool’ and evangelism ‘not so cool.’ But the world came to our doorstep—as it is coming to yours. How much time do you spend thinking of how to reach those who may never attend your services? How often do you pray about the lostness around you, and have you come to grips with the fact that if you don’t tell them about Christ, no one will? We must see everyday people as our mission field and focus.
7. We dedicated ourselves to training our staff and lay leadership. If the leaders don’t lead, will the rest of the congregation ever share Christ? We know the answer. For us, knowing and sharing the gospel has become the bottom rung of leadership. If we’re unable do that, can we really be trusted to make key decisions, to teach the Word, to lead our flock?
In 2014, our church allowed us to begin a non-profit organization called One Conversation, Inc., which trains pastors and leaders to equip their people to share Christ through one-day conferences hosted around the nation. Increasing numbers of churches in more than a dozen states now use “Can We Talk?”; our prayer continues to be that God would kindle gospel movements here and around the world.
It all begins with a pastor who has a passionate desire to see the gospel move from the hearts of his people to the lives of those around them. At the end of life, we’ll stand before him to give an account of our stewardship of the gospel. I want to fulfill the ministry of the gospel in such a way that thousands are enabled to share such incredible news with a desperate and dying world. We can reach our communities for Christ, but it will take all of us to do it, and it will take all we have. But isn’t that what the gospel is all about?