28 February 2008

The Minister as Evangelist?

The idea of 'the minister as evangelist' seems to have been floating around cyberspace for awhile. Specifically, the idea that a church (a congregation, a fellowship) is 'successful' when it is winning new converts and 'unsuccessful' when it is not and that the minister's main task - what we employ her/him for - is evangelism.

I have some thoughts on this but I want first to stress that I'm not responding to a real life situation; I'm not being told that I'm a good or bad minister on the basis of my conversion statistics, so no need to email me and give me pastoral care.

First of all, making converts isn't the job of the minister, it's the job of the congregation. Theologies about 'the priesthood of all believers' aside, research shows that people join churches primarily because the congregation strikes them as a place where they can make friends.

When I first started going back to church in my early 30s, this was the big hurdle I had to overcome. How did I overcome it? By the grace of God, I told myself 'Well Pam, you'll probably have to go to church for about two years before people treat you in a friendly way and stop shutting you out.' And that was pretty much my experience. For the first two years, people were wary of getting too close or being too friendly.

I wonder how many people new to church - or coming back to church - would stick it out for two years feeling that people in the congregation didn't particularly care if they were there or not? Not many people, I reckon. Maybe this was a particularly bad experience and maybe I only stuck it out because I expected to do so. But I think it's something to learn.

Also, research shows that one of the biggest reasons people leave congregations is feeling shut out by cliques. That's basically the opposite of staying because they make friends.

Additionally, I do believe that there is a huge cultural barrier to church with many young people not even wanting to go into a church building these days. Try herding the baptismal party into church; I've learnt to start 10 minutes before the service because people unused to church really don't want to enter the building. I don't think most church people appreciate this phobia.

The purveyors of what I call 'The Spiritual Prosperity Gospel' repeat the mantra 'If you preach the Real Gospel (tm), people will flock to your church. ' It doesn't work like that. If the church is short of ministers and it wants more people to serve as ministers, making a realistic job description is a good way forward. Don't expect every minister to be Billy Graham and Mother Teresa rolled into one. Don't expect them to single-handedly defy cultural trends. And don't expect them to singlehandedly 'do' discipleship for the entire congregation.

8 comments:

Will said...

Fantastic post, Pam! I just posted something on the continuing conversation, and all I could think of when I read your post is, 'I wish I had said that!'

DaveW said...

Pam,

Good points.

cometothewaters said...

It helps if you are a raging introvert. Then people leaving you alone for two years is quite okay.

Indeed, it is when they start getting friendly that you get nervous.

Doorman-Priest said...

Absolutely and Amen to that.

Sally said...

As a student minister who would also acknowledge that the work of evangelism is one that I am deffinetly called to, I would say that ministers can indeed be evangelists, but that making converst is neither the work of the minister nor the congregation but of the Holy Spirit!

If we can only get past the idea that we need to put bums on pews then I think we wopuld be freere to be the people God has called us to be. I am happy to acknowledge that for some ministers the primary gifting is pastoral, or perhaps teaching, for me it is evangelism... maybe we need to drop our shoulds and oughts and allow the Holy Spirit to build the body of Christ in a particular place as Shje sees fit!

PamBG said...

Well, that post struck a chord!

cometothewaters, LOL! But it doesn't really fit with our theology of 'God loves everyone' which needs to be acted out.

Sally, you are correct. Making converts is the job of the Holy Spirit and you are also correct that we all have our different gifts; the different gifts of different ministers need to be valued.

Please don't take this the wrong way but I'll be interested to see how you find it when you leave a structure primarily geared toward evangelism and enter a structure (circuit ministry) where one has to find a balance between evangelism, pastoral care and mission and where the congregation are committed to 'none of the above'. I wonder if this is why many people with evangelism gifts opt out of circuit ministry entirely.

Sally said...

Interesting Pam, lots of people have told me not to go into Circuit ministry for exactly the reasons you state! Right now my job is 50% pastoral, the inevitable paper work and then evangelistic...when I speak to presbyters I hear different stories from each one, and it seems that each one sees their ministry in a different way!

I have no doubt that I will reamin an evangelist at heart, but that that role will come into balance with everything else that is needed... and possibly to my frustration!!!

PamBG said...

Sally,

I actually think that institutional church structures mitigate against evangelism in our current culture, but I'm not sure I'm prepared to have a full and free discussion 'in public', as it were.

I think that witnessing to the Gospel and 'converting' people to church-going are possibly two entirely different things. In the past, I think that the second step wasn't necessary because people naturally joined organisations - any organisation, not just church - where like-minded people congregated.

Putting bums on pews is not the same as witnessing. And I can point to at least one person I know (in person, so this is not a side-swipe at any blogger) who puts a premium on 'bums on our pews' over actual evangelism.

I did an awful lot more evangelism in secular employment than I do now. And I think it was because people were intrigued with a peer who treated colleagues, clients and suppliers with determined fairness. They knew I was a preacher and wanted to talk to me about God. I talked to hundreds of people about the Gospel.

Now people tread on eggshells, worried that they are going to 'get it wrong'. I found out at a Church Council the other day - and I don't think this applies to me personally - that Stewards were worried that their vestry prayers weren't 'good enough'. I told people that any prayer offered from the heart was 'good enough' for God and good enough for me.

I digress. But perhaps I have painted a picture?