The Professional Evangelist - Part 1

As we continue to look at the history of evangelism in the United States we see a new pattern developing as it didn't take long for the Great Awakening to move beyond the walls of the church. Englishman George Whitefield (1715-1770) made several trips to America, preaching to crowds far too large to fit in any church building.  Whitfield who often preached on a daily basis to thousands at a time saw many converts.  

A friend and contemporary of Whitfield was Presbyterian minister Gilbert Tennent (1703-1764) whose father is known for his “log college” seminary training. Gilbert and his brothers John and William Jr. were passionate evangelists.  Gilbert, who gained recognition as a traveling evangelist in the northeast, followed Whitfield’s ministry in Boston and traveled from church to church preaching several times a day in Boston and the surrounding communities.

Like Whitfield, Gilbert was a passionate preacher who was once described as 

“Frequently both terrifying and searching” as in Edwardian fashion “exhibited the dreadful holiness, justice, law, threatening, truth, power, [and] majesty of God; and His anger with rebellious, impenitent, unbelieving and Christless sinners; the awful danger they were every moment in of being struck down to hell, and being damned forever; with the amazing miseries of that place of torment . . . It was not merely, nor so much, his laying open the terrors of the law and wrath of God, or damnation in hell; as the laying open their many vain and secret shifts and refuges, counterfeit resemblances of grace, delusive and damming hopes, their utter impotence, and impending danger of destruction; whereby they found all their hopes and refuges of lies to fail them and themselves exposed to eternal ruin, unable to help themselves, and in a lost condition.  This searching preaching was both suitable and principle means of conviction” [1].

The work of these itinerate evangelists was not without controversy as their zealous and creative methods caused a schism in the Presbyterian church commonly referred to as the “Old Side-New Side Controversy.”    The primary concern of those in the Old Side was the new evangelistic methods being widely used.  As a means to curb men like Gilbert Tennent, presbyteries placed restrictions on them by requiring approval prior to preaching outside of a church.  In addition, educational requirements for all men seeking ordination were implemented. The New Side, who often embraced these new methods, accused the Old Side of having no passion for the lost; some accused those on the Old Side of not being unconverted! Though only lasting sixteen years, the schism played into much larger changes that would be coming to America. 

Though the old school-new school controversy was quieted, the problem did not go away and continued to grow.  Magnetic and gifted populist preachers “associated virtue with ordinary people and exalted the vernacular in word, print, and song” [2].  The result was a collision of the canon of American religious history – deeply rooted in respectable intellectualism and cohesive institutions – with a populist religious chaotic situation led by men and women from the uneducated lower class.  Hatch adds: At the same time, British clergy were confounded by their own gentility in trying to influence working-class, America exalted religious leaders short on social graces, family connections, and literary education.  The religious activists pitched their messages to the unschooled and unsophisticated.  Their movements offered the humble a marvelous sense of individual potential and collective aspiration (1989:5).

Men like Francis Asbury, were part of this new movement and saw it as his obligation to condescend to people of low estate, while Peter Cartwright recast the gospel in familiar idiom.  Most notably, they welcomed the commoner into their ministry, “creating a cadre of preachers who felt and articulated the interests of the ordinary people” (1989:8).   These Methodist preacher/evangelists traveled the country speaking at camp meetings primarily held in a central rural setting where people traveled too and set up camp.  These camp meetings were new brands of revival marked by emotional excitement and bizarre manifestations such as shouting, barking, dancing, fainting and the jerks; all considered to be signs of the Holy Spirit’s work.  

To be continued . . . 

[1] W.L. Muncey Jr.
 1945 A History of Evangelism in the United States. Kansas City, Kansas: Central Seminary Press. (p.33)
[2] Hatch, Nation O.
1989    The Democratization of American Christianity.  New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. (p.5).

The Pastor Evangelist

As we look back at the history of evangelism in United States it is evident that the primary means has changed.  Early evangelistic efforts in the United States were centered on the local community and done through the efforts of the local church.  Men like Dutch Reformed Pastor Theodore Frelinghuysen (1692-1747) who upon coming to the colonies in the early 1700’s was saddened by the spiritual condition of the churches and preached the necessity of a “vital religious experience.”  A fervent evangelist, Frelinghuysen was in many ways a forerunner to the Great Awakening.

Frelinghuysen was influenced by Pia Desidera or “Heartfelt Desire for God-pleasing Reform” written by pietist Phillip Spencer in 1675.  The third section of this influential book was entitled Proposals to Correct Conditions in the Church, which included 1) a renewed focus on “a more extensive use of the Word of God” privately, to the family and studied in groups.  2) The priesthood of all believers with the goal to see more laity involved in the ministry of the church. 3) A greater emphasis on the believer putting their faith into practice, 4) and an avoidance of needless debate by placing love above dispute, “as no soul would be won through dispute.”  5) His longest proposal advocated a change in how pastors were trained as he emphasized the place of piety or personal spirituality along with that of formal training.  6) Last, he proposed that sermons use loving persuasion to edify rather than be displays of rhetoric or intellectual argument.

The most well-known evangelist of the First Great Awakening was New England pastor and evangelist Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758).  Edwards began his ministry as an apprentice under his grand-father Solomon Stoddard. When he later became the minister of that church in Northampton he too became concerned about the spiritual deadness in the church, and as a result preached a sermon on the doctrine of justification by faith alone that resulted in a tremendous work of the Holy Spirit.  This appears to have caught him by surprise as he wrote, “the spirit of God began extraordinarily to set in.  Revival grew, and souls did as it were come by floods to Christ.”  Edwards, who saw tremendous fruit in his evangelistic efforts, primary focus was a reliance on the work of the Holy Spirit as he faithfully preached in a church setting.    

Holistic Evangelism

As part of my teaching responsibilities at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando I teach several classes that fall under the category “practical theology.”  I will not bore you with a discussion on how I believe all theology should be practical, but go on to say one class that falls under that designation is Evangelism.  As required by our academic dean I had done my due diligence and submitted the syllabus for the class several months earlier.  This particular class was a summer intensive and therefore needed special attention.  As I reviewed the materials and prepared my lectures, I found myself highly skeptical of my own material!  I was going to make twenty plus students sit Monday through Friday from 9 to 4 for this?  Not only was it boring, but it was the “same ole stuff.”  Though I had consulted with a close friend and faithful evangelist – who interestingly was the one who came up with the two diagnostic questions used in Evangelism Explosion – something simply was not right. 

As someone who planted a church and spent over a decade training and coaching church planters, I had a good grasp of what methods of evangelism were working and what ones weren’t.  I understood the challenges of evangelism in a post modern, post Christendom context presented and was prepared to address that in the class.  Nevertheless, I was convinced that what I was offering would inform, but not motivate.  I scrapped the entire course outline and started over.     

As any good preacher should do, I set aside time to pray and reflect on what was going on in my heart.  Then it hit me.  I was not excited about the material because it was not addressing the issues in my own heart!  I was like a revival preacher condemning the evils of alcohol while sipping on whiskey in a Styrofoam cup to get me through the sermon!  How could I effectively teach others to do evangelism when it as not a rhythm in my own life.

Some of you may assume the professor teaching on a topic they no longer practice is typical seminary modus operandi, but in my case something had changed.  Looking back over my twenty five years of church ministry, which included youth ministry, church planting, and serving as a lead pastor, I have been honored to see people from every stage of life come to faith in Jesus Christ.  In fact, both students and parishioners have often heard me say that as a pastor my two favorite events are the birth of a new child, and the rebirth of convert.  Both are exhilarating and joyous occasions.   

So what changed in my life?  How had I gone over two years without seeing any conversions, or more poignantly, shared the Gospel?  Unfortunately, those two years pointed back to the time when I left my church ministry and started working at the seminary.   Prior to joining the seminary, I had served as the lead pastor of the church my wife and planted south west of Atlanta, Georgia.   There, we were surrounded by two groups of people.  Those who participated in our church, and an assorted mix of non-Christian friends we had come to love during our time there.  The non-Christian friends were a regular part of our lives, and they watched us as we lived our lives in front of them.  Please understand, these were not people we simply targeted to do some “life on life” evangelism with, they were our friends.  In fact, at one difficult point in the early years of our church plant, one of them heard that due to financial constraints we weren’t going to get paid that month.  One morning while I was mowing the grass behind our house, he stopped me, and said, “I made a little extra money this week and thought you could use this.”  After handing me an envelope he left.   Looking inside, I found a $1000 dollars in cash!  My family’s ministry story is riddled with accounts of non-Christians who loved on us!

It has long been our prayer that God would give us the grace so that our “daily lives may win the respect of outsiders” (1 Thessalonians 4:12).  And I believe God heard our prayer as we became a source of hope and comfort.  These “outsiders” were attracted to our lives and regularly asked us to pray for them, and sought counsel from us.   These friends introduced us to other friends, and when there was a funeral or a wedding, I was often invited to not just conduct it, but join in with the family.   

In moving to Orlando, it was my intent to establish new friendships in the community where we live.  I was convinced that working at the seminary, and not serving as a pastor would actually give more time to develop new relationships.  Much to my shame the opposite had happened as I let seminary work consume my life.  Without being aware of what was happening, I had not only moved to a new city, but for the first time in my ministry career I had moved into the Christian ghetto.  In fact, we had become so busy that hospitality in our home ceased to exist.  Oh, we had an excuse!  Not only were we too busy, but we had rented a 1950’s Florida style cottage in Winter Park as we looked for a home to purchase.  It was small, quirky, mustard colored; a house waiting to be torn down for a new more glorious “mcmansion” to be built in its place.  In other word’s we were living in the “hood” of our neighborhood!  

Our entire ministry was either at the seminary, preaching in different churches or the Sundays we did children’s church!  My time and energy was spent entirely on fellow Christians!  And I was going to teach a class on evangelism!  I was so convicted by this that I almost went down to witness to some homeless people. And I was only considering that because I had no trips planned where I could witness to the person sitting next to me on the plane!

I didn't end up doing any sniper evangelism, but rather spent time with the Father confessing the coldness of my heart and asking him to show me what to do with the class.  As I prayed, studied and reflected, God used my failure’s to put together a perspective on evangelism that is unique in the United States and Canada.  It is a model rooted in “being” rather than “doing.”  It does not require intense training, there is nothing you need to memorize, and is not just for those with the “gift” of evangelism. It is for every follower of Jesus. 

Over the coming months I am going to take you along with me on the journey of turning this class into a book.  It won't be a model for quick evangelism training in preparation for a short term mission trip or to work at a soup kitchen.  This project is for those who want to experience the Gospel in a new and deeper way and “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:18-19a).  It is for those who long to personally experience the re-birth of someone they deeply love.  This is for those of you want to join in the great adventure of seeing King Jesus “seek and save the lost.” 

Stay tuned as we start by looking back at how we got here . .  evangelistically speaking that is! 

Passing on the Big Stage

Below is an article for Bloomington, Illinois' The Daily Pantagraph about my late grandfather Rev. R.J. Zehr.  There is a lot that I admire about him - as seen from my earlier blog - however this article reminded me of his commitment to community or region where he served.  As you will see in the article, he was given the opportunity to a national radio program in the day when radio was king.  However, he passed on the "golden microphone" to say focused on the people with whom he lived, worked and played 

Looking back it is clear that he made the right decision.  Ture, he never got the name recognition of others in his era - many who were his friends - and as a result I am confident that you never heard of him.  Nevertheless, he got to know his people and his community and in the end had an incredibly fruitful ministry.  He earned the respect from those in and outside the church as he stayed focused on loving and serving the people right in front of him.

It has only been in recent years that I have come to appreciate his decision as I see countless men more concerned about their notoriety then they are about be faithful service to Jesus, His people and their community.  Yes, they get far too concerned with the number of Facebook friends or Twitter followers, but my primary concern is that they preach to the world wide web and not the people sitting right in front of them.  As result they miss the very people that God has called them to shepherd!

The next time you preach, will you pause and think about who you are REALLY preaching too?  If you are preaching to your web audience, why are you doing it?  Has God called you to that, or are you hoping to be discovered?  

10 Acres, 5 Cows, and 150 White Minorcas

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the impact that Ben Haden had on my life.  Another important pastor in my life was mom's father Rev. R.J. Zehr.  I doubt any of you have heard of him, and if he were still with us, he and I would probably have some interesting theological discussions . . . nevertheless he is one of my spiritual heroes!

Much of what I have come to appreciate about him came long after his death.  Oh don't get me wrong, he was a fun grandpa!  My deeper appreciation came after God called me to the life of a pastor. Grandpa Zehr was the son of Mennonite Pastor who migrated to central Illinois from Germany in the mid-nineteenth century.  He only had one year of formal training at Moody Bible Institute before beginning his pastoral ministry.  I believe East White Oak Mennonite Church, was his second and only church he served.  He and the church left the Mennonite denomination in the 1930s, and became East White Oak Bible Church.  He was there, and the church still growing when the Lord took him home in 1971.  

The article below which was published sometime in the late 1920's really needs no commentary.  Nevertheless, I am struck by his passion for ministry, and despite it being a large church for a rural setting, a modest or shall we say meager salary.  

Building A Healthy Team

The latest shenanigans on the Miami Dolphins are another reminder that talent alone does not make a winning team.  A single player acting out in self-absorbed verbal abuse hurts the entire team.  Several years ago we saw number one draft choice, professing Christian, Dwight Howard disrupt the Orlando Magic.   History reminds us time and time again, whether it is a sports team, a business or a church, talent alone does not make a successful team. 

Because healthy teams are essential to effective ministry in the church, it is crucial to take the time to build or re-build your staff or ministry teams.  Before you start to build a team, it is important to understand possible reason for team ineffectiveness.  An excellent resource on this top is Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  

Below is a chart that lays out the dysfunctions which build upon each other.

Absence of Trust: For a team to be healthy and effective there must be complete honesty and vulnerability.   Each team member must be open about their weaknesses and inform others when they make a mistake.   Each team member must truly “get” the Gospel and not seek to find value and worth through accomplishments.   The Gospel creates a community of grace, where the focus is Christ, not any individual team member.

Fear of Conflict:  If a team does not trust and respect each other, a team will not openly engage each other.  Lencioni writes, “Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas” (188).  If these types of debates and discussion do not go on there is the potential of missing important information.  Moralism can promote artificial harmony as it values external and superficial love.  The Gospel allows us to engage and be passionate because it is not about us, but the Kingdom!

Lack of Commitment: If the team is not rooted in the Gospel, resulting in a lack of trust, and no room for passionate debate, chances are, some team members will disengage and not fully “buy-in” to the decisions that are being made.

Avoidance of Accountability: “Without committing to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven people often hesitate to call their peers on actions that seam counterproductive to the good of the team” (189).

Inattention to Results:  When you don’t hold each other accountable, the team is no longer attentive to results.  Inattention to results “occurs when team members put their individual needs (such as ego, career development, or recognition) or even the needs of division about the collective goals of the team” (189).

How then do you build or re-build a healthy team?  Here are a couple suggestions:

1.    Cover the entire process in prayer asking that God would show you the right people for the team.

2.    Build the team around a purpose or mission.  Be concise on what you want the team to do, and recruit for that task.  Don’t simply look for volunteers, or have series of guilt laden appeals, be selective.  

3.    Once you have recruited the team you need to train them.  Don’t start the work until they are clear on their mission, as well as how to work as a team.  Don’t just assume they know how to work together.
a.   Remind them on how the Gospel is played out in community. This is essential for an environment of trust.
b.   Do a brief personality profile to help the team understand how people naturally interact with each other.  There are plenty of sources on line to do a quick Myers/Briggs or DISC test. 
c.   Walk through the dysfunctions that we just reviewed so they know in advance some ways the team can be ineffective.  

4.     If you are not the leader, make sure there is one.  The leader’s role is to make sure the meeting is planned and operates properly.  The leader keeps the team from moving into dysfunction.  

"Be Still"

With only 26 days to go in this hurricane season,  and it looks like we have been spared for this round!  In fact it has been an unusually quiet season . . .  and you won’t find any of us Floridians complaining about that! Yet it was just a year ago that the northeast was hit by hurricane Sandy.  While watching recent news coverage on Sandy’s first anniversary I was struck by the power of the storm and the extent of the damage she inflicted.  There are still neighborhoods trying to recover!  I can’t imagine how residents felt as the storm hammered their communities around them, many as they sat trapped in their homes! Can you imagine that feeling? There was little they could do but wait, hope and pray. They had absolutely no control of that hurricane or the destruction it would cause. 

Most of you are probably feeling a level of loss of control in your lives.  It may come from a financial problems, broken relationships, illness, loss of job….  Is there anything that you can do?  Yes, there is!  "Be still!" 

How is it that we can "be still" when life seems out of control?  We can be still because there is never a micro-second in time that our heavenly Father is not totally in control of every aspect of our lives.  We can "be still" because though it may seem that our lives are out of control, they are never out of His control. 

Yet to most of us theologian types, who cognitively understand the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, don't debater whether He is in control, but rather struggle with the fact that we are not in control.  We love to be in control!  We want life to go the way that we want it.  Thus when the storms of life come our way, we get upset because we lose control and we get upset at God because He let it happen.  As a result we are not only stressed out over the loss of control, but we are mad at God too!  There is definitely no stillness at that point!

Thus when the hurricanes of life hit and life goes out of control, take the time to confess your own personal control problem and then rest in the fact that you are a child of the Sovereign God who works all circumstances for your good!  Does it feel like your life is sliding out of control?  Take a few minutes, grab your Bible and meditate on Romans 8 and Psalm 34.  Then spend some time in worship by singing the great old hymn "Be Still My Soul."   

 Be still my soul:  the Lord is on they side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still my soul: thy best, thy heavenly friend
Through thorny ways lead to a joyful end.

Be still my soul:  thy God doth undertake.
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last. 

Be still my soul:  the waves and wind still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still my soul:  the hour is hasting on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, loves purest joys restored.
Be still my soul:  when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet again!