Is evangelistic preaching a lost art?
I am very concerned about the dearth of evangelistic preaching today. In many pulpits what is called evangelistic preaching is basically a gospel appeal to non-Christians tacked on at the end of sermons.
But where are the sermons that from beginning to end are ‘reasoning and explaining and proving from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ’? Where are the sermons that are prepared specifically to chase sinners out of every godless nook and cranny, until they fall on their knees before the cross of Christ?
Where are the sermons that wrestle with darkened consciences until they see their need for reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ? Where have the hell fire and brimstone sermons of a previous generation gone? Where are the likes of George Whitefield, the Wesley brothers, Howell Harris, Jonathan Edwards and Asahel Nettleton today?
Difficult to find
It is slowly becoming more difficult to find a preacher who can handle properly a season of evangelistic preaching in our churches, whereas if you want someone to come and handle a series on successful Christian living, there are preachers galore!
Yet when one looks at the apostle Paul’s parting words to Timothy, a young pastor in Ephesus, there is no doubt that one duty Timothy was implored not to neglect was that of evangelistic preaching.
Paul wrote: ‘But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry’ (2 Timothy 4:5). Timothy was told to do the work of an evangelist as part of discharging all the duties of his ministry.
We must do the same. In the midst of the arduous labour of teaching believers what to believe and how to live, we must also be busy in evangelistic labours. In the midst of leading the people of God in proper church living, we must also be leading sinners to Christ. It should not be one or the other; it should be both.
I have no doubt that one reason evangelistic preaching has been lost, especially in Reformed circles, is due to association with Arminianism and with its high-powered pressure tactics to get people ‘to the front’.
Anyone concerned to maintain a God-honouring ministry will want to keep as far away as possible from all that. And any basic study of church history will soon reveal that the ‘altar call’ is a relatively modern innovation, only going back to the eighteenth century at the most. So, we do well to reject it as a component of evangelistic preaching.
Yet, I fear that in seeking to keep a clear distance from this practice, we have thrown away the baby with the bath water.
Yes, we ought to abhor any form of manipulation — this only brings ‘goats’ into membership of Christ’s church and thus compromises the church’s witness in the world. But evangelistic preaching must be seen to be of the very warp and woof of our ministry.
Impacting personal evangelism
Sadly, the lost art of evangelistic preaching has resulted in the lost art of personal evangelism. Since church members are not seeing a passion for souls in the pulpit, they are losing it in the pews. As the pulpit, so goes the congregation.
The advantage with having regular evangelistic preaching in the pulpit is that Christians have a role model regularly before them on how to present the gospel effectively to non-believers.
A church can never rise higher than its pulpit. If the pulpit is doing badly in reaching sinners, the rest of the church will go the same way. This explains the dearth of soul winning today. We preachers are to blame!
Although we should be concerned with evangelistic preaching out there ‘in the highways and the byways’, where the sinners are, I also want to appeal for evangelistic preaching to those who attend church regularly.
Some people feel that this is unnecessary, because, they say, it is essentially believers who attend church today. But is that so?
Whereas in some countries very few non-Christians come to church, you still often have the families of church members and their visitors come with them to church. These need to hear the gospel, not as an appendage to a sermon tailor-made for believers, but as a message specifically aimed at them.
Evangelistic preaching in church also encourages church members to invite to church friends and work mates whom they are trying to reach. They are sure that, once the invitation is accepted, the invitee will certainly hear the full-orbed gospel.
Refreshing the saints
Finally, evangelistic preaching is edifying and refreshing to the saints. A fresh presentation of the cross of Christ in the context of evangelistic preaching has often made Christians say afterwards, ‘You know, if I were not a Christian, I would have yielded my life to Christ today!’
They see once again the folly and emptiness of the non-Christian life, and fountains of love for Christ gush forth afresh as the eye of faith sees his bleeding form on the cross.
The presentation of the ‘milk-of-the-gospel’ doctrines of redemption, the new birth, union with Christ, justification and the like, nourish the Christian’s soul as much as the strong meat of the Word. So, true evangelistic preaching is good for Christians too, as long as it is not the only diet they have to live on.
The author is pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia, and an
international conference speaker