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December 26, 2008

In order for something to be strong, the foundations must be solid. This statement also applies to personal evangelism of a pastor. What are the foundations of a strong pastoral evangelism? Prayer, solid preaching of the Word, and strategic outreach are the basis for pastoral evangelism. This truth remains clear: it is a holistic effort.
If there is an essential element the pastor needs above all else to be an effective evangelist it is prayer. “Prayer is vital because it is the heart of Christianity.”  This conclusion has led church growth advocates to state “There is simply no more important principle in church growth [by conversion] than prayer.” Without it, the life-pulse of a church will begin to weaken and eventually die. If the pastor is to care for the souls of his community, he must be a man of prayer.
What kind of praying do evangelistic pastors need to do? What is involved in effective praying, and how much is needed? The answer to these questions is quite simple, but often overlooked. Spirit-led corporate, individual, and warfare prayer are essential if a pastor wants to be an effective witness in his evangelistic endeavors.
Prayer must, first and foremost, be led by the Spirit. If the pastor is not seeking the leadership of God’s Spirit in prayer, then his evangelistic efforts will have been in vain. God’s will, not the pastor’s, is the only one He will bless with fruit. God will place specific individuals and groups on the pastor’s mind that He wants to call to Himself. Scripture is very clear about seeking the leadership of the Spirit in prayer. The Bible does not command believers to pray, but that they pray in the Spirit. “Keep praying in the Spirit,” and “Pray at all times in the Spirit” are clear Scriptural commands. Not to pray in the Spirit is sin. Why? Because without His help, the pastor will ask amiss or have unfocused prayers. Even Christian leaders lack the wisdom in themselves to discern God’s thoughts concerning prayer. “The Spirit helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should.” His thoughts and ways are so contrary to sinful man’s ambitions that James says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let Him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” If the Spirit is not leading the prayers, the pastor will not see a harvest of souls for the kingdom.
Corporate praying is also an important aspect of the evangelistic pastor’s role. If he is to be as effective as he can evangelistically, he must also lead his people in praying for conversions. His example is crucial in making evangelism a priority. Studies show that “few declining churches have good corporate prayer ministries.” This type of “prayer was the very source of power for the explosive [evangelistic] growth of the early church.” The early church faced many dangers and hindrances to gaining converts. The leaders, which consisted of a small group of disciples and apostles, joined in prayer and literally changed the course of history. When the church comes together under strong evangelistic leadership to seek God’s will in the conversion of men, He blesses. “The goal is to have a church where prayer permeates its fabric. As a result, men and women will be saved. Not every church is a house of prayer, but every church can have an effective prayer ministry” for the lost. The pastor will be an even more effective witness through his church if he gets them to pray for men’s salvation.
Scripture speaks about the necessity of unity among the believers. If he cannot get them to pray together, they will fail as an evangelistic church. They may enjoy meeting together but it will be more for social reasons than the concern for the lost. Corporate prayer often shows the sensitivity of the church in regards to evangelism. Yet, corporate prayer for the lost can also be a reflection of the pastor’s priority for personal evangelism. The only way to develop corporate prayer is for a lifestyle of prayer to first develop in the pastor.
Individual prayer for the lost is very important to moving the church to an evangelistic mindset. Even if the members are not gifted prayer warriors, the pastor needs to communicate that everyone can contribute in praying for other’s salvation. Sadly, many Christians have never been taught to pray consistently for a fruitful harvest. It is not surprising that many of the prayers heard in church are often formal and repetitive. If the pastor desires to do the best he can in personal evangelism, he must teach and lead the church into being men and women of prayer for non-Christians.
Another dimension of prayer the pastor needs to focus on is warfare prayer both in his life and in leading his church. When the church begins to be Spirit-led in its praying, the enemy takes notice. His desire is to thwart the saving plans and purposes of God. Since He cannot get to God directly, he will attack God’s church in their evangelistic effectiveness. How has God called the church to fight? “Prayer must be one of the principal weapons in the warfare against those powers that would impede the growth of the church.” It is important to note that “Spiritual warfare is not just defensive; it is offensive.” The pastor’s goal is to claim souls from a life of sin and bondage through warfare prayer.
Sometimes the pastor needs to lead the church to take a defensive stand and pray for protection and/or deliverance from the enemy’s attempts to blind people to the truth of the gospel, yet believers are not called to live in fear. Pastors need to teach Christians that they are ‘more than conquerors’ because ‘greater is He that is in them than he that is in the world.’ If believers will put on the full armor of God, they will be able to continue to prayerfully march as God’s army and win men’s hearts through love. The pastor will then be an effective evangelist as seen through the efforts of the church. It is a misconception that only some types of praying are warfare prayer; the truth is “All prayer is related to spiritual warfare.”
What does the pastor need to pray for? He needs to pray for boldness, guidance, and power of conviction in his witness. Without boldness, all desire to continue in evangelism will soon cease. The constant barrage of the enemies attacks, life’s circumstances, and personal sin will drain the pastor of all will to witness. With specific prayer for boldness, the believer can have the courage of the Holy Spirit. Without it, his own personal fears will paralyze his evangelistic effectiveness.
The pastor absolutely needs vision and guidance from God if he is to fulfill His will. He needs a God-sized vision to meet the God-sized needs of salvation in his world. How can a pastor know where to go or what to do without guidance? Paul had this same problem. He had thought he would go and witness in Asia but the Holy Spirit forbade him to speak there. He also tried to go into Bithynia but the Spirit stopped him. “Through prayer [the pastor] can discover what He wants [him] to do, where He wants [him] to do it, and when He wants [him] to do it.”
If the pastor wants to grow his church through conversions, why not pray for it? James 4:2 says, “You do not have because you do not ask.” This may sound simplistic, but how often is it overlooked? Pastors seem to expect God to save people because they show up. Many forget that there are other voices in society crying for a hearing. “If we cannot prevail with men for God, we will, at least, endeavor to prevail with God for men.”
Another area pastors could pray for in relation to their witness is to have power. Many converts seem to be the result of a program or manipulation. This scenario is evidenced by the lack of fruit produced in people’s lives. Today, many pastors have the best advantages with media, supplies, and strategies, but lack spiritual power in their evangelism. The New Testament Christians did not have any of these, but still made an enormous impact on the world. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:5, “We did not come to you in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” It is going to take Holy Spirit power to overcome human barriers, convict men of sin, and regenerate men’s hearts. Pastors need methods and strategies, but they are no substitute of being empowered to make God’s glory known to all men.
Related to the need for prayer to be an effective evangelist is the necessity for Spirit-led biblical preaching. Many pulpits today are filled with storytellers. The expository sermon is almost a relic of the past. Why have so many abandoned the old ways? Is the lack of Biblical preaching really related to why people are not being saved? “Is it not clear, as you take a bird’s eye view of church history, that the decadent periods and eras in the history of the Church have always been those periods when preaching had declined?” It is apparent that some ministers have stopped believing in the authority of the Scriptures and forgotten the purposes of preaching. “To the New Testament writers preaching stands as the event through which God works.” Faith is created through the preaching of the word.
Many men have put their thumb on the need for solid preaching to be a strong evangelist. In their minds, preaching was the primary means by which God would bring conversions. One seminary president said, “The word preached rather than the preaching of the word accomplishes heaven’s purposes.” A church growth advocate concluded that, “Our research shows that absolutely nothing is of greater importance to evangelistic growth than the preaching of the Word.” A well-known preaching professor even said, “A power comes through the word preached that even the inerrant written word cannot replace.” What is even more amazing is that “God Himself spoke through the personality and message of a preacher (Jesus Christ) to confront men and women and bring them to Himself.” Surely, “It is no small matter to stand up in the face of a congregation, and to deliver a message of salvation or damnation, as from the living God, in the name of the Redeemer.”
People need a clear message from God to bring change to their life. Only by preaching the Bible for what it is – the inspired inerrant Word of God – will it make an impact on the salvation of men and women in society. Only by holding to a high view of Scripture will preaching regain its ability to convert men. Without Biblical-based preaching, people will only be members of a social club rather than being born again into the kingdom of God.
The purpose of preaching is not to make people better citizens and neighbors. Nor is it supposed to help build self-esteem and give individuals a good booster shot to help get through life. The first goal of preaching is to bring life to those who are spiritually dead. Romans 10:13-15 states that only those who believe will be saved. But in order for people to believe they must have heard the message, and this takes preaching. The spoken Word of God brings something out of nothing. God spoke creation into existence, and His preached Word gives spiritual life to those who are dead in sin. A pastor’s evangelism must include biblical based preaching if he wants to see people changed for the glory of God.
When a man of God empowered by the Spirit, opens the Scriptures to people and exhorts them with passion, a change of heart is possible. A minister does not have the oratorical skills to change men’s hearts; God has ordained through preaching to kill and make alive, to convict and cleanse, and to bring low and lift up. The only authority the minister has is to speak, “Thus saith the LORD.” If ministers will stick to this simple task, God will honor the message. God has promised: “My Word shall not return to Me empty, and without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”
A final area the pastor needs to take seriously in order to be evangelistically effective is strategic outreach. The pastor needs to lead by example in total community penetration. Those within a specified area around the church and/or the pastor’s home are to be seen as potential converts. Deciding whom to focus on is only part of a strategic outreach. How and when to reach these people are other issues that need to be addressed in the strategy. If a pastor does not have a plan or goal, he will accomplish exactly what he set out to do – nothing.
Prayer, sound preaching, and strategic outreach are the basics for any pastor to be an effective witness for the gospel. If a pastor does not know where to start, a godly man gave some great advice: “What the church needs today is not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use-men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men.”
Arnold, Clinton. 3 Crucial Questions about Spiritual Warfare. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997.
Baxter, Richard. The Reformed Pastor. Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 1997.
Bounds, E.M. Power Through Prayer. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971.
Chapell, Bryan. Christ-Centered Preaching. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994.
Lloyd-Jones, Martyn. Preaching and Preachers. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971.
Rainer, Thom. The Book of Church Growth. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1993.
Rainer, Thom. Effective Evangelistic Churches. Nashville: Broadman &Holman, 1996.
Reid, Alvin. Introduction to Evangelism. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1998.
Spurgeon, Charles. Lectures to My Students. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995.
Terry, John Mark. Church Evangelism. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1997.

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