As I look back on my life, especially being born into an Irish (nominal) Catholic home in New York City, I firmly believe that I am a Christian today because of a chain events that were set in motion by the sovereignty and providence of God. Let me explain.
One day my sister received an invitation to attend a small church over in a place called Westbury although we lived in the poorer part of town called Levittown. Can you guess the mode of transportation that took my sister from our house to the church? The church's bus ministry. Because the church had a heart to see people come to know Christ, they implemented the church bus ministry as a tool to accomplish that goal. This tool proved to be effective in my sister's life.
About a year or so from the time my sister started attending this church, I noticed something different about my sister. I (and my mom) could see that God was changing her. This sparked an interest in my mom to go back to church, and my mother decided to visit a church renewal service where someone prayed with her to trust and receive Christ.
We moved to Florida and my mother encouraged me—no, it was more like forced me—to go to a student ministry camp. While at the camp, I heard the gospel and responded to Christ through repentance and faith.
In just about three short years God used a bus ministry, a renewal service, and a student ministry camp to bring my sister, my mother, and me to Christ.
So, I'm a firm believer in evangelistic tools.
Or to state it another way, I'm a firm believer in using tools to increase evangelistic effectiveness. I'm also a firm believer the effectiveness of evangelistic tools should be evaluated from time-to-time. That said, I'm afraid many of our present tools have become less effective.
The Move From Effective Tools to Ineffective Rules
The reality is that we often associate evangelistic effectiveness with evangelistic tools. I've spoken to numerous churches and groups struggling with plateau and stagnation. When I ask them what they can do to increase their evangelistic endeavors, they almost always resort to evangelistic methods.
Some say they need to purchase radio time; some say they need to hold another revival; some suggest they need to resurrect the 'ole' bus ministry; some believe an intentional focus needs to be placed back on Sunday school; some suggest pulling out a blank canvas pad in hopes of writing the next successful evangelistic track; and some continue to propose a change in music, a renovation of the building, or a change in style so that people will be more comfortable inviting others to a more contemporary place to hear the gospel.
In brief, the answers suggest they equate evangelism with evangelistic tools.
Most people who have been in church for a while have either been impacted greatly by a specific tool or have seen the positive impact divinely generated by such tools.
Nevertheless, when we equate evangelism with tools, we expose how we have turned our tools into rules.
When we turn our tools into rules, we minimize the essence of evangelism and weaken our overall evangelistic effectiveness. There are at least three ways people turn evangelistic tools into evangelistic rules.
First, people who turn tools into rules say, "I have to have this in order to do that."
When people believe they must have a specific tool to effectively evangelize, they idolize the tool. The tool itself becomes like a golden calf. Believers must remember that it's not the tool that has the power, but the Spirit of God working through both the person and the tool.
For years people have seemingly turned the latest effective evangelistic track, book, or training into the latest infomercial for evangelism. Promoters of evangelistic products promise to increase evangelistic effectiveness if you use their track, read this book, or attend that training. They speak as though everything is a game-changer in evangelism. While some products or concepts (tools) are helpful, I am not naïve enough to believe all of them are game-changers.
The truth is that the only game-changer in evangelistic effectiveness rests in one person telling another person how Jesus has radically changed their life. Reliance on a tool can result in a less effective effort.
Ed Stetzer is the executive producer of LifeWay Research. For the original article, visit edstetzer.com.
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