Local churches have had legendary battles over the temperature setting of thermostats. Who gets to control the temperature in the sanctuary: the pastor or the trustees? While a pastor can concede the temperature setting of the sanctuary thermostat to the trustees, he can never delegate the setting of the evangelistic thermostat of the church.
John Wesley was once asked, “Why do people come to hear you preach?” Wesley replied: “I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.” While historians debate the historicity of this account, Wesley’s life certainly reflected this reality. Like the apostles (post-Pentecost), John Wesley was a man on fire for the Lord. As pastors, are we living as though we are “on fire” for evangelism, or is too much of life lived at room temperature?
Following are some thoughts about how can we set a high evangelistic thermostat reading in our church.
- View your role as that of a player-coach. We are a coach who trains and equips others, but we must “be in the game” ourselves. We must practice what we preach. We must set the thermostat by example, not merely by exhortation.
- Share real life stories of your personal witnessing. I have regular gospel conversations in my church office, but I rarely share about these conversations from the pulpit. What I share are stories of how I have sought to bear witness of Christ outside the church walls—in my neighborhood, at a breakfast meeting, or on the golf course.
- Utilize regular testimony times. We regularly incorporate a “Faith Story” as part of our worship service. In addition to sharing how they came to Christ, we encourage persons to talk about how they are reaching out with Christ’s love to others. Providing occasions where church members can hear fellow believers talk about evangelism raises the evangelistic temperature of the church.
- Celebrate those who are reaching out. When someone comes to Christ through the witness of a church member, we celebrate that church member’s faithfulness. Jim Putnam, in his book Real Life Discipleship, has said, “What you celebrate your people will aspire We become what we celebrate.” Celebrate those who are witnessing.
- Calendar specific harvest days. I preach expository sermons verse by verse through books of the Bible. While I share the gospel each week as part of my message (and call people to respond to the gospel with repentance and faith), some passages of Scripture focus on the gospel more directly than others. When I am about to preach one of these passages, I alert my church members that this Sunday would be a great time to invite an unbeliever to come with them to the worship service (not that there is every really a bad time!).
- Provide regular training in sharing the gospel. I provide regular training in the use of various methods to share the gospel. I liken these different approaches to different tools in one’s toolbox. I encourage people to fill their witnessing toolbox with various approaches, so they have one they can pull out that fits their current witnessing opportunity.
- Present a life of witnessing as the normal Christian life. I believe there are two types of Christians and churches. The first says, “We can’t reach people—it is too difficult.” The second says, “With God’s help, we will reach people.” Both of them are right! Those who say “we can’t,” usually don’t. Those who say “with God’s help we can,” usually do.
- Emphasize that witnessing is fueled by the overflow of our daily walk with Christ. Jesus testified, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34) Reflect a love for Christ in your preaching and in all your conversations. To love Jesus is to love talking about Him with others.
A lot of things happen by accident, but evangelism isn’t one of them. We must be intentional in cultivating a Great Commission lifestyle. The church is the only institution in the world that exists primarily for those not yet a part of it. Pastors, let’s equip and encourage our people in personal witnessing. But first let’s model that commitment in our own lives, where we don’t end up conveying, “Do as I say, but not as I do.” Let’s determine that the evangelistic temperature in our church will be red-hot.
Timothy K. Beougher is the Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism and Associate Dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.