Of Course Evangelism is a Spiritual Gift

Every so often I hear someone make the statement that evangelism is not a spiritual gift.  Usually this is said in an effort to keep Christians from thinking that they are off the hook when it comes to sharing their faith just because they do not feel particularly gifted in evangelism.  The intention is good.  Lots of Christians either really believe that it is someone else’s job to do evangelism, or they just don’t care that they are neglecting their job.

The Bible is clear.  We are all called to evangelize.  Jesus did not place any limitations on The Great Commission.  He spoke directly to His disciples, but His words are to be obeyed by all Christians until He returns.  So, I am not arguing that only some Christians are called to evangelize.  I am arguing that the call of all Christians to evangelize does not eliminate the possibility that there could be a gift of evangelism.

Ephesians 4:11-12 says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”

Sometimes this passage is cited when people say that evangelism is not a spiritual gift.  It is argued that Paul lists several offices in the passage.  He is not listing spiritual gifts.  I agree with that understanding of the text.  But do those called to these offices not have special spiritual gifts that equip them for these tasks?  Regardless of whether you are a cessationist or continuationist, we all know that prophecy is a spiritual gift.  Would we not expect a prophet to have the gift of prophecy?  Is anyone arguing that teaching is not a spiritual gift?  Surely we expect those who teach to have this gift.  Why would we not expect evangelists to have a special gift of evangelism?

Think about this with me in a slightly different way.  Romans 12:6-8 lists service, generosity, and mercy as spiritual gifts.  Is anyone arguing that only those with the gift of service are required by God to serve?  Is anyone arguing that only those with the gift of generosity are required by God to give?  How about mercy?  Surely we would recognize that it is required of all Christians to show mercy to others.

Perhaps you might object and say, “But the Bible doesn’t mention a gift of evangelism.  The Bible clearly lists service, generosity, and mercy as spiritual gifts.”  That of course is true.  We’ve already seen that Ephesians 4:11 is talking about the office of evangelist not a gift of evangelism.  However, I do not understand any of the lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament to be exhaustive.  In fact, I do not think we can develop an exhaustive list of spiritual gifts simply by combining the individual lists that we find throughout the New Testament.  So, I do believe that there is a spiritual gift of evangelism.

Consider Billy Graham for a moment.  The man led many crusades and saw thousands of people come to faith in Jesus as a result of his ministry as an evangelist.  Can we really say that he was not particularly gifted by the Holy Spirit in a way that equipped him to lead so many to faith in Jesus?  Maybe you have a friend in your church who is able to turn a conversation about the weather into a conversation about Jesus with seemingly little effort.  Most of us find such conversations challenging.  Would you not say that your friend has the gift of evangelism?

Again, none of this lets anyone off the hook.  Whether evangelism comes easy to you or not, you are called to evangelize.  It’s part of the job description as a Christian.  May we become increasingly faithful in fulfilling this call on our lives.

What do you think?  Is evangelism a spiritual gift?  Why or why not?

“Called?” Then you’re more likely to experience burnout.

The article had the headline, Beware work that’s your ‘calling.’ The subheading was, You could be prime for burnout, risks to health.

OK, that gets my attention.

See if you think these quotes make sense:

Churches need to help staff temper their passion and “deal constructively” with challenges inherent in their work.

Lay leadership needs to be alert to their staff members having an overwhelming sense of defeat or emotional toll that their work exacts…

Church staff need encouragement and reminders of the little victories along the way.

Prospective church staff need realistic information about the challenges inherent in the job.

Actually the article, not linkable at the moment, was in my local newspaper and was completely secular. In the quotes above I have substituted ecclesiastical terms for the secular language. Instead of “Management needs to help…” I wrote “Churches need to help…” and so on for each one.

The article was a journalistic summary of research by some business professors who studied workers in animal shelters. These people were found to deeply care about their work with animals and to have a burning passion for their job. The gist of the article was that such “called” workers, and this is the term used by the academics, “are more likely to leave their jobs than workers who take a more practical approach to employment.” 

In our work, and I recognize that some object to any comparison of secular jobs to serving the Lord and His church as pastor or staff, one constant is that there needs to be a deep sense of calling. I agree even though any calling is inherently subjective.

What clergy and prospective clergy might learn from the research looks similar to what might be learned by secular workers: Be passionate but also sensible and pragmatic; there are difficulties and challenges inherent in the work; try and temper your emotional investment in the work with a sober evaluation of what such entails.

LifeWay puts out a good bit of material on burnout and clergy stress. Their research reported that only “one percent of pastors abandon the pulpit each year.” I don’t know how this compares with other occupations but the article on the research said that “few” quit. Burnout was down in the list of reasons for quitting and was given as a reason 10% of the time but I’d expect that 100% of us get in the neighborhood occasionally.

Their articles generally follow the template, “‘Seven ways to avoid burnout” or “Five things a church can do to help their pastor avoid burnout” and the like and get a bit tiresome to me but here are a few things worth considering:

The pastor or staff needs more than a couple of Sundays away from the pulpit and church each year.

A church near me is in the process of calling a new pastor. Their agreement calls for the standard two weeks paid vacation and four additional Sundays away for revivals, mission trips, conventions, conferences and the like. Take them all. You need the time away. Your church will manage without you even if you are in the pulpit only 46 Sundays a year. The megapastors can take every July or August off. You can’t. But I’d bet most congregations would accept the combination of vacation and other reasons for absence.

There’s nothing wrong with a sabbatical and a lot of things right about one.

After five or ten years faithful service perhaps your church would look favorably on a longer absence, could be several Sundays or a couple of months. Negotiate. I’d be the pastor could find allies for this. Of course, this presumes longer pastorates.

Find some things in ministry that you can look on with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

One thing about cutting my grass is that when I’m done, I can look back at it with the satisfaction that I’ve accomplished something. The reality of the pastorate is that often the humble and faithful pastor cannot finish a Sunday, or a week or a month, and look back and see what he has accomplished. A neighboring pastor would occasionally share the frustrations and difficulties of their church and work. The church was struggling, had been for a long time, and he was also. While the closest megachurch that had gone from 20 people to several thousand was the expected pattern for success, more realistic goals should probably be set. I advised him that while the Lord had him in that church, it might be helpful for him to find a few small things that he could accomplish, like mowing the lawn, where he could see that he did something.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a realistic look at the challenges and opportunities of your work.

Brethren, we can’t all be megapastors, seminary professors, entity executives, denominational workers, or make a living with an independent ministry. Most of the jobs are church staff. The average size for an SBC church is around 125 in primary weekly worship attendance. The median size is around 70. The pastor has a tough job. His opportunity for landing a much larger and better paying church is limited. You are required, as a part of your work, to deal with difficult people, lazy people, weird people, and folks that just ain’t right. If you want to see what churches are paying clergy who have a master’s degree and a decade of experience, take a look at the LifeWay Compensation Study, if you dare. Trigger warning: you might not like what you find. But it’s a calling, right?

So, what the few, the called, can learn from animal shelter workers. Clergy too. In another context one might compare the two jobs and find not a few similarities.

Like Adrian Rogers used to say: Don’t back up, put up, or shut up…until you’re taken up. And while you’re at it, take care of yourself.

 

 

Real Numbers: SBC In Free-Fall Compared to Southern Population, But Green Shoots Are Everywhere

We need a Southern Missiology combined with faith in Christ and manifesting in personal sacrifice for the sake of the gospel and the people among us.

We all know about the flatlining and then declining numbers of the SBC related to baptisms, church membership, and worship attendance. We’ve talked about them for years, heard Ed Stetzer’s warnings years ago (“facts are our friends”), and we’ve seen it with our own eyes. While SBC megachurches are still doing well numbers wise, there continues to be consolidation going on, churches struggling, and many churches in steep decline. With the new numbers set to come out in the next few weeks, I thought some overall analysis might be helpful.

From last year’s ACP report:

While the number of SBC-related congregations increased (up 294), reported membership declined more than 200,000, down 1.32 percent to 15.3 million members. Average weekly worship attendance declined by 1.72 percent to 5.6 million worshippers.

Southern Baptists also experienced a decline in baptisms, down 3.3 percent to 295,212. Reported baptisms have fallen eight of the last 10 years. The ratio of baptisms to total members decreased to one baptism for every 52 members.

“God help us all! In a world that is desperate for the message of Christ, we continue to be less diligent in sharing the Good News,” said Frank S. Page, SBC Executive Committee president and CEO. “May God forgive us and give us a new passion to reach this world for Christ.”

If you look at those numbers more closely, the SBC had 414,657 baptisms in 2000. In 2015, we had 295,212. That’s a 29% decline. In 2005, we had 16.6 million Southern Baptists. In 2015, we had 15.3 million. That’s an 8% decline. Now, we all know that those numbers have been inaccurate for a long time, so the decline might partially reflect more accuracy in reporting overall numbers, but it is still a decline of 1.3 million in one way or another. We can only work with the numbers we actually have.

Average weekly worship attendance is down to 5.6 million people. It was over 6 million a decade or so ago, if memory serves. I have not found the actual numbers online, so I could be wrong. That is also a sketchy number because people might be heavily involved in a church and not actually be there every Sunday due to travel, illness, etc. We live in a very mobile society. But, even the most generous assessment of those numbers show that they are way down.

However, we do now have over 20,000 students in the six SBC seminaries, up from around 15,000 students over a decade ago. Church planting is increasing, so perhaps those seminary students will plant new churches? Replace aging pastors in established churches? Go into the regular workforce as missionaries in a variety of vocations? Lots of possibilities there, as well as questions.

When you look at these current numbers and compare them to past numbers, they show a significant decline. But, when you look at these numbers and compare them to the increasing population of the U.S. South, where the vast majority of SBC churches and members reside, we see not just a flat-lining or a decline, but we see a massive free fall.

The first map shows us what the U.S. Census calls the “US South.” The second map shows the area that is considered to be the “Bible Belt.” The third map shows the counties where Southern Baptists are the largest religious group per county. The final map shows who Republican voters chose in the GOP primaries per county, just to give a picture of where this region aligns politically with candidates (blue is Trump, gold is Cruz, red is Rubio). Obviously, each Southern state went red in the general election and Southern Evangelicals were a huge part of that.

 

According to all statistics that we have, the US South is still largely synonymous with both the “Bible Belt” and the Southern Baptist Convention, as far as what the predominant religious expression is. Southern Baptists clearly have their largest expression in the South and are the most significant religious body by far. This is also where the Republican Party dominates and Evangelical affiliation with the GOP is well established.

This, however, shows that the decline in the SBC over the past 10-15 years is even more drastic than just looking at the numbers would suggest. I contend that it is inaccurate to just compare the SBC numbers in 2015 to the SBC numbers in 2000 or 2005. Rather, you have to compare the numbers to the region of the country where we have the largest numbers of Southern Baptists.

Free Fall statistically, but, great opportunity. 

In 2000, there were 100 million people who lived in the US South. In 2015, there were 121 million people who lived in the US South (according to US Census reports). That is a 17.5% INCREASE. An increase of 21 million people. So, while the SBC has decline by around a million people overall in that time frame, the region where the majority of SBC churches and members exists has increased by 21 million. So, SBC churches are in decline while the region is in dramatic increase. We aren’t talking about the Rust Belt here. We’re talking about what is by far the largest region of the country with 38% of the US population.

121 million people would make the US South the 12th most populous nation in the world with the 3rd largest GDP, if it were its own nation. The US South has been called the “economic engine” of the United States. In this region, Cooperative Program giving was $195 million in fiscal year 2016. However, it was $200 million in fiscal year 2005. So, CP giving is still down in real dollars over the past decade. But, adjusted for inflation, that $200 million in 2005 would be worth $253.74 million now. So, we’re looking at a real loss of over 23% of CP giving over the past decade.

In a region of the country with the population booming, people moving in from all over the nation and the world, and having the 3rd largest GDP in the world (with over $5 Trillion) on its own only after the rest of the United States combined and China, the SBC is in decline – steep decline in relation to the massive growth of the region.

In addition, the Nations are coming to the South as the region is becoming more and more diverse. 13.1 Million people in the South are first generation immigrants from all over the world. That’s almost 11% of the population. More significantly, 46% of all first generation immigrant growth from 2000-2015 in the whole United States happened in the South (according to data I discovered while working through the US Census data state-by-state). 4 million of the 21 million newcomers to the South from 2000-2015 are first generation immigrants (that’s 19% of all growth). Immigrants are attracted to areas with booming economies and they contribute to entrepreneurship and the business start up culture (1 in 4 new businesses in America are started by immigrants). Fortunately, over 50% of new SBC church plants over the past several years have been predominately ethnic minority, so we are addressing this to an extent. But, there is so much more to be done.

Green Shoots: New Hope

My purpose in this post is not to just say that everything is terrible. It isn’t. I am full of hope in the Lord and in what I’m seeing God do in the South. I travel all over the Southeast encouraging and equipping churches to minister to and advocate for immigrants and refugees. I constantly go in and out of cities like Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Orlando, Birmingham, New Orleans, and more and I also go through smaller towns and cities. The sheer numbers of people are incredible, traffic grinding, businesses booming, and immigrants from all over the world are everywhere doing business and living life alongside their neighbors. The idea that the South is primarily a rural, traditional, white, religious, conservative area is still true in many ways, but it misses the much larger narrative that is emerging.

In these travels, I am seeing some amazing work being done by Southern Baptists to reach people from all different backgrounds and walks of life. I’ve visited incredible churches, met sincere pastors and church leaders, and have spent time with associational and state convention leadership who are working through difficult problems in innovative ways. There is so much good gospel and ministry work happening all over the South that it is really hard to keep up with it all. There is not a need for a new initiative to emerge out of nowhere. The best approach would be to build on the great work that is already happening everywhere and help link good work with areas and churches that are struggling. God is alive and so is the SBC in many respects through the gospel working and producing fruit in churches, ministries, and all over the South. You can’t look at overall numbers from a 30,000 foot view to get the true picture. You have to get on the ground and see what is actually happening in many places and then build on the good – strengthen what remains.

The numbers overall are dire if you’re pining away for glory days of ascendance. If you compare the current numbers to the massive growth happening in the South with population, economics, and diversity, the SBC statistics represent an actual comparative free fall, not just a slight decline, and that is important for us to recognize. But … (and this is also important), what if all of this represents not some kind of a failure, but a new beginning and an amazing opportunity to not just try to rebuild the past but to thank God for it and put it behind us while we look to what God is doing today and what He wants to do in the future? If we keep looking back to the past and comparing ourselves only and then we make decisions based off of that, we will miss what God could do with us today. The past is passed, even in the South, despite what Faulkner told us.

Some questions for all of us that have emerged from some of my many great conversations with Southern Baptist pastors and leaders over the past year and a half:

  • How can we actually love God and love one another sacrificially? To bear one another’s burdens? To hear the cry of desperation and need from all parts of our cities and towns and then suffer alongside one another? How can we love the way Jesus loves us?
  • With an increasingly diverse South, how do we prepare our churches to reach the nations among us? How do we welcome the immigrant, refugee, and newcomer to our churches, our homes, and communities?
  • In a racially and politically polarized region and nation, how can we consistently BE a people that will love all people and sacrifice our lives to take the gospel to them and share in the partnership of the gospel with people ethnically, racially, and socioeconomically different from us (no matter what ethnicity or demographic you are)?
  • What does real repentance and reconciliation look like in our communities across racial lines? Shouldn’t Baptists take the initiative in that?
  • We need significant movements of African American, Latino, Asian, and Arab pastors and leaders into SBC leadership at every level not so we can just say this happened, but so we can all learn from each other, submit to and follow one another, and BE the body of Christ together in this land.
  • How can we see our faith as not something that exists to promote, protect, and defend our own way of life, but how can we lay our lives down for others so they will experience the love of Christ and the gospel?

We need a Southern missiology desperately. We need to walk in the way of the Cross according to Philippians 2:1-11 in ways that truly seek the good of others and not just ourselves. We need a way to see the South and our churches that no longer considers the Southern region of the United States “home base” for the gospel. It isn’t and it hasn’t ever been, really. We need to stop culturally locating our understanding of Christianity in a Southern white perspective and find ways to join with all of the people in our communities and throughout our area in revived church expressions as we humble ourselves and learn from and submit to brothers and sisters from all kinds of backgrounds from all over the world that God is sending to us for the purpose of revival and renewal. All of that is happening in many places and as it happens, I would contend that a gospel renewal of the cultural South will make us more vibrant, more loving, more hospitable, more open and caring and joyful and free than we’ve ever been before. I’m seeing it every week everywhere I go. There is incredible vitality, sacrifice, and gospel fruit being born all over the South at this time. God is at work in powerful ways. But, we need more of it and that story needs to become more of the dominant narrative. We need an infusion of hope and a recognition that declining numbers may just position us for gospel advance … IF we will humble ourselves and look to Jesus instead of seek to protect ourselves in a culture that can’t ever provide salvation, no matter how “down home” it feels to us. Only through Jesus can we “tell a better story” together – a story of sacrificial love for God and people.

Jesus is at work on the margins and all through the center. Let’s join Him there no matter what the numbers say.

Author’s Note: If you or your church or association would like help thinking through how to reach the nations and immigrants in your midst and engage in gospel-centered reconciliation across races and ethnicities, let me know. I’d love to help. I have gospel-centered resources and approaches designed for that purpose.

2017 SBC Pastor’s Conference: Is this what the SBC is supposed to look like?

I like the concept and execution of the 2017 SBC Pastor’s Conference and plan to be present for some of it, probably the Monday sessions.

My question is this: Is the 2017 PC the best expression of what the Southern Baptist Convention is supposed to look like? Not in a racial or demographic look but in the following ways:

It has been called a “collaborative” effort and is therefore a cooperative effort.

Dave Miller may have been elected president but he has been clear from the outset that the conference is the work of a number of people besides himself. If Southern Baptists are about cooperation then this is the best evidence of such that I have seen for years. In addition to the individuals who are involved the 2017 PC has been embraced by some SBC entities and given assistance. That’s the way it is supposed to work: grassroots movement of SBCers and local church people assisted by our entities and their employees.

It doesn’t depend on the celebrity system.

Like it or not the SBC runs on a celebrity system. I rather don’t like it but recognize the reality of the same. The 2017 PC employs top tier SBC celebs in a secondary role. It may be a forlorn hope but it would be a stellar achievement if the assembled messengers would some year elect a non-megachurch, non-SBC celebrity as president. I assume Steve Gaines will accept the traditional second year election as president, so 2018 would be the first opportunity. There is no good reason this is not possible and many good reasons why it would be healthy for the SBC.

The speaker selection was innovative and expresses the best of the current SBC.

Lots of variety and diversity, and, ordinary Southern Baptists were involved in the process. How utterly Southern Baptist is that?

It doesn’t depend on generating big money.

The PC leaders say the financing is secure. I’m not privy to the financial data for any past Pastor’s Conferences or this one but am I incorrect in recalling heavy appeals for sponsors and the like? Maybe the numbers are big but financing has been smooth. Educate me.

In an SBC where we have done about the same at the national level and the annual meeting for decades, it is refreshing to see something new and different.

This is healthy.

Lord willing…see you there.

_______

I’m not involved in any way in the 2017 PC other than an outside observer. The brethren have done a great job.