Evangelism as/vs Outreach: Part 1

Scriptures: John 10:14-18; Romans 10:10-15

We continue our sermon series today on evangelism, a topic that was requested by many of you. I wold remind you, the definition of evangelism is literally bringing or sharing the good news. And to be evangelical means we need to share the good news. We do that as we speak, as we talk.

Being evangelical, then, does not depend on a particular ideology or theology or anything like that, but rather one to whom the sharing and spreading of the good news is of paramount importance for your life and discipleship in Christ.

In fact, right above those verses that the liturgist read, it says “’The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

This is what God in Jesus Christ has called us to do as believers. And it is something that I know we in the Presbyterian church, the mainline PC(USA), while we have traditionally been very good at evangelism and mission, have gotten very poor at, in the last fifty to one hundred years.

Again, this doesn’t mean that we need to be obnoxious about it or in your face, but we do, as Peter said, need to be willing to defend the hope, which means to give reason for the hope which we have been given.

Last week we talked about evangelism begins in the family, and we talked about evangelizing particularly kids and grandkids, and also with other family and relatives. But it needs to begin, if the faith is going to continue, and get passed on generationally, it needs to begin and continue with you.

If we just let it slide and say they’ll figure it out, the numbers show and history shows that it doesn’t happen. The second generation comes less frequently and more out of a sense of duty rather than eagerness. Then the third generation has no desire, really, to come at all and hear the Word of God.

I gave one of my longer sermons, but I promise you, I gave a lot of good practical steps that you can take to do so. I encourage you to look up that sermon once the transcript is posted on the church website, so that you can see some of the practical ways in which you share the gospel with your children and grandchildren, brothers, sisters, etc.

I did this because evangelism, the sharing of the good news, begins at home. However, we definitely have a cause and a command to share the good news outside the home as well. Today we’re going to look at the first part of a two-part sermon, on evangelism and outreach. Today we’re going to try to explain, in some ways, the differences between evangelism and outreach.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through my studies, that I myself, as I noted in my first sermon, have been mistaken about, it is that evangelism is not the same as outreach. That doesn’t mean you can’t do evangelism while doing outreach – we’re actually going to cover that next week. But evangelism is not the same as outreach.

Jesus, in the passage in John, said he has sheep that are in another fold. Paul, here in the passage from Romans, says that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord blesses them all.

Now you must remember, that was a huge thing to the audience – the difference between the Jews and the Gentiles. The Jews were the people of God. The Gentiles were not, historically, seen as such. And we in the church sometimes have a similar view, particularly those churches like ours, where we are growing up in the church. We nurture people in the church, and it’s a good thing to do and I recommend it and we should continue to do it. And we should take every opportunity we have for it.

But we have to be careful not to be so inwardly focused that we forget our outward focus that we have been commanded by Christ to have. Because the people of God are determined by God – not by lineage, not by family, and certainly not by our decision. We are called to share the gospel equally with all of them.

And when we look outward, we tend to think of two things, rather than just evangelism. We tend to think of mission (as the liturgist spoke of) as we reach out to others within the church who are ministering to those that we don’t know personally. That can take the form of something like the rescue aid money that we sent. It can also take the form of a missionary going out to an unreached people and ministering to them.

By the way, “mission” doesn’t necessarily mean some exotic place (like deepest Africa or South America or some island somewhere). I know of a Presbyterian church that supported a missionary to Italy. A very, very secular society, despite the fact that the Vatican is down there in Rome. You get anywhere outside of that, and the church is almost nonexistent. They have very little church activity, very little faith, and in fact, they have some pretty restrictive laws, emphasizing the need to keep their faith out of any public site.

You see that in a lot of places in Europe today. I also know of another missionary to Ireland. The point is, they go there to reawaken people’s hearts to the gospel. Because really, the new generation there hasn’t heard it. Even though you might say, surely they’ve got it, because of their history and cathedrals and the Vatican and all that.

Again, I do want to say that evangelism and outreach are not mutually exclusive. I want to emphasize that. In fact, we’re called to do both, and both are needed.

So we have mission that we do. The second thing is outreach, or ministry, and that can be local or it can be more expansive. We tend to focus on local things. We have our food pantry here, and we do that to minister to others, to bring them comfort, to help the poor and the widow and the orphan as we’re called to do.

That is, again, a very important thing, and part of what I’m going to speak of is that we have parallel tracks that we’re supposed to be maintaining. But I have to say that outreach is not evangelism.

Giving people food, ministering to them in their time of need, even flying down to Houston, Texas, for instance, or over to Puerto Rico, and helping rebuild. One of the engineers here is going to go down to Puerto Rico to help rebuild their infrastructure. If that was a church-sponsored thing it would be mission. It would be outreach. But it would not be evangelism.

We need to understand the difference. Outreach is caring for the needs of others – body, mind, and spirit – in a variety of ways, whether it be physical, with something like the food pantry, or the Clothes Depot; or emotional needs, in a sense, like Journey, which is for women who are without partners, and re-creates those networks and social relationships; or a number of other ministries that can be used to touch and improve and help heal those who are around us. Outreach is also different than mission.

Mission has a specific intent, and whether we do long-term mission, or long-distance mission, by sending money to the church in Dickinson, Texas, so that they can rebuild their church and can continue to share the gospel locally, as they do minister to other people in the recovery effort, or we support a missionary who is going into a place where the gospel has either been unheard or forgotten and spreads the good news themselves as their calling, that is mission work.

Evangelism is caring for their needs in a spiritual way, by giving them the only way to salvation. This is risky business. And yet we’re called to do it. Both outreach and evangelism are included in Jesus’ commands. For instance, when he says at the end of Matthew, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them all that I have commanded you.”

We only baptize upon profession of faith. So that means that we need to have shared the gospel with them so they know what they’re professing to, that they’ve come to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, that he did die for their sins, and that he was raised again so that we can be new creatures in him. Without that, there’s no point in baptism.

Here in the Presbyterian church, we practice infant baptism, but even then, we’re baptizing upon the parents’ profession of faith that they will raise the child in that faith and make sure they know it, so that when the time comes, the age of discretion or however you want to call it, then they make their own profession in Confirmation, and we welcome them as full members of the church.

Making disciples is a two-stage process. First, they have to come to know the truth. And that is the good news of the gospel. All of its hardness, with the bad parts of us being totally depraved and in sin, and the good parts of the rescue the Jesus gives us through His blood and His resurrection.

Then we teach them everything that Christ has commanded so that they can walk in faith as well, following the one whom they have chosen as Lord. That involves a long-term relationship with them, and that involves ministry, and outreach, and mission.

Jesus did this from the very beginning. In Luke 9 he sends out his disciples, the twelve. It says “And he called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money, and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there and from there depart, and wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town, shake the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.’ And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.”

Jesus gave them a two-fold mission. Share the gospel. Heal. We are to try to achieve reconciliation with people, and help people be reconciled to God. We do that in ways that go far beyond, perhaps, the narrowness of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. But as we’ll discuss next week, hopefully those ministries that we have, those outreaches that we have, give us the opportunity to share the gospel, if we have discernment.

Two stages. Two missions, if you will. Two commands. We are to proclaim the kingdom of God. And what is the kingdom of God?

The Kingdom of God, literally, is the rule of God in our lives. That’s what they meant when they said the kingdom of God in the Jewish sense, and what it means in the early Church sense as well. But the kingdom of God is also proclaiming the reality of the church, that we, as a group of believers, brothers and sisters in Christ related to one another through adoption by the blood of Jesus (if the members of the church are experiencing God’s rule in their lives and acting accordingly) are a foretaste and hopefully a good example of what it’s going to be like in heaven. People from diverse situations, diverse histories, diverse opinions, gather together on the basis of that one truth and worship the One True God and proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior.

We are to preach and proclaim the kingdom of God. And we’re to heal. Now that healing, as I noted earlier, can involve physical things with the body, as we give food to those who are hungry, as through Habitat for Humanity perhaps, some ministry like that, we help those have homes who are homeless.

As for those whose homes have been destroyed, we help them rebuild and rehabilitate. For those whose lives have been destroyed by an addiction or something like that, we may help heal by supporting a counseling ministry, an addiction ministry. I haven’t seen them here in this region, but everywhere else I used to go, there were AA meetings in most churches, as an example. Places where people could go to hopefully receive healing and accountability for an addiction in their life.

Frankly I’ve been surprised at that. Again, most of my experience has been with Wapello and Morning Sun. Maybe they’ve got it in Mediapolis and I don’t know about it. [Someone in the congregation says something.] There’s one in Columbus Junction? Good! But I am surprised that there was none of that kind of support structure in any of the churches here in this area.

So we have our two-fold parallel track, and they are both important. They’re both critical. I’m going to talk next week, in a Part 2 (so you all need to come), about effective ways of doing outreach.

But today I want to talk about perhaps some unusual ways of doing evangelism. One of the things that we have to note as well, aside from the fact we’re commanded to give this good news, is that we have to go. We need to go out to where people are.

There was an understanding and an attitude, particularly through the 50’s, of “you build it and they will come.” I know that I’ve heard that catchphrase. Build it and they will come. Well, no, they won’t. Not anymore. We end up having a lot of empty structures or programs.

We need to go where the people are. There’s a man who is in the presbytery. He is a small group liaison for the presbytery. He sort of helps try to develop small groups, and he has a group in Columbus Junction called the Beer Boys. And they meet in a bar. And yes, a couple of them even have a beer or two, while they talk about the Bible and Jesus Christ. He shares the Gospel in the context of that relaxed area.

We can do evangelism right here in our own back yards. I read an article about a pastor who was upset with one of his members who was very active with youth in the community. He was a coach, he was a teacher, he was a number of different things. And the church youth group was floundering – it only had three or four people in it. And here this man had all of this contact with the youth, and he wasn’t inviting them, apparently, to youth group.

Now we understand that there are political reasons for that. But he did invite them over for barbecue at least once a year, sometimes more. And the third party in this, that this pastor was talking to, said, “Well, why don’t you go to the barbecue?” “Well, because that’s not a ministry of the church. They have to come here.”

Why? Why do they have to come here to hear the good news? Now don’t get me wrong – I want you all here on Sundays. We have teaching that goes beyond the sharing of the Gospel, and we have hopefully encouragement and support that lift you up in your walk of faith. You get the opportunity to fellowship with one another. I am looking forward to next week and the luncheon, not just because I like to eat, but because they always have good food and it’s always fun to talk to people around the table.

Imagine what might have happened if that pastor had gone to the barbecue. Jesus got chastised by the Pharisees, “How come you’re always going and partying and eating and drinking with sinners and prostitutes and all those people who aren’t one of us?” He said “Because it’s the sick who need the doctor, not the healthy.” The world is in desperate need of the message of hope in Jesus Christ, and we need to be intentional about going out and sharing.

But you don’t have to come here to hear the Gospel. You don’t have to be in the pews to hear what the good news of Jesus Christ is. Every believer should know what the good news is, and every believer has a responsibility to share it. And every believer can do it wherever they are.

You just have to be bold. You have to have courage in your heart, that Christ is with you, that the Spirit will give you the words to say, that God in His infinite power will give you the ability to impact those whom you are speaking to, that Christ through the Spirit of wisdom will give you the discernment on when is the appropriate time to share it., when they really have a need to hear hope and good news.

Part of what next week is going to cover is how we can couple both outreach and evangelism. But evangelism can take place totally outside the confines of what we tend to think of as outreach and ministry, just as outreach can and does occur without evangelism.

So today I just want to encourage you, when we look at the call to evangelism, that it is not something that is inwardly-facing. It is not something that is to each other. Even though we need to remind ourselves and each other, about what the good news is. Because we go through our times of depression and our times of despair and our times of trial and struggle.

Too often in the church, we get rather inwardly focused. We are to care for one another. We need to lift one another up. We are the kingdom of God, and we need to love one another with God’s love in a powerful way that helps one grow and mature and stay healthy.

But of necessity, evangelism and outreach really need to be outwardly-focused. Churches, particularly small churches, struggle with that sometimes. We’re worried about surviving, rather than thriving. But we need to look out. We need to look for opportunities to serve. And we need to look for opportunities to share the gospel. We need to be focused on the community at large. We need to be focused on all those people who have a desperate need of Jesus Christ. And we need to look for the chance to authentically share that good news.

It’s not an easy thing. It can be a scary thing. We’re not used to it in the Presbyterian church. But we need to be willing to step out of our comfort zone, and share the gospel outside of the church. Meet people where they are – that’s outreach. Give them hope – that’s evangelism. I would be happy at some time, perhaps in the last sermon on the series, on evangelism as a way of life, to get into some of the more practical ways in which we can do that.

I must say there are also lots of good books out there, and articles. That’s one of the blessings of the Internet, as much garbage as is out there, is there are also some really good resources. And I’ll be happy to point you to some, to make you more comfortable.

I would ask you to prayerfully consider your own heart and state of mind and spirit right now. Are you passionate about the gospel? Do you really believe that it is the salvation for all mankind? Do you believe it is a matter of life and death and eternity? Do you believe that it is good news? If so, then you should be excited about sharing the joy you have received from that same good news.

But the real thing, the real power behind sharing the gospel, is going to be your trust in God. And that’s your challenge. Do you trust in God, to give you the opportunity, to give you the discernment, to give you the words, and give you the power to change hearts?

It’s only through Him. And without Him it won’t work. But Jesus knows His sheep, and His sheep know Him, even as He knew the Father and the Father knew Him. And everyone that we call in Christ’s name, that is one of His, will eventually respond.

And that would be one last caveat that I would give you. Don’t expect instant results. Celebrate when it happens. Maybe somebody is just right there ready, and bam! They turn to Jesus Christ. But don’t be discouraged if they don’t.

Just keep right on loving them, having a relationship with them, continuing to build that trust, and exampling for them what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Love them as Christ loved each one of us. That love will open their hearts. And when the opportunity arises, share it again.

Studies in marketing have shown that it takes three to five different times of something being repeated before it sinks in. That’s why they keep repeating all those stupid 1-800 numbers in all those radio ads and TV ads. That’s why you get billboards everywhere. Five times, or three different senses, before it sinks in.

So be patient. Trust God. And give Him praise and glory in your life, as a testimony to what God has done for you.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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