Pastor's Pastor

True evangelistic success

The key to real successful evangelism

James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Diligent personal work and the Holy Spirit's role in the con version process are sometimes obscured as we focus on technology, human ingenuity, and bright light ideas that spring to our minds.

As at least five divisions of the world church prepare to participate in our denomination's largest-ever evangelistic event, it is important to reflect on the real secret of spiritual power in the process of bringing individuals to Jesus Christ.

Beginning October 5,1996, a series of It Is Written public evangelistic meetings, conducted in Orlando by Mark Finley, will be beamed via a satellite across North America, South America, and the islands and countries of the Caribbean, as well as to almost all of Europe.

Attendees in more than 5,000 locations will hear the gospel downlinked to them from the live presentations in Orlando.

The process behind this event, termed NET '96, was crafted 18 months earlier in Chattanooga when the results of that inaugural event produced one of the largest baptism years ever in the history of the church in North America.

For local pastors, it will be tempting to rely on the glitz of technology or the brilliance of an outstanding public preacher and to forget the essentials of personal work and individual contact.

However, regardless of how well the speaker preaches or how smooth the technology operates, it is only when the gospel impacts the life of the individual that conversion occurs. Simply stated, this means people must be present to hear the message proclaimed if their lives are to be changed.

This reality moves the necessary emphasis for success away from Orlando and the featured evangelist and directly onto the local church members and pastor. "Christ's method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as One who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, 'Follow Me'" (The Ministry of Healing, p. 143).

Far too often we emphasize making believers out of nonattenders when the easier path to active fellowship in the body of Christ is making believers out of attenders. Notice the diagram:

Nonbelievers attending Believers attending
Nonbelievers not attending Believers not attending

Assuming that we begin with nonbelievers who are not attending church (bottom left) and that we must reach our objective of believers who are attending (upper right corner), by moving through the process of one of the other two boxes, it is sobering to see where, traditionally, we have put so much of our energy and resources.

Any program designed to keep nonbelievers isolated in their own homes away from the body of Christ while attempting to bring them to belief is less productive. Therefore, magazine subscriptions, television programs, radiobroadcasts, and even Bible correspondence schools are secondary to those activities that bring nonbelievers into direct contact with believers.

Attendance at participative programs, small groups, seminars, church services, or evangelistic meetings are all designed to get nonbelievers interacting with believers. Thus the individual nonbeliever will be impacted by those whose own lives have been impacted by Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, if we designate the horizontal barrier (broken line) from bottom to top in the diagram as a cultural barrier between nonattendance and attendance and the vertical barrier (dotted line) of the diagram from left to right as a spiritual barrier between nonbelief and belief, the church's task becomes more distinct.

People help people cross the cultural barrier---"we don't go there" or "we don't attend church"---and thus place them where the Holy Spirit can most easily do His work of bringing them across the spiritual barrier from nonbelief to belief.

So the greatest task of NET '96, or any other evangelistic thrust, is to get people into relational proximity to other believers, which then allows the Holy Spirit to move them into relationship with Jesus Christ.

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James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

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