The shape of a church will be a magnification of the shape of its pastors and leaders. The values that permeate its culture are the values of the people who run it. So if you want to reshape the priorities of any organization, you’re going to have to first reshape the priorities of the men and women who guide it.
Likewise, truly contagious churches don’t grow out of programs, initiatives, curricula, or trumped-up talk about “taking this town for Christ.” Ultimately, they must grow out of the beliefs and values – the very hearts – of the people who lead them. That is why Stage 1 in the 6-Stage Process says that we must each, you and I, “LIVE an Evangelistic Life.”
Paul says in Ephesians 5:1, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children.” He goes on to talk about loving people the way Christ did when he gave himself as a sacrifice on our behalf. In effect, Paul is saying, “Lost people matter to God; make certain they matter to you, too!” This value must flow from the depths of who we are – and who we are becoming. It really is a heart issue. Jesus said in Matthew 12:34: “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” I’ve discovered this to be true in my own life. The condition of my heart determines the ordering of my priorities, and even the contents of my conversations.
Starting with the Heart
The key for each of us as believers, and especially for pastors, is to do everything we can to keep our hearts warm toward God and toward people, and then to express that warmth in ways that serve those with spiritual needs – and in the process live out this value in front of others in the church. If we want to build contagious churches, we must first become contagious Christians. The old saying really is true; “Speed of the leader, speed of the team.” Jesus said it like this in Luke 6:40: “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” As pastors and influencers of would-be evangelistic churches, we need to be able to say with Paul, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
How important is our living out these values? It’s everything. Unless you first catch God’s concern for those outside his family, you may as well disregard the wealth of other evangelistic ideas available to you. Why? Because without a heart that beats fast for reaching people, you won’t be building on the foundation needed to sustain more visible outreach programs and ministries.
But if we grow bigger and bigger hearts for those who don’t know Christ, and if we increasingly model his bold example of being a “friend of sinners,” then those around us will be inspired, and they’ll take their cues from us. They too will begin taking relational risks for the sake of the gospel.
Living a Life Worth Imitating
The important question is this: how, on a practical level, can we gain God’s heart toward folks who don’t know him? I’ll share a few of my own ideas, but I also wanted to tap into the wisdom and experience of the wider community of outreach leaders and activists. So I wrote to many of them and asked what they do to keep their own hearts warm toward lost people. Their responses follow, combined with my own thoughts, as I list seven things we can do to raise our evangelism temperatures.
1. Admit This Value Has Slipped – and Talk to God about It
This value – evangelism – always seems to be slipping away. About the time you think you have it for good, it starts to dissipate. No one is permanently motivated to reach others for Christ. It’s like water in a leaky bucket that constantly needs filling.
The first step toward making a change is admitting there is a problem. Sure, we can all quote John 3:16 and talk glowingly about stories from the past, but if your passion for reaching people isn’t burning brightly today, the best thing you can do is just admit it.
Many of us feel guilty when it comes to evangelism. When this guilt is from God, who “disciplines those he loves” (Hebrews 12:6), it is a gift from him designed to get us back on track. But we’re not supposed to wallow in the guilt. Rather, we need to let it move us toward repentance and godly action, “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” (Philippians 3:13).
The most natural thing to do after admitting that the value of evangelism has slipped in your life is to talk to God about it. The battle to raise this value is won first in the private arena of prayer (which, by the way, was the most mentioned activity among the leaders I surveyed about the question of what they do to keep their evangelistic fervor). I like to use the classic, time-honored A-C-T-S outline—with an evangelistic twist to cultivate deeper passion for the lost. Below is an example of this prayer formula applied to evangelism. You may want to use it as a guide for your own prayer.
A – Adoration
Father, thank you for being such a merciful and grace-filled God. I worship you for your kindness toward me and for your patience with my friends and family members who don’t yet know you. Your Word says that you are slow to anger and that you don’t want any of them to perish, but to come to know you. What a loving and forgiving God you are! I’m glad you are my Lord and that I have the privilege of being your child.
C – Confession
Lord, I’m sorry I often fail to love people the way you do. You moved heaven and earth to reach them and paid the highest price when Jesus died on the cross – yet I often resist taking even small steps to reach the people I care about. You are not willing that anyone would perish, but too often I’m afraid that I am! Please forgive and change me. Wash me of my sins of self-centeredness and fearfulness. Help me to know that as I’ve confessed these things, you’ve already been faithful to forgive and to cleanse me.
T – Thanksgiving
Thank you that the payment Jesus made on the cross extends to me even today. I’m so glad to be in your family, to know I’m forgiven, and to have the privilege of serving you. Thank you for putting purpose in my life and for entrusting me with opportunities to make a difference in the lives of people around me. Thank you that your love and grace are examples for me as I try to express my faith to others today.
S – Supplication
Father, help me to reflect your love toward others. Help me remember that every person I lock eyes with today matters to you. May they matter to me, too – in ways that move me to action. Help me realize that if they don’t yet know you, then they’re lost and in desperate need of the good news of Christ. Lord, prepare me and give me boldness so I’ll be able to explain your gospel well. Help me to be a genuine friend who will attract them to you and your church. Give me wisdom so I’ll know how direct to be with your message, and when to back off, so I can help them keep taking steps toward you.
Please, Father, use me! Make me effective in your hands today as I try to spread your love and truth. Help me to abide in Christ and to bear much fruit. Thank you for this great privilege.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.