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Turning Laypeople Into Lay Ministers – Part 2

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Excerpted from “Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City” (Zondervan)

Part 1: Lay Ministry Dynamics and Evangelism
Part 2: Pastoral Support, Safe Venues and Discussion Questions

PASTORAL SUPPORT

There is a way to pastor that promotes this every-member gospel ministry, just as there is a way to pastor that kills it. Whatever else they do, pastors and other church leaders must be aware of the importance of lay ministry and intentional about preparing people for it. They must be personally involved in the lives of lay ministers. The reasons so many Christians lack relational integrity—lack of motivation, lack of compassion, or lack of ability and knowledge—are often overcome through a strong pastoral connection with the lay ministers.

This connection does not come primarily through formal, content-heavy training sessions on “how to share your faith” (though this is vital and can be very helpful; at Redeemer, we are producing such materials to fit an urban environment). Instead, it is formed through informal teaching and support and ongoing advice from pastors and ministry leaders. Pastors must constantly remember to encourage and push lay people to use their relationships for the ministry of the Word.(16)

It is important for a pastor to model how to both talk to people about faith issues and pray for them. In my earlier years at Redeemer, I did this in two ways: through the sermons I preached and in the Q&A sessions I held after every morning service. I modeled how to pray for people through regular prayer meetings with leaders in which we prayed for our nonbelieving friends. This modeling instills a sense of courage, compassion, and responsibility in people and encourages them to reach out to their friends.

A pastor and his team must be models of Christian relational integrity for the rest of the congregation. David Stroud, a London church planter, shares how his wife, Philippa, became deeply involved in the local public school while he started a neighborhood watch program on their street. These endeavors got them immersed into the life of the city and brought them into many relationships with their neighbors.(17)

In addition to modeling, it is also important that pastors maintain a practical and simple vision for a relational ministry of the gospel. It should be clear that reaching out to friends and colleagues does not necessarily involve sharing a complete gospel presentation in a single encounter. Despite the fact that this was the stated goal of several evangelism training programs a generation ago, only a small number of laypeople (or even clergy!) can do this well. Reaching out to a friend is much more natural. These organic ways of reaching out must be constantly lifted up for people.

I summarize below some ways to do this, listed in order of intensity. Pastors should equip the people in their church to do all of these, pointing out that most of these behaviors require little more than some honesty and courage. Many of these are drawn from the case studies I gave earlier in this chapter.

1. One-on-one—informal

• Let others know of your Christian faith by simply mentioning church attendance or Christian beliefs in casual conversation.
• Ask questions about other people’s beliefs and experiences with faith and church and simply listen appreciatively and sympathetically.
• Listen sympathetically to someone’s challenges and mention that you will pray regularly for them.
• Share a difficult personal issue that you have and be sure to mention that your faith helps you by giving you strength and granting you forgiveness, etc.
• Share your spiritual narrative—a brief testimony of your Christian experience.

2. One-on-one—planned/intentional

• Offer someone a book or audio recording about Christian issues and invite them to discuss their reactions.
• Initiate a discussion about a friend’s biggest problems with or objections to Christianity. Listen respectfully and give them some things to read and discuss.
• Regularly read a part of the Bible together—preferably one of the Gospels—to discuss the character of Jesus.

3. Provide an experience of Christian community

• Invite friends to situations or activities where they meet believers but where there is no direct Christian event or communication.
• Invite friends to venues where they hear the gospel communicated and discussed—one-time event, such as an open forum; fellowship group; worship service; group meeting for inquirers, such as book club, seeker group, etc.

4. Share your faith

• Share the basics of the Christian faith with your friend, laying out how to become a Christian and inviting them to make a commitment.

It is important for pastors or elders to be readily available to field questions about issues that church members encounter in discussions with their friends. When a non-Christian asks a question such as, “Why does God allow such evil and suffering?” your people need quick turnaround with help on how to respond. A pastor can also provide free or low-cost materials that Christians can share with their friends. For example, if a Christian is sharing how Christianity helped them face a problem, they could give their friend a book or an audio or video selection that conveys the truth they found helpful. Every believer should have access to half a dozen compelling pieces of content on different subjects that they can give to someone after talking about an issue. This, of course, includes the offer to read and study the Bible together. Along the way, a pastor should try to meet regularly with lay ministers to talk about what is happening in their relationships. This has two purposes. On the one hand, it is a time to celebrate and encourage one another; on the other hand, it is a time to hold one another accountable to think about these relationships with a ministry mind-set that commits to reaching out and opening up to people.(18)

Perhaps most important, a pastor must work in a variety of ways to lay a theological motivational groundwork for lay evangelism using the gospel itself. This must be done in all kinds of venues—teaching, preaching, and personal pastoral support. What does this gospel groundwork look like? It means teaching people that the gospel gives you humility. As people come to understand the radical gospel analysis—that both “good” and “bad” people are equally lost and can only be saved by grace—it becomes impossible to be proud and condescending toward others without denying the gospel itself. Moralistic Christians do evangelism with the attitude, “I’m right; they’re wrong—and I enjoy telling people about it.” Nothing could be less attractive or more oblivious to the spirit of the message itself. The gospel, by contrast, leads us to look at non-Christians and know that they may very well be better people than we are. I can look at my Hindu neighbor and realize he may be a much better father to his children than I have ever been. The gospel gives us the foundation of a humble appreciation of others on which winsome relationships can be built.

The pastor can also show people how the gospel gives us hope for non-Christians. It is easy to look at some people and say, “They will never become Christians.” But when we grasp the gospel, we know that there is no such thing as a typical Christian. No person is more promising material for Christianity than another. Salvation is an undeserved gift. So there is hope for anyone, no matter how far from God they may seem to be. The attitude of your heart should instead be this: “Me, a Christian? Who would have ever thought that someone like me would be a Christian and a child of God? But that is what I am! It’s a wonder and a miracle.” This attitude leads us to have expectant hope as we think of anyone else.

Finally, we must explain how the gospel gives us courage for evangelism. One of the reasons we shy away from talking about Jesus and the gospel is that we are afraid. We get our sense of value from what people think of us. We want to appear cool or sophisticated or progressive, or we want to look respectable, so we are careful to mind our own business. Sadly, when we think this way, how God regards us is not important enough to us. But the gospel keeps us from being tied to our reputation. When we know that salvation is by grace alone, we know that people come to faith only if God opens their hearts. No amount of brilliance or overpowering reason will serve to bring someone to faith. Therefore, we don’t have to worry about our lack of knowledge. It is God’s grace that opens hearts, not our eloquence.

If your lay ministers are ineffective in reaching out to others because they are turned off by certain kinds of people or because they lack the hope or courage to talk to others about Jesus, they may not need another book or a course on evangelism. You may just need to help them get back to the foundation—the gospel—and allow the message of God’s gracious, undeserved, merciful love for sinners to work itself into their hearts in new ways. I believe the single most important way for pastors or church leaders to turn passive lay people into courageous and gracious lay ministers is through their own evident godliness.

A pastor should be marked by humility, love, joy, and wisdom that is visible and attracts people to trust and learn from them. As a pastor, you may not be the best preacher, but if you are filled with God’s love, joy, and wisdom, you won’t be boring! You may not be the most skillful organizer or charismatic leader, but if your holiness is evident, people will follow you. This means, at the very least, that a dynamic, disciplined, and rich prayer life is not only important in the abstract and personal sense; it may be the most practical thing you can do for your ministry.

SAFE VENUES

It is certainly possible to have an evangelistic dynamic built strictly on relational, informal outreach by laypeople. Nevertheless, laypeople are often encouraged and instructed in their ministry if a church provides a varied set of events, gatherings, and meetings in which nonbelievers are exposed more directly to both Christians and to the gospel. Such settings must avoid two common dangers: confusing the newcomer (assuming a particular theological or ecclesiastical background) or offending the newcomer (putting unnecessary stumbling blocks in front of them). I daresay that most well-intentioned “outreach” events I witnessed over the years have fallen into one or both of these errors. Use your ingenuity to imagine a variety of meetings and places where people without faith can, through a winsome approach, be stimulated to consider the claims of the Christian gospel. Here are some examples.(19)

• A one-off event, such as an open forum. At Redeemer, these have typically been artistic forums (such as “Excerpts from Porgy and Bess,” “Coltrane Night,” or a Bach Wedding Cantata), followed by a lecture that offers a Christian perspective on the art, with a time for questions and answers.
• A gathering in a small public venue with a brief talk and Q&A on a single topic that addresses problems people have with Christian faith. At Redeemer, we call these “Christianity Uncorked” events.
• A small group that is just beginning to form. When groups are relatively new and the dynamics are still “wet cement,” they can better embrace and draw in people who are exploring Christianity.
• A worship service that—through its preaching, music, and liturgy—is comprehensible to non-Christians.
• A group of Christians that meets for four weeks; each week, each member asks one non-Christian friend a question about their religious beliefs for the purpose of listening to (not debating) other religious beliefs and objections to Christianity.
• A group mainly for non-Christians that meets regularly. Less intense: a book club focused on reading fiction books by C.S. Lewis, Flannery O’Connor, J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, etc., that get at Christian themes, or even reading books by non-Christians and talking about the faith perspectives and worldviews they represent. More intense: Eight-week “seeker groups” that meet to study a book. Some people may respond well to frank discussions about common “defeaters” of Christianity,(20) while others may prefer to explore the life of Jesus through reading one of the Gospels or using a book such as King’s Cross.(21)
• Onetime “salons” in which Christians bring non-Christian friends to hear an informal presentation by a Christian speaker on a topic, followed by a discussion.
• Worship “after meetings.” Examples include a Q&A session after the church service with the preacher of the day, where any questions are allowed, though usually the topic of the message is covered; an apologetics class (five to seven weeks) that makes a case for the truth of Christianity; or a seven-week class covering basic Christian beliefs and Christian living, oriented to new believers but open to attendance by seekers.
• Affinity-based outreach. Campus ministries, vocational (industry-based) ministries, and men’s or women’s gatherings can have an evangelistic/apologetics aspect in their regular meetings and may hold outreach events at neutral venues, similar to the ones described above.

Evangelism should be natural, not dictated by a set of bullet points and agenda items that we enter into a conversation hoping to cover. Friends share their hearts with each other and do what’s best for each other. Evangelism will come organically in friendship if we don’t let our pride, fears, and pessimism cause us to hide our faith and heart. We must help our people naturally talk to their friends about how they see reality. The more these gospel dynamics are present in their lives, the more they will draw in new people like a magnet (Acts 2:47) and help them find faith in the most credible, natural, and fruitful way.

In general, simply bringing nonbelievers into the Christian community at any point is safe if the whole community is very warm and accepting toward those without faith, if the community is not culturally alien, if the community is shepherded by pastors who make lay ministry a priority, and if the church is doing balanced and integrative ministry. It is to this last subject that we turn our attention in part 7.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND REFLECTION

1. Read through the various examples of every-member gospel ministry. Which of these situations sound similar to something you have done personally? Which of them spark creative ideas for sharing your faith, as well as for leading others to do so? What could your team do to become more intentional in this type of gospel ministry? Can you add to the list other examples you have seen in your community?

2. What do you think of the idea that people may need to be “welcomed into community long enough for them to hear multiple expressions of the gospel—both formal and informal—from individuals and teachers” before coming to faith? What might keep a nonbeliever from being involved in your community? What are you doing to welcome nonbelievers into your community of faith?

3. This chapter presents the idea of believers having “Christian relational integrity.” This means they have an impact for the gospel on the people around them if they are like those around them, yet profoundly different and unlike them, all the while remaining very visible and engaged. What do you think it means to be like, unlike, and engaged with your community? How do you think your team members are doing in each of these areas? How would you rate your church in the area of relational integrity?

4. Which of the various ideas for providing safe venues do you currently practice in your ministry? How “safe” would an unbeliever rate the venues you provide? What single safe venue would you like to prototype?

Notes

Chapter 21—Equipping People for Missional Living {pages 277–89}

1. Ryan Bolger, “Marks of a Missional Church,” http://thebolgblog.typepad.com/thebolgblog/2006/01/marks_of_a_miss.html (accessed February 17, 2012).
2. John Stott, Motives and Methods in Evangelism (Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity, 1962), 14.
3. Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 243, quoting Adolph Harnack.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid., 342–46.
6. Ibid., 244.
7. Ibid., 315.
8. Ibid., 318–38.
9. Ibid., 339.
10. Many of these examples are adapted from the ones found in Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine (Kingsford, Australia: Matthias Media, 2009), 54–56. I’ve added some new examples and contextualized the ones found in the book.
11. Francis Schaefer, 2 Contents, 2 Realities (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1975), 31–32.
12. For several good ideas on engagement, see Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Everyday Church: Mission by Being Good Neighbours (Nottingham, UK: Inter-Varsity, 2011), ch. 4 (“Everyday Mission”).
13. See Christian Smith, Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 209.
14. Alan Kreider, “‘They Alone Know the Right Way to Live’: The Early Church and Evangelism,” in Ancient Faith for the Church’s Future, ed. Mark Husbands and Jeffrey P. Greenman (Downers Grove, Ill.; Inter-Varsity, 2008), 169-70
15. Two other must-read books about the early Christians and their witness through lay ministry are Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, and Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 1990).
16. For excellent, easily remembered outlines to give to laypeople for informal pastoral care and evangelism, see Chester and Timmis, Everyday Church, ch. 3 (“Everyday Pastoral Care”) and ch. 5 (“Everyday Evangelism”).
17. See David Stroud, Planting Churches, Changing Communities (Milton Keynes, UK: Authentic Media, 2009), 172.
18. For practical suggestions on how to do this, see Marshall and Payne, The Trellis and the Vine, ch. 9 (“Multiplying Gospel Growth through Training Coworkers”).
19. For a comprehensive treatment and list of evangelistic venues, see Michael Green, Evangelism through the Local Church (Nashville: Nelson, 1992). Though dated, it is the most complete guide to the subject of its title.
20. See Timothy Keller, The Reason for God Study Guide and DVD: Conversations on Faith and Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010).
21. See Timothy Keller, King’s Cross (New York: Dutton, 2011).

12CenterChurchThis excerpt is taken from Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Zondervan). Copyright © 2012 by Redeemer City to City and Timothy J. Keller. Used by permission of Zondervan.

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