By: Dr. Monte Shanks.
Dr. Shanks is a professor with Liberty Seminary.
The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:5, “. . . endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist . . .” This verse makes more sense to me now after 30 years of ministry than it ever has. In order to explain why, a brief but true story is necessary in order to provide some context.
My father came to faith in Christ in a single day after being a committed atheist his entire adult life. It started when his third wife woke him up one Sunday morning and told him that he was going to church. His first question was “What are you talking about?” Her reason for going to church was that it was Easter.
Next question, “But why!?” He was then informed that they were going because my step-siblings regularly went to church and that they should go with them at least once, and Easter was as good a day as any. Even more bewildered, he asked, “Church? What church?!”
It was at that point that he learned that they were attending a church that had a bus ministry, and since a bus drove right by their house they could catch a ride to church. The salient point is that they weren’t going to church because my dad was concerned for their spiritual development. So dad dutifully got up, got dressed, and then went out to his car where he and his third wife sat until the bus came by and picked up the kids. He didn’t even know where the church was so he had to follow the bus in order to get to the church. Upon arrival he walked through the church doors and (as he puts it) became immediately aware that “there really is a God.” After listening to the music and the announcements, the pastor began his sermon.
Within 20 minutes my dad knew in no uncertain terms that there was a literal place called Hell, and that it was there to which he was most assuredly destined to go. He has often told me that he actually feared having a heart attack before the sermon ended, thereby sealing his fate. Fortunately, he survived the sermon and at its close the pastor invited all who desired to receive Christ to come forward. As soon as the hymn of invitation began, my dad was down the aisle. He was “gloriously saved” that very day, and ever since then he has been a changed man. In fact he now serves as a volunteer chaplain for a prison in central Missouri, where he regularly preaches to inmates on Sunday mornings, as well as disciples those who come to faith in Christ.
My friends, my dad’s dramatic conversion was certainly the result of the “work of evangelism”; but really, when you think about it, it wasn’t hard work. Picking ripe fruit is never as strenuous as chiseling dry dense soil during times of drought in order to plant seeds with the hopes of a future harvest.
In the late 60s and early 70s (which is when my dad came to Christ) a lot of ministries were busy picking ripe fruit. It is interesting to listen to Christians talk about that period of revival because many of them have the impression that they “achieved” that great harvest because “they were doing it the right way.” Whenever I hear that I have to bite my tongue, and I have heard it a lot all over the country.
An interesting fact about that period is that the Spirit moved in the hearts of many people through many different ministries irrespective of their denomination and theology. Baptist churches saw many come to faith in Christ (both independent and denominational), as did many other churches, such as Methodist, Presbyterian, Assemblies of God, and Non-denominational (both charismatic and non-charismatic); and lest we forget, many para-church ministries also enjoyed that period of great harvest. The truth about periods such as that one is that when the Spirit moves in such a manner He loves being sloppy with his grace. As the old saying goes, “when it rains it pours.”
Well, the bottom line for this blog is that we are no longer in a season in which the labor predominantly involves picking up ripe fruit. Today, the work seems hard, harder than it ever has been during my life. We now appear to be called to fields that are dry and hard, and as a result there seems to be fewer and fewer people interested in doing the hard work of evangelism. Consequently, we need more workers, not superior marketing methods.
Moreover, I am struck by the fact that in 2 Timothy 4:5 the Spirit didn’t guide Paul to write “collect the fruit of the Spirit,” or “inform the elect of their calling,” or “get them to cry, come forward, and fill out a card,” or tell them “they can have their best life now.” No, Paul didn’t emphasize either the audience to be evangelized, or the end result of evangelistic efforts, he emphasized being faithful about doing the work of evangelism. Paul spoke of labor, not manipulation. And what exactly is that labor? It is the constant and clear articulation of the gospel, which is “that there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved!” It is regularly calling people to “repent and be saved from this wicked and perverse generation!” It’s not being “ashamed of the gospel; for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes!” And lastly, it’s offering the gospel to anyone and everyone simply because “whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved!”
It is the norm rather than the exception that the work of an evangelist requires significant personal effort, spiritual sweat, if you will. This labor is not about slick entertainment, or ensuring that audiences are comfortable, or about self-adulation. It’s about faithful workers committed to “laboring” in dry and dusty fields if for no other reason than they share their Master’s passion.
So, if you value “tolerance,” “sensitivity,” and “teachable moments,” then it’s not likely that during these difficult days you will be inundated with opportunities to do the work of an evangelist. Nevertheless, one irreducible fact still remains: the more we communicate the gospel—in season and out—the more people will make decisions for Christ. Or as Paul put it, “How shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?”
Copyright @ by Monte Shanks, 2013
This blog was first published at www.newlineministries.com