Evangelism first?

I have claimed, for some time now, that evangelism is not the first priority of the church. I have faced some significant opposition from friends, but my study of scripture leads me to believe that bringing glory to God is the first priority of the church. As such, evangelism takes on an incredibly important role, just as does discipleship, ministry, fellowship, etc. I came across a quote today from Dallas Willard that I thought was particularly good and I thought I would share it with you. I’m curious to know your thoughts.

It is, I gently suggest, a serious error to make “outreach” a primary goal of the local congregation, and especially so when those who are already “with us” have not become clear-headed and devoted apprentices of Jesus, and are not, for the most part, solidly progressing along the path. Outreach is one essential task of Christ’s people, and among them there will always be those especially gifted for evangelism. But the most successful work of outreach would be the work of inreach that turns people, wherever they are, into lights in the darkened world.

A simple goal for the leaders of a particular group would be to bring all those in attendance to understand clearly what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and to be solidly committed to discipleship in their whole life. That is, when they are asked who they are, the first words out of their mouth would be, “I am an apprentice of Jesus Christ.” This goal would have to be approached very gently and lovingly and patiently with existing groups, where the people involved have not understood this to be part of their membership commitment.

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

30 thoughts on “Evangelism first?

  1. Micah,
    Great post, and an excellent quote. I too have met resistance from friends who think that evangelism is the primary/only mission of the church. We are to reach and teach. I usually think of Matthew 23:15; “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
    Jesus wasn’t impressed with the Pharisee’s missions/evangelism because they failed to adequately disciple their converts. Sometimes I wonder whether or not we sometimes evangelize like the Pharisees.
    Good Post

  2. Do you mean to learn to be a Christian or a good Southern Baptist in full agreement with what is popular today with the convention? Scribes and Pharisees were the decons and “messengers” of their day. Their rules did not impress Christ and neither do ours. Placing barrier we put between a sinner and Christ is a major sin. We are not “THE” church but a church.

  3. Jim-

    I’m afraid that you are going to need to clarify your comments. They don’t seem to be very understandable to me.

    If you are asking whether our version of discipleship is to indoctrinate people to become “good Southern Baptist’s” than you must not have read this blog much before. That is the last thing I am trying to advocate.

    Again, please clarify your comments.

  4. For anyone to disagree with you on this, they would certainly have a very limited understanding of the Bible, and of what it really means to be a Christian.
    Our first and foremost purpose in life is to bring glory to God! That’s it! Whatever we do, we do it “as unto the Lord,” like HE is our client, our student, our friend. Many do not adhere to the Westminster Catechism, but it makes sense to me, “the chief end of man is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.”
    When we learn to bring glory to God, and enjoy Him, evangelism is real. It is not some expensive, learned behavior like FAITH, or EE, or any of the other numerous programs regurgitated out of denominational agencies. It is normal, natural, beautiful. And best of all, it works every time. You can train a monkey to witness, but only a person who has been regenerated by the saving power of the love of Christ can truly testify to how a life can be changed. And that is the only truly effective means of sharing our faith.
    Some people just don’t get that. I’m glad you do.

  5. Thanks for your post Micah. For some, the underlying call of Christ is implicit in evangelism, but often I think that people can be so focussed on getting a convert that they forget what they’re being converted to. Paul wrote “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings …” not “I want to believe this five point outline.” My human nature gravitates too easily toward procedure.

  6. Micah: This is a courageous and needed post.

    When I read the Bible, I see where the local church is to “equip the saints for the work of service”. Equip. I also see that we’re baptized into the Body for what we bring. Our gifts and abilities. Which, of course, need to be developed. “Fanned into flame”.

    Programs like F.A.I.T.H. are useful to train folks how to witness, but they’re normally the only witnessing that goes on.

    Bowden McElroy’s post about churches owning property, and the resulting “inward turning” of the body, was right on, in this respect.

    Good post. Thanks.

    ps: Tell the congregation that this old guy from Alabama says “Listen up…”.

  7. Micah,

    Interesting post. I am not a big fan of Dallas Willard, but your post is helpful in a movement toward a balanced view of the church.

    Jesus was described in John as “full of grace AND truth.” That is a balance that we all strive for but few ever reach.

    Unfortunately, most of the churches I have pastored were only focused on inreach with no focus on outreach when I got there. I’m certain you would not find that situation acceptable either.

    Even though most of the “talk” is on evangelism and outreach, it has been my experience that most churches are “hearers” and not “doers” where outreach is concerned. I don’t think we have to worry about our churches being overly focused on outreach instead of inreach. Most people in our churches are more concerned about what the church can do for them than what they can do in Christ through the church.

    I pray for the day when SBC churches are truly more outreach-oriented than inreach-oriented.

    Regards to all,


  8. Micah,

    I’m sorry to tell you that you can’t glorify God a apart from a commitment to evangelize. Its time we stop trying to sound like Piper and start sounding a little more like Jesus.

  9. Bill-

    I don’t intend to be mean but I wonder if you even read my post before making your statement? Look back and notice that I stated that evangelism is an essential priority to glorifying God. I also stated that so is discipleship, fellowship, ministry, etc. Your condesencion over something that seems to be a pet peeve of yours appears to have skewed your perspective. Particularly in light of the fact that A. I never quoted John Piper and B. What I’ve stated is a biblically based position, not a Piper based position.

  10. Micah,
    Great post: short and to the point. I don’t understand what all of the squabble is about. I thought everyone new that the cheif end of man was to glorify God and [by] enjoying Him forever.

  11. Micah:

    I dug around a little, not a whole not, and I find few references to “evangelist” or “evangelism” in the Bible. Had to go to the KJV to get that, in fact.

    Strong’s says that word means a preacher of the gospel. Paul says preaching is one of the gifts, given by the selection of the Holy Spirit, not man.

    Hence, I can’t agree with Bill P’s statement that you cannot glorify God without a commitment to evangelize. What I am sure of, though, is that we’re under an absolute obligation to use the gifts God’s given us, as mandated in Romans and 1st Corinthians, in the Kingdom work.

  12. Bill P has a little animosity toward Piper, it sounds like.
    I’ve never met Bill, but it sounds to me like he has a one-sided view of evangelism. Evangelism is not about how many gospel tracts you hand out, or putting notches on your Bible for every person you “lead” to Christ. It is about establishing relationships, and earning the right to share your faith.

  13. jason k,
    huh? good job of reading a lot of absurdity into mt observation. I hope that is not how you approach scripture.

    I have claimed, for some time now, that evangelism is not the first priority of the church. I have faced some significant opposition from friends, but my study of scripture leads me to believe that bringing glory to God is the first priority of the church. As such, evangelism takes on an incredibly important role, just as does discipleship, ministry, fellowship, etc.

    I’m looking back like you asked, and all I see is that you are making a distinction between glorifying God and evangelism, discipleship, etc.

    I am just afraid that you and others are leading people to think that they can get by w/o participating in evangelism.

    Glorifying God is attached to our actions. It seems to me that the way you state it, that it isn’t. The way you state it makes it sound like some nebulous concept.

  14. sigh, Bill you are completely missing my point. I can promise you that you will have to work hard to ever find a church that teaches evangelism more than the one that I pastor. We teach it and we practice it. We are not trying to dodge it, and by the way, I don’t think Piper is either.

    What I’m trying to do, however, is help people understand that their purpose in living is not to simply walk around and insert tracts into people’s hands. Their purpose in existing is to bring glory to God. In order to do that, as I stated in my post, one MUST evangelize, disciple, fellowship, etc. Their should not be an inordinate amount of any of those activities, I believe, to the detriment of another, however. I believe that when we are actively pursuing all of those purposes together, we can glorify God at an optimum level.

    You have completely misunderstood the point of the post.

  15. Bill P,
    My approach to Scripture? I read it. Its a novel approach, but it works for me. Its not unlike the way I did when I was a young boy, before seminary jacked up my head.

    Now, its Christmas Eve, so breathe in, nice and deep, now, let it out. In through the nose, out through the mouth…

    Feel better?

    Merry Christmas ;>)

  16. Good post, I am also a Willard fan so appreciate seeing others quote him.

    I wonder, to go along with what you are suggesting, if we need to begin thinking more and more about the mission of God and not just evangelism or missions. Here I think of Chris Wright’s awesome book: The Mission of God. This is much broader than conversion and encompasses the whole of creation.

    In many ways a missional hermeneutic, as Wright suggests, can help bring clarity and unity to the purposes you listed above (fellowship, discipleship, etc). And more and more it seems this mission of God in the scriptures is a unifying dynamic for the whole of the canon.

    But I have wondered what Piper and others of his ilk might think of this approach (not that your post is about Piper but that is where the comments have led). B/c this seems to be a different reading strategy than Piper would endorse.

    So what’s the point of my comment? Not real sure. Off the top of my head I wonder if we are bifurcating something that ought not be.

    Sorry for the long comment. What do you think?

  17. Brother Micah,

    I am not completely on board with our Brother Bill, but I do see his point. In no way am I saying that you are forsaking evangelism, but I do understand his point of a church losing her evangelistic mindset if it is not emphasized.

    Your comment about our cheif purpose being to bring Glory to God is very true. This is completely what I understand the Scripture teaches. Remember John 15 explains completely what it means to bring Glory to God. John 15:8 says; “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”

    Now the questions come, what does it mean to bear much fruit? I personally believe it refers directly to soul winning. I agree passing out tracts and then walking off like you have showed those heathens something is not soul winning. That is why I promote FAITH to the extent that I do. It is a discipleship training emphasis that encourages and enables the participant to do more than hand out tracts and notch their belts.

    While I push evangelistic outreach in my church I believe we must maintain a balance with the other areas of the church. But evangelism must take the priority.


  18. Micah,
    Evangelism is what we do every day. I, too, think we place an inordinant amount of the church’s ‘energy’ in teaching ‘evangelism tools’ which, for the most part, are ineffective. Evangelism should be who we are. We evangelize by how we treat others in the Target. We evangelize by how we drive in heavy traffic. When we look at Christ, we see that he didn’t go door to door beating people over the head with Bibles (although the scrolls available at that time would probably have killed people). 🙂 He met people where they were, loved them with a REAL love, and they responded to that. He said, they will know us by our love – not by our rehersed evangelism script. When we spend more time focusing on behaving like Christ – i.e. loving others more than ourselves – there will be no need for Tuesday night outreaches – the church will already be full.

    Grace to you my friend and great post,


  19. Posttinebraelux-

    Thanks for your comments. I too believe that evangelism is most successful when it occurs “as we go.” I would add, however, that the message of our lives, in my opinion, MUST be accompanied by the message of our mouths. In other words, we must speak the gospel for them to believe. It shouldn’t be one or the other, but both/and.

    Romans 9:14 sums it up well, I think:

    How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

    I believe, though, that we error when we advocate this as the primary purpose for our existence. We are to bring glory to God with our lives (1 Cor. 10:31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.) and as such, evangelism as well as discipleship, servanthood, fellowship, etc. all take on new, exciting and vital purposes.

  20. Micah,
    The very next verse of the passage you quoted says, ‘blessed are the feet’; ever wonder why Paul didn’t say, blessed are the mouths especially if the context is spreading the Gospel? You’re exactly right – the ‘spoken’ Gospel without the living Gospel is a distorted Gospel and the ‘living’ Gospel without the spoken Gospel is a distorted Gospel. They must see through our lives our conviction regarding what we say.

    Grace brother,


  21. Posttinebraelux-

    While I could potentially argue the point concerning your reasoning behind Rom. 9:15, I’ll leave that one alone! 🙂

    Suffice it to say that I agree with you that it must be a healthy dose of both. EE, CWT, FAITH, and others simply won’t cut it.

    Thanks for the comments!

  22. Micah,

    what do you mean EE, CWT, FAITH and others wont cut it? Churches have successfully used these for years. I guarantee that almost every strong evangelistic church uses one of these or something similar. Of course we don’t expect visitation to be the only time we do evangelism. But don’t knock these programs. It is sad to me that people like yourself and others are working hard at trying to convince people that these types of approaches to evangelism are not as good as your approach.

    By the way, how many people has your church baptized since you’ve been there?

  23. Bill P,
    With respect to your position on the programs churned out by denominational agencies over the years, they are not much more than simple ideas generating billions of dollars. It is sad that a church has to pay the kind of money required to send representatives to learn about FAITH. I mean, come on. A child can teach you how to count to five on one hand. It is nothing more than a program designed to generate dollars.

    Richard Owen Roberts is the world’s foremost authority on the subject of revival. If he were to answer your question to Micah regarding the number of baptisms in his church, he would ask you why you consider number of baptisms a measure of success in evangelism. Then he would tell you, rightly, that you are the first generation of Baptists to have such a silly, stupid notion that baptisms equal evangelistic success. This is because statistically speaking, only about 15% of the people you baptize are anywhere in the church within a few years. And you consider that success? You wouldn’t know it when you look at the statistics, but FAITH, EE, and CWT are massive failures. They teach people that if you recite a prayer, you’re in. But there is no change in their lives, so they go right back to their old lifestyle. The SBC spends so much time and effort trying to get people to recite the sinner’s prayer (a concept never found in Scripture), but little effort discipling the!
    m. Face it, Bill. There are huge holes in the ship, and no one wants to admit it.

    You didn’t ask me, but our church added over 3,000 people last year. We didn’t do with EE or FAITH. It happened because a lot of people walk by the Spirit, and their witness is, as someone said before, in their feet more than in their mouths. The reason the SBC doesn’t want anyone to say that out loud is because they can’t package it and sell it. And that is a shame.

    I hope you will forgive the tone of my response. I do not mean to be obtuse, or angry. My intentions are good, and I have no beef with you. However it is troubling to me anytime I hear anyone defending a system that is so obviously flawed. I beg your indulgence.

  24. Bill P-

    Thanks for your comments. When I said that EE, CWT, FAITH and others won’t cut it I was not intending to completely discount them. I’ve been trained in all of those methods (and have taught some of them) except for FAITH, and also including Share Jesus Without Fear and others. I have a problem, however, with them being our sole understanding of what evangelism is because it is obvious, in my opinion, that they are innefective as such. I’m afraid, Bill, that too many have confused a verbal commitment with conversion and discipleship. Statistics show us that the use of these methods as our sole approach to evangelism has created a situation where 75-85% of our “converts” leave the church within one year of their “conversion.” In other words, they are not genuinely being converted, in my opinion. Scripture is clear that a changed life MUST follow a conversion for it to be authentic. 2 Cor. 5:17, “Therefore, when you are in Christ, you are a new creation; the old has gone, the n!
    ew is here and now!”

    For instance, as has been well documented, Bobby Welch’s own church has seen aprox. 200 baptisms a year for over a decade. In a span of the last 10 years that would equal at least 2,000 “converts.” Unfortunately over that same period of time their church membership has decreased to a point where the total membership today is sizeably smaller than it was at the beginning of that 10 year period. One could argue that this is an isolated instance but, Bill, it is being repeated in mass at the vast majority of churches across the country. We are seeing great numbers of people who are making “commitments” using these methods, but they are falling away within months of their “conversion” and therefore I am convinced that we are inneffective in our evangelistic efforts.

    Please hear me, I am not advocating less evangelism, I’m advocating more. I’m simply asking for us to reconsider our approach to evangelism. We must recognize that Matt. 28 doesn’t call us to “Go ye therefore and make converts” but rather to “Go ye therefore and make disciples.” Our church is incredibly evangelistic. We do door-to-door evangelism, we do in home evangelism, we do large community evangelistic outreach opportunities. We simply try to understand that we are aiming at making longterm committed disciples, not quick commitment converts that fall away quickly.

    By the way, for you to assume that our baptisms have not been good since I’ve been there is an unfortunate assumption on your part, not to mention an incorrect assumption as well. Our baptisms have increased in every year I’ve been at our church and have equaled, numerically, aprox 10-20% of our total church attendance on an annual basis.

  25. The counting of Baptisms is simplistic. Of course, it is easy for me to say that, because our church has not had a high baptism number prior to my arrival and only one in the last 6 mos since I have been there. Right now I am working on helping the whole church to transition their mindset from thinking that evangelism is the responsibility of the staff or a special group of “trained visitors” (or even something to be done at a special time – we evangelize on Monday nights, for instance). This is going to take time.

    I say all of that in the interest of full disclosure.

    The counting of Baptisms as an evaluation tool is not bad, but has its weaknesses. It can be used by those who desire acceptance and recognition to “dunk ’em and turn ’em loose.” This a recipe for a huge number of “converts” heading out the back door when they don’t get discipled.


    I agree with your thoughts about an inwardly turned church. However, the thought that crossed my mind is that their are two types of inwardly turned church, so to speak.

    The first is the kind you described and I will further clarify that they are self centered and turned inward. The function of the church and ministry is to meet their needs as they perceive them. They hate getting out of their comfort zone and don’t tolerate leaders moving them in that direction.

    The second would be a God Centered and inwardly turned church. Sounds like an oxymoron, I know. This church would be one that seeks to glorify God and is willing to pay the price. The focus of their turn inward would be that they would be equipped and used to fuel God’s glory in a way that He chooses. The result, of course, would be that they become evangelistic and when a soul is won, they are brought into a community who values growing deeper as disciples. The new convert, in their turn, grows and goes.

    What do you think?

  26. I found these posts while looking for a CWT outline, but really was refreshed to read your conversation. In the interest of full disclosure: I was born and raised SBC and on staff at SBC churchs since I graduated from college, 16 years ago.
    I agree with Micah’s original point that the church’s (God’s “called out ones'”) priority is not evangelism, but glorifying God. Otherwise stated, man-kind’s created purpose is to worship the one, true, Creator God.
    Literally worship is to give/express honor and homage, to bow down to. Then, evangelism, discipleship, ministry, etc. are ways we can and should worship God. In fact, evangelism “makes” more Christians so that they can worship God. Discipleship shows the Christian how to better worship (glorify) God. So, all are necessary, but when seeking the top priority, worship is the answer.
    I find it funny that so many churches have mission statements saying their prupose is to Worship, Evangelize, and Disciple. These statements give worship an equal third with the other two. However, it is more correct to say, “We exist to Worship… and we do that by evangelism, discipleship, services of worship, support groups, date night, 5th Sunday Singing, Student Ministry 5th Quarters, GAs, RAs, etc.
    I cannot see how any word other than Worship, and its synonyms, can be used to describe the priority and ultimate purpose of the God’s people and their assambly, the church. The latter part of I Peter 2:9 says it well, “But you are CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” We are saved to tell God how great He is!
    My second point, concerns evangelism: I agree it must be emphasized or it is too easily ignored by Christians hoping he with “that gift” is doing it. However, I can also see how churches using a strategy like FAITH, CWT, or EE can give the feeling that evangelism occurs within this program… on this night…. in this way…. This “feeling” may not even be being taught, but people just get the feeling and that is why we must intentionally teach with specific and correct words (easy for me to say :)).
    Why don’t we teach our people that they exist to worship the God that saved them and now He wants them to assemble together so that they can: worship Him together, grow so they can worship Him better, and certainly evangelize so God can have more worshippers? Wow, what great worship it is to share how they too can become worshippers and fulfill their created purpose. A church that does these things is certainly purpose driven. And no one I am hearing is really saying this: our purpose is worship and this is how we can best glorify God: Evangelize, Disciple, etc. And do all of these types of worship “as you go,” not just wittness as you go.
    What do you all think of Worship as the top rung and evangelism, discipleship, ministry, etc as ways to worship?

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